Not Far from Here

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Sunset in Sicily_by Villa Ghimette (Flickr), Creative Commons

Excerpt from Death Of A Serpent

Thursday, October 11, 1866

“I didn’t hear you enter,” Serafina said, a bit startled by the woman who was clothed in an ultramarine day dress, low cut of course. Petticoats crinkled when she sat beside Serafina, and her hair was perfectly coiffed. Serafina remembered her, the redhead from the wake.

“Gioconda’s my name,” she said.

“Don’t tell me your parents named you after a painting.”

“Oh no, it’s the name I took when I arrived, and I never knew my parents.”

Serafina was about to ask her how she knew Falco when the prostitute continued. “Don’t use our real names, mostly. Well, some of the girls do—Carmela, for instance—who said her father named her, and that was good enough for her.”

Serafina’s feet were ice. Perhaps she misheard the woman. She needed to focus. “Carmela?”

“Bit of a thing,” the redhead said. “Here about three, four years ago. Had hair just like yours—ginger, I’d call the color. I saw your hair from the path, the color, tight curls and such, and that’s why I came in here. I said to myself, Carmela’s back.”

Odd, Rosa would have told her if Carmela had knocked on her door. She must be talking about another Carmela; doubtless, that was it—such a common name, Carmela. “This girl with hair like mine, when was she here?”

“Three, four years ago. Didn’t last long, mind. Before we knew it, she was gone—took up with a soldier or guard or one of those soon after she arrived.”

“Do you know where she was born?”

“Well, why would I know that? But let me think.” The woman wrapped a curl around her finger and for a moment assumed a faraway look. “Not far from here, if I remember correctly.”

“Yes?”

“Right, I remember once, early spring it was, gorgeous day, and Scarpo and Turi—this was a long time ago, mind you, before the madness started—they used to take us on drives, and we’d all pile in the carriage, some of us in the rumbler, all fixed up, waving and shouting and sticking our arms out the window, none too delicate, mind, and Turi, he’d drive fast round the statue, the one with the sunken eyes. Well, this one time, Carmela, she asked Turi to stop and she started to cry because she said it was close by her home and she had half a mind to get out, just get out and walk, saying as how she could walk home from the sunken-eyed statue.”

“What town was that?”

“Oltramari, of course.”

Serafina felt her stomach churn. Her daughter worked at Rosa’s, and the madam—who she thought was a friend, who knew Giorgio and Serafina were wretched about Carmela’s flight—that same madam, that strega, that sometime friend, never bothered to tell her.

Photo: Sunset in Sicily. Credit: Villa Ghimette (Flickr), Creative Commons.

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