The Names of Flowers

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prickly pears_by Antonio Llardo - Version 3

Excerpt from Death Of A Serpent

Monday, October 22, 1866

The young prostitute picked at a blemish on her cheek. Serafina wanted to push the girl’s fingers away from her face. Instead, she sat on her hands and waited. Why couldn’t she behave this way with her own children?

“Stopped talking to me, all at once, Gemma.” Rosalia snapped her fingers. She narrowed her eyes. “Maybe I said something she didn’t like? Maybe I asked too many questions? Yes, that’s it, too many questions … maybe.”

“Did you ask her why she stopped talking to you?”

“Yes.” A wash of color began on the girl’s shoulders. It crawled up her neck and filled her face the way dawn sometimes floods the world.

“And?” Serafina asked.

“She said she could no longer be my friend.”

“Did she, now.”

“Said I needed to be saved, she’d show me the way.”

“And you said?” Serafina wrote in her book.

“Nothing. Slammed the door in her face!” Rosalia was solemn.

Serafina raised her brows.

“Wouldn’t you? Brushed me away like a customer shaking off the last dregs of me. All done, they say, before they leave.”

“But you can’t think you caused Gemma’s distance. She removed you from her mind because of some disturbance inside her head, not yours.”

“They all leave—Carmela, the same. She was a girl, here for a while, older than me. Knew the names of flowers. A miracle with the gardens. We’d talk after the men left, sometimes until morning. But one day she was gone, too. No goodbye, no nothing.” Rosalia’s eyes began to swim. “One day, one day, I’ll show them all. They’ll be sorry.”

Serafina took deep breaths. Walking over to the girl, she had the sensation of falling, but she stroked Rosalia’s cheek and took her in her arms. While she sobbed, the candlelight played tricks, and for an instant, Serafina held her child, Carmela, the first-born twin, soft as the inside of a goat’s ear, Giorgio said, but she shoved the memory away, punched it down deep until it couldn’t hurt anymore.

Photo: Prickly Pears. Credit: Antonio Llardo (Flickr), Creative Commons

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