An Excerpt from “The Train to Bagheria,” Death of a Serpent
The air smelled like burnt oil as they rocked back and forth on plush seats, while outside their window, the world softened and the train spit steam. Serafina and Renata sat on one side facing Rosa and Tessa. Rosa swayed this way and that, hanging onto her hat for most of the ride.
When Renata told her about the orphanage and their conversation with Mother Concetta, the madam was full of questions about Carmela.
“We haven’t seen her yet,” Renata said. “Tomorrow the whole family goes. We’ve gotten permission to take Giulia and Maria out of school for the day.”
Serafina said nothing. Thinking of tomorrow made her stomach queasy.
Rosa and Renata exchanged a look. Tessa played with her doll.
Serafina stared out the window, vowing not to be distracted from her work, not today. Towns dotted the hills next to orange groves and olive trees. In the distance, she spotted a peasant leading a pair of oxen. On the other side of the car, there was an abrupt drop to the sea.
No one spoke until Renata opened Rosa’s basket of bread and figs, not a meal but a snack before dinner. If they had enough time after the interviews, they’d eat a little something in La Vucciria—paneddi and babbaluci washed down with a house wine. Later they’d buy cannoli from the convent of St. Dominic.
Serafina told Rosa about her brush with the deserter.
Rosa clutched her chest. “Anything to do with the murders?”
Serafina shook her head. “I don’t think so. A deserter living rough, my guess.”
Renata said, “If it weren’t for Arcangelo, who knows what would have happened. We have you to thank for lending him to us.”
Serafina changed the subject. “Who do you think is the killer of your women?”
“In front of Tessa?” Renata asked.
Rosa batted the air and said with her mouth full of cookies, “My Tessa knows everything, don’t you?”
“Would you like a cookie?” Renata asked.
Tessa shook her head.
Rosa swallowed and looked at Serafina. “Why would we be sitting here if I knew the answer to your question?”
Photo: Spring in the Madonie. Credit: Antonio-Llardo (Flickr), Creative Commons.