Wednesday, February 13, 1867
Located in the belly of the Municipal Building, Oltramari’s jail consisted of six cells, guard stations, and two interrogation rooms. Rodents, reptiles, and arachnids called it their home. Cholera reigned. Although recent uprisings breached prison walls in many towns, including Palermo’s Ucciardone, Oltramari’s keep remained inviolate.
Guards communicated with prisoners through a grate in the upper portion of the door, passed them gruel, stale bread, and water twice a day through a sliding partition. Each room had a cot and a tin pot, emptied twice weekly. Small barred windows near the ceiling provided scant daylight.
A film of water covered the skins of things down here, Serafina thought. It beaded on her upper lip and in her arm pits as she followed a guard down the circular staircase. Moisture dampened the flame on her torch so that she could see no more than a few centimeters ahead. It was like being wrapped in a foul-smelling dream. She saw a dark form scurry past, perhaps Ugo’s shade, here to exact its revenge.
When Serafina entered the room, the guards said in unison, “Rise, please.” A shackled Abatti stood with difficulty, eyed Serafina, said nothing. She breathed in audibly, the pity she felt for him, unexpected and strong. His face was haggard. His shirt was torn, yet he looked like a man unafraid of death.