Excerpt from Death of a Serpent
Sunday, October 7, 1866
The carriage slowed.
“What’s that pounding I hear?” Rosa asked.
“Nothing. The wind.”
She heard voices, laughter, roaring beasts, the crack of a whip, and squinted through clouds of dust to a long line of wagons.
The madam stuck her head out the window. Holding her hat firmly on her head with one hand, she called out to the driver. “Why have we stopped?”
“The circus blocks the road.”
“Off the highway,” someone shouted. “Let us pass!”
Serafina asked, “Can’t the guards do something?”
“The guards are thick,” Rosa said. “They’re a show for bandits, otherwise of little use.”
“Stay here.” Serafina opened the door and climbed down.
The ringmaster was a ball of a man, short and round, clothed in the only garb she’d ever seen him wear—overalls, a tattered shirt stained with sweat, red tails, a balding top hat. He rolled over to Serafina.
“Eh, Donna Fina, haven’t seen you since you was a tyke. Heard you married the apothecary. And you, a midwife, same as your mama, popping out babies like a hocus-pocus lady.”
They hugged. She told him about Giorgio’s death and the killings at Villa Rosa.
“Heard about the trouble at Rosa’s. Word is, the red fox, he’s in the coop.” He leaned over, spat.
“Another woman killed today. We come from Palermo where we broke the news to her poor parents.”
He chewed on the butt of his cigar. “Might as well camp here as anywheres,” he said, motioning for his foreman and pointing dirty fingers to an open field. In minutes, mules began towing the wagons to one side of the road while performers and animals flooded the field trampling down the high grass and skirting the occasional clump of prickly pears. A group of knife throwers crowded around a tree where they were setting up a target. Acrobats tumbled. The cook began building a fire.
As Serafina waved goodbye, a clown in whiteface with a tuft of ginger hair stood in the ditch and stared at her, a knife handle sticking out of his belt. Running splayed fingers through her curls, she looked away, hearing the ghost of her mother ask again, ‘Remember the boy with hair like ours?’
Photo: Wave at Sunset in Sicily. Credit: giopuo (Flickr), Creative Commons