A Few Hours of Love

Island of the Cyclops_gnuckx

Excerpt from Death In Bagheria, a work in progress

Wednesday night, March 23, 1870

As they walked across the piazza toward home, Carmela said, “Don Tigro’s footman waits for us at home. It’s Betta.”

“But she’s not due for three more months.”

Carmela hunched her shoulders.

“Does he know where you found me?” Serafina answered her own question. “No, how could he.”

“I told him you were attending a birth but should be home at any minute, then slipped out the back and ran to fetch you.”

“How did you know where I was?”

Carmela rolled her eyes. “Really, Mama! Your act was the easiest charade of the evening.” Carmela did a poor imitation. “‘Betta’s having a hard time of it and I need your advice. Come with me to pay her a visit.’ As if we were all children!”

“Not Loffredo’s idea.”

“I knew that much.”

Silence. “It turned out to be true.”

“What you deserve.”

“At least I had my satchel with me.”

Carmela stopped walking and faced Serafina. “When are you going to grow up? You have seven children of your own and a grandchild, my child, whom you barely hold. Into this household, you introduce two orphans. Your younger children haven’t adjusted to the newcomers yet—what am I saying, there’s open hostility—and what do you do in addition to working as a midwife and a detective about to depart for Bagheria, what do you do, but have an affair! You’re barely home.”

Serafina stood. She heard a sudden spurt of distant laughter. This was her daughter, the one who bared her breasts in the public gardens when she was fourteen like an animal in heat, the daughter who ran away at fifteen who didn’t bother to come home until her belly was distended with her lover’s child, and she was telling Serafina, the mother who clothed them all and loved them all and cared for them all, she was talking to her mother like this. “You mean to tell me that I, a widow, deprived at an early age of my husband whom God in all His ruthless meanness thought fit to snatch away from me, my love and my joy, and I shouldn’t let another man into my bed? Are you telling me that I don’t deserve a few hours of love?”

“Don’t point your finger at me. I’m the daughter who supported you when you had to leave for Messina and Totò was ill; I’m the daughter who supports you when you’re not there for your children. Day after day when they return from school, who is home? Me, the daughter who supports your right to happiness, your duty to work.”

“But you won’t support a few hours of love.”

“Don’t twist my words. Not on top of everything else when there is turmoil in the house and you know there is.”

“The children had such fun this evening, playing, laughing together, all wounds healed!”

“Delude yourself if you must, but count the hours this week that you’ve been home. And what’s worse, you choose a married man! No telling what that will do to your reputation when word gets around. Imagine Colonna’s face. Think for a moment what it will do to our family when you are no longer respected. How will you find work? How will we eat? How will we stay together? How will you feel when Loffredo tires of you? Because, make no mistake, that’s what happens—men grow tired of us, they all do.”

Serafina stopped at the edge of the piazza. “Tell Don Tigro’s servant I’ve gone to Betta on foot. And, Carmela?”

“Yes?”

“I’ll be home Saturday, long before Totò’s Mass.” Serafina had no more words so she threw up her hands and watched the blurred figure of her daughter, shoulders set, turn and walk away. A lump formed in her throat, but she stuffed it down, twisting her hands until it disappeared. Then she hurried to Betta’s apartment, hoping she was not too late.

Photo: Island of the Cyclops. Credit: gnuckx (Flickr)

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