But She Died

Noto at night_gnuckx

Excerpt, Death Of A Serpent

Monday, October 22, 1866

“One day, I’ll be a doctor of animals, and your mule, dear lady, needs new shoes. Wrong, not to shoe a mule, not for these roads.”

“I’ll tell Carlo, my oldest son. He’s supposed to tend to things like that.” She circled her hand in the air. “A mother doesn’t know about these things.”

“My mother did, but she died.”

She waited a few moments. Softly she said, “So did mine, last year.” Serafina paused. “Terrible disease, cholera. One day she was fine, the next day, dead. I miss her, and I’m a grown woman with children of my own, but I still need her. I talk to her, and she answers, usually with words I don’t like.” She saw her dead mother’s smile, her wrinkled nose. “Sometimes she still scolds me.”

Arcangelo looked up and furrowed his brows. His ears were red. His eyes might have been wet.

She continued. “My mama told me once that she’d never leave me, and I believed her, but she did leave. She lied, and there are no answers and no smiles for that. Anyway,” she blew her nose, “I have a few questions to ask, and your father said you might be able to answer them. He told me you drove Gemma to town in August on the day before she died. Can you tell me about it?”

“Of course, dear lady.”

“Call me Donna Fina, everyone does.”

“Of course, Donna Fina. I drove Gemma because she asked me to.”


“To the blacksmith’s, close to the stables. She told me, ‘My uncle meets me.’”

“Did you see him, the uncle, I mean?”

He nodded. “He wore a hat. I remember thinking at the time, it’s cool for August, but still hot, and I wondered why the uncle wore a fedora in summer. Dark, the color, and he dressed in a heavy jacket of some sort, as if it were winter.”

“Can you describe it?”

“Dark brown or grey, like a monk’s cape, but without the hood. His back was to me and hunched over, his cape, all bunched in the back. Tall, I think. But I didn’t say hello. I helped Gemma out of the carriage and said goodbye to her. He took her hand or beckoned to her or something.” Arcangelo’s face worked to remember. “He had a small mule and cart with him. The mule was old and worn. I could tell just by looking at him, he was not cared for by one who loves animals. For one thing, he wasn’t shod. But I had to get back to help Papa—scything time—so I left.”

Photo: Noto at night. Credit: gnuckx (Flickr), Creative Commons.

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