Alchemist Gift – Amelia, Marcella’s Mother
Alchemist Gift continued: Her story began with Farintino Andano’s wife Amelia, Marcella’s mother. Amelia was a pretty, light hearted, naive and happy girl of seventeen when she married the milliner’s son, Farintino, who was her senior by almost as many years. Amelia came from simple and gentle people. She now lived under the ancestral roof of Fausto Andano.
Fausto, at the time was fifty six years old. He was slightly taller than most with a sturdy physique that he inherited from his father’s side of the family. His mother, Louisa Parma bestowed her fair complexion, waveless, light colored hair and the deeply dimpled chin that defined the Parma clan. Fausto, an only son, grew up with three sisters; one older and two younger. He was precocious and catered to by a doting mother and grandmother. With his good looks, his light hair and dimpled chin and a little charm he exacted this childhood privilege from those who gave in to his desires. Fausto happily went from maiden to maiden.
Beatrica Patatucci was an only daughter and youngest child of six. She had dark curly hair, dark eyes and an olive complexion. She was a romantic and spoiled young woman of sixteen. Thinking she was under Fausto’s spell, she let herself be conquered by her own passions.
They were married on orders of Fausto’s and Beatrica’s parents just as their baby grew inside Beatrica and began to show. This was much to Fausto’s consternation. Fausto’s son was dark skinned and curly haired. They named him Farintino and he was the image of his mother Beatrica. From thence he harbored a childish resentment towards his new wife and the baby who caused him to lose his freedom. Within two years Fausto’s parents died of cholera and he inherited the business and the responsibility that went with it.
For Farintino and his wife Amelia, their first year of marriage was exciting and joyful for the young bride. Amelia brightened the dreary house with her youth and energy. She would sing or whistle or recite clever rhymes for her own amusement as she swept and cleaned and cooked.
The house had been without a woman since Fausto’s wife died six years before. Amelia’s presence pleased Fausto. She kept a good house and was an excellent cook. She was so pretty and alive and warm.
Amelia always had something good to say and she readily shared her smile with every one she met. More than once her natural kindness and warmth elicited flirtatious responses from the men. Amelia was oblivious to the advances of these hopeful suitors. Ever respectful and polite, Amelia relied too much on her smile to be the only answer to those veiled invitations, innuendos and layered intimations she didn’t understand or know how to tactfully counter. Of course, to some her smile was taken as a tacit maybe.
One fine day, Fausto’s older sister Prunella, when at market, heard people discussing Farintino’s young wife. “She’s not from around here, she’s from the south, and you know how the women from the south are!” “Look at the way our men fawn over her, it’s disgusting.” “That Farintino is so old; I’m surprised he’s not a cuckold.” “I’ve never seen her go to confession.” “I don’t know who she thinks she is, singing and always smiling all the time, why? And do you see the way she walks; swinging her hips back and forth. She always sweet talks us sellers to give her the best price. She’s even done it to me.” “She’s nothing but a tramp.”
These baseless remarks were made by unhappy and small people who, for a myriad of sad reasons, felt it necessary to check the joy and goodness of others because they find no joy or goodness in themselves. In reality they had only seen Amelia briefly at market with her basket on her arm, or after mass in the escort of her husband.
Prunella mentioned these conversations to Fausto; Fausto in his gruff manner dismissed the notions as mere gossip spread by desirous men and jealous women. Fausto thought it not worth mentioning to his son.
That little kernel of doubt about Amelia imbedded itself in Fausto’s mind. Try as he might he could not quite let it go. The dangerous little seed lay hidden in a fecund fold of Fausto’s subconscious.
* * * * * *
Three things happened after Prunella’s visit. It was Fausto’s habit to rise with the sun, dress himself, and prepare his two hens eggs beaten in diluted wine for his breakfast. He would drink his concoction on the way across the front room, open the front door, look out and survey the weather.
On a certain morning in the beginning of July as he just completed the second step of his morning ritual he heard a rustling noise and footsteps on his front stairs. As he was almost at the front door he quickened his step and threw the door open. He saw a hooded figure heading away from the house and pass through the gate. Fausto called out, the person turned away quickly and then ran, as only a young man could, across the square and into an alley.
Fausto was irritated that the person did not stop and identify himself. Why would someone bother him so early in the morning? The answer lay at his feet; it was a letter. Fausto picked it up. It was addressed to ‘The beautiful girl who lives under this roof.’ Fausto unfolded the paper. It was a love letter with phrases like “my heart is on fire, you are so fair and beautiful, your smile is like the morning,” and on and on; the letter was not signed.
“Ugh, young fool!” Fausto crumpled it up, then on second thought he un-crumpled the letter, smoothed it out on the table. He re-read the letter and gave a tiny smile. After a moments reflection he locked it away in his desk. In a rare moment of empathy for the misguided suitor Fausto was harkened back to his youth and his attempts to woo women with the written word. He was reminded of his first love Sondra Falconi, who he hadn’t thought about for a long, long time. In another rare reflective moment he looked on each day that passed as a heavy and sad step taken away from his callow and interrupted youth. Now he inhabited this lonely place in his life. Fausto missed being tended to by a woman, he missed someone who would listen to him go on and on while lying in bed on a still night. He missed performing his marital privileges.
Later that week, on a hot and humid night, the inside of the house was like an oven. Fausto, Farintino and Amelia hoped to find relief outside under a magnificently black sky that sparkled with flickering stars. Even at ten o’clock the walls of the house and the paving stones under their feet were still warm from the day’s intense summer sun. The three sat at a wooden table dedicated to their al fresco meals. The table was on a rectangular pad of paving stones that was next to the garden. The men sat squarely facing each other. Amelia was the third leg of this triangle. She sat on the end of the table making a bridge between her husband and father-in-law.
Crickets and frogs chirped in the garden and insects buzzed around an old fashioned oil lamp that was put in the middle of the table. The lamp’s swaying flame sputtered giving off a soft light that illuminated their faces. The men drank diluted wine and Amelia drank honey water with mint. They silently ate from a platter of dried black olives, cheese and bread. The air was still and the heat was stifling. There was no breeze.
Amelia fanned herself with her open hand. Sweat shone on her face and neck and upper bosom. She pulled her long, curly black hair into a pony tail. Fausto looked at his daughter-in-law’s graceful neck, at her
perfectly formed ears and took in her pretty profile. For the first time he saw her not as a child, or his son’s wife but as a woman. Amelia’s sleeveless blouse, wet with perspiration, clung to her breasts. A lone whippoorwill made a soulful call.
Fausto looked at Farintino. His son was tired and dull from the heat. Farintino sighed just as Amelia sighed. They looked at each other and smiled. “Too hot for bed,” Farintino said lazily.
“Much too hot, good husband,” Amelia agreed and sipped at her honey water. Then in a fit of exasperation she said in a huff, “I can’t stand it.” Amelia stood, pulled her sweat dampened blouse away from her chest several times in quick succession then began to roll her long skirt up at the waist. With each roll she exposed more of her legs; she stopped when the hem of her dress was just above her knees. “Ah, that’s so much better. I’m just so hot.”
Fausto’s eyes were drawn to her well-formed white legs. With some effort he looked away. His attention went to the platter of food. A moth had landed on a piece of cheese; its wings fluttered in a blur as it aimlessly scuttled about. His son and daughter-in-law watched as Fausto pinched the moth’s wings between his thumb and forefinger.
“You’re mine.” Fausto slowly moved the struggling moth toward the flickering flame of the oil lamp.
“Papa, no, please don’t. He is one of God’s creatures, he can act no other way.”
Fausto held his hand still. The moth’s legs crawled frantically in the naked air. He looked at Farintino for a second. His son shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes and gave a patronizing smile as he glanced over at his wife. She looked back with a knitted brow.
“You’re right dear Amelia, we are all God’s creatures, we can act no other way.” saying that he let the moth go. The moth flew in shaky circles on his now ragged wings, slowly tightening its orbit around the oil lamp until it flew into the irresistible flame and blindly embraced its mortality.
Farintino shrugged at the whole affair. Fausto looked at Amelia and then brushed the dead insect off the table. “It was his fate to come here on this night and die. Do you believe in fate, Amelia?”
“I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amelia was a little shaken by the question. She never heard Fausto discuss anything but the making of hats or his penchant for talking about himself.
Fausto smiled and took a drink of wine. “Perhaps it is your fate to believe in Jesus Christ, just as it is, let’s say, the fate of a man to write love letters to a beautiful young woman.”
Not quite knowing what to do, Amelia cautiously glanced at her husband. Farintino looked at his father and then to his wife. “Father, perhaps it’s all of our fates to go to bed. The air is a bit cooler now, what do you say Amelia? Ready for bed?”
Amelia did not like this talk of fate. “Yes Farintino, let us go to bed.”
“Are you coming father?” Farintino asked.
“You two go ahead. I want to finish my wine.” Farintino already slipped into the shadow of the garden gate. Amelia was left clearing the table. Fausto continued after he heard the gate squeak and the handle’s dull click. “Come; let me give you a kiss good night.”
This surprised Amelia. Being respectful she obeyed her father-in-law’s request. She placed the platter and glasses on the table and approached him. Fausto put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her in a bit closer. He closed his eyes and gave her a gentle and lingering kiss on the cheek. “Sleep well, dear one.” He left his hands on her shoulders until she pulled away.
“Good night, papa.” Amelia saw this as something good and hopeful. She lived under his roof for close to a year and tried to do her best in everything she did, but she never felt Fausto accepted her. This was the first sign of affection he showed her.
Three days later Farintino left to buy supplies. He would be gone for the better part of a week. In the three days before Farintino left three more love letters, one each morning, were slipped under the door just before sunrise. Fausto read the letters and locked them away.
At Fausto’s insistence Amelia would take this time to clean and scrub the hearth while Farintino was away. They were alone together in the house; Fausto at his desk attempting to work on his ledgers and this pretty young woman he put before him.
Amelia knelt before the fireplace on a little piece of tattered carpet she put under her knees. She had two buckets by her side; one full of clean water and the other bucket was empty. She held a brush, made of willow twigs bound together with a leather cord, in her two hands and scrubbed to and fro dislodging more than six years of soot and smoke from the hearth stones. It was slow work. As was her way, Amelia made a happy little ritual out of cleaning. She would scrub perhaps ten strokes and mop the dirty water away with a rag and wring the water into the empty bucket. Every part of her body scrubbed the blackened stones. From sitting on her heels she would push forward with her thighs raising herself over her straightened arms and then ride the brush forward to complete the cleaning stroke, pull back and start again. Before long Amelia started to hum.
Fausto’s attempts at his work were in vain. All along he knew they would be. She was the only object of his attention. The room melted away and disappeared. He let himself be entranced by the rhythm of Amelia’s body as she cleaned. He wanted to play with the errant strands of hair that peeked out from the colorful kerchief she wore. He could feel his hand touching her. He watched her shapely hips and bottom rise and fall with each thrust. He greedily drank in the olive tones of her naked arms and neck and calves and feet; how her clothes either defined and caressed her feminine form or hung loose allowing his imagination to come to life.
Amelia began to sing. Fausto put his pen down and sat back in his chair and listened. He found her voice intoxicating.
“You sound like a love bird.”
“You’re so kind.” Amelia turned her head toward him and smiled. She had smudges of soot on her face. The compliment warmed her spirit. She looked away and continued her work.
“And why do you sing?” Fausto went on.
Amelia looked back at Fausto once more. “I sing because I’m happy.”
“And what makes you happy, dear one?”
“To be here under your roof, to be able to tend to this house and to make both of the men in my life happy.” Amelia sat back on her heels and then stretched, arching her back.
“You must be tired, come over here next to me. There is something I want to do for you.”
“For me?” Amelia was touched by this act of kindness. She got off her knees, crossed the room and stood next to Fausto.
Fausto turned in his chair and motioned with his hand for Amelia to lean in a closer. Not more than a few inches separated their faces. Fausto gently steadied Amelia’s chin with his left hand, took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the soot marks on her forehead and cheeks. “You’re all smudges, let me help. Such a pretty face.” he sighed.
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