Alchemist Gift – Marcella is Born
Alchemist Gift continued: Amelia met Farintino a week or so before their wedding. She mistook his humility, passivity and awkwardness as signs of a gentle and shy nature. In a short time living under Fausto’s roof she realized her husband was little more than a shadow living in the bigger shadow of his father. Farintino was unused to her gentle ways and encouragement. He did not understand or trust her motives. Amelia hoped that familiarity would lead to friendship and friendship would be a path to love. That path was forever darkened and made impassable by Fausto’s deed.
Amelia tried to stay strong as her husband was lured away. She prayed to the Holy Virgin but felt herself unworthy to take communion. Her silence that was to protect her baby, husband and herself now seemed to be a sin. She second guessed herself. If she had only told Farintino the moment he returned from his buying trip maybe things would be different. If she spoke out now against her father-in-law, who would believe her? She found herself desperately alone, with nowhere to go. She could not return to her mother’s home in disgrace, penniless and with another mouth to feed.
Her only companion was to be Fausto’s sister Prunella, senior to Fausto by two years. She was practical, thrifty and fair. Prunella thought herself to be an excellent judge of character and she enjoyed a good earful of gossip but never said a bad word about anyone herself.
She had an ageless air about her looks. She was of average height, full figured and had an olive complexion and soft features. Her hair was white with a few random dark streaks. Delicate wrinkles were lightly etched around her eyes and in a very fine cross hatch bordering her upper and lower lips. Her eyes were deep dark brown and penetrating. She was three times a widow and a mother of eight. She lost three children as infants, one under the wheels of a runaway wagon and two girls to the plague. Her two surviving children were her sons; one a monk and the other a soldier somewhere in Sicily.
In November Fausto asked Prunella to come live with them and take over the household chores. Prunella was to escort the young wife to the market place and church and to generally look after Amelia during her confinement. Fausto instructed his sister to remain close to Amelia, to become her confidant. He told her to keep a keen eye out for any young man who spoke to or smiled at Amelia. “Any one of them could be the lover. We owe it to Farintino.” Prunella was surprised at her brother’s concern for his son and the vehemence towards his daughter-in-law. She agreed to help out of familial duty and curiosity.
After Prunella was settled in she did not understand what could change a happy and exuberant bride into such a morose and beaten down figure. She noticed a change in her nephew as well. Farintino had become just as mistrusting, judgmental and cold towards his wife as Fausto. For all the murky rumors of infidelity, all of Fausto’s insistence that Amelia was an adulteress, Prunella trusted her intuition. She found Amelia had the simple loving heart of a child and that the poor girl was in need of a friend.
Amelia was glad Prunella was there but she stayed at an emotional distance and kept her secret. Prunella did not understand her brother’s and nephew’s cool stance toward Amelia. This should be a time of happiness and excitement. It was not. Prunella felt Amelia was holding something back. After living in the house for just a few weeks Prunella recognized the gentle, honest and pious qualities in Amelia’s everyday behavior and that endeared her to the young mother-to-be. Prunella opened her heart and could not help but love Amelia as she might a daughter.
On a cold and rainy morning in late January, Prunella and Amelia sat in the kitchen at the well-used wooden work table. Outside, the sky was filled with a silver grey cloud bank that opened in fierce and short downpours. Cold, damp drafts would sneak through any little openings and chinks in the window or door casings and chill the room. The fire danced and crackled in the hearth. The women bundled in woolen shawls. They drank hot chicken broth spiced with leeks and a sprinkling of oregano and pepper. They warmed their hands with the clay mug they held close to their lips, enjoyed the steamy aroma and took long lingering sips.
“Have you and Farintino picked out a name?” She asked as she licked the little bit of honey off the ends of her forefinger and thumb.
“We barely talk. When I asked, Farintino said he didn’t care.” was Amelia’s lifeless reply.
“If it’s a boy, Fausto, and if it’s a girl, Faustina. You can’t go wrong with the master of the house with those names.” suggested Prunella with a smile. She blew on the steaming broth and took a sip.
Amelia’s hands began to shake. She put her mug on the table and clasped her hands together. She began to shiver. She unclasped her hands and wrapped her arms around herself tightly and closed her eyes. Her pregnant body convulsed as wave after wave of shame and guilt and anger seethed inside her and found its way out from the depths of her soul in a stream of salty tears that ran down her cheeks.
Prunella was stunned. She went to Amelia and put her arm around her shoulder and stroked her hair with her hand. “What is it dear girl?” she asked. “There, there, what can it be?”
Amelia’s chest was heaving and she held back her sobs long enough to reply. “I can’t tell you, I can’t tell anyone, I can’t even tell the priest.”
Prunella was surprised at Amelia’s words. “I can’t believe you committed so great a sin that there is no forgiveness.” Prunella said gently.
“If I tell you, you will hate me too, and you will never believe me.”
Amelia closed her eyes and hid her face in Prunella’s bosom.
“You can tell me child, you can tell me.” She spoke softly and continued to stroke Amelia’s hair.
“Promise you won’t hate me, promise me.”
Prunella smiled at Amelia’s innocence. “I promise never to hate you, sweetheart.” Prunella gently kissed Amelia on the top of the head. She wiped away a tear with her fingertip and returned to her seat.
After Amelia composed herself she told the sordid story of the rape, about her dream, the supposed love letters that were slipped under the door, about Fausto’s constant insults and reproaches and how he isolated her from Farintino with his false love for him, and how he made her life a hopeless hell. As the story was told, Prunella was flooded with her own memories.
“Please don’t hate me.” Amelia wiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands and sighed several times. Her concerns were dispelled by Prunella’s gentle tone of voice. She took Amelia’s hands and held them in hers.
“Believe me child, I do not hate you. I love you more than I thought I could.” Her eyes narrowed and her voice became defiant. “Fausto is my brother, it is true, but he does not act like a brother should to a sister. When he was fifteen he tried the same thing with me. I fought him with all my strength; I kicked and slapped, pulled his hair and scratched his arms and face. That’s what it took. Then crying, he begged me not to tell our papa. His tears and apology were very convincing. So I didn’t tell, I told myself, “he got the worst of it, what harm is done?” I wish I did tell Papa.
Fausto tried the same with two of my daughters, one when she was only thirteen and the other when she was sixteen. I sent them to Santa Dorotea Convent to protect them. I never saw them again; they died of the black sickness a month after they got there.” Prunella pulled Amelia’s hands to her lips and kissed them. “Now, what are we going to do my dear daughter?” After a moment she continued. “You are sure the child in you is Fausto’s?”
Amelia nodded her head and spoke softly. “Yes, Farintino barely made me a woman.”
“More of my brother’s handiwork, I’m sure; and now?”
Amelia averted her eyes and barely shook her head in the negative.
“You mustn’t blame yourself, you did nothing wrong.”
Amelia thought for a moment before she answered. “I am tired of blame and who is right or wrong. I trust in the Holy Virgin and Our Savior to guide and protect me. I do not seek vengeance or wish anybody ill. I only want a safe and happy place for me to raise my daughter.”
* * * * * *
In the fourth hour of a windy and wet third of March, in the year of Our Lord 1473, Marcella Andano was born. Mother and daughter both exhausted from the ordeal lay together as one. The midwife had already tidied up, was paid and left. While Amelia struggled through labor and gave birth, Prunella relived the most sacred and spiritual moments of her own nativities. All during labor, time was so elastic and fleeting; the hours were compressed into minutes and the seconds stretched into painful eternities. Prunella let Amelia squeeze her hand through the pain; she wiped the sweat from Amelia’s face with a cool damp cloth and gave her words of encouragement.
When Marcella finally entered the world Prunella was just as exhausted as the young mother. While mother and daughter were still in the inexplicable wonder of the moment, Prunella looked on happily and relieved there were no complications. She contentedly looked at the two as she sat in a chair next to the bed, with rosary in hand, on the brink of nodding off.
On that very same day Fausto awoke as he always did, just before sunrise, dressed in the dark and headed off to the kitchen to prepare his breakfast of two hen’s eggs whisked together in a glass of diluted wine. He walked and whisked to the front door, opened it, surveyed the dark, dreary weather, returned to his seat in the candle lit kitchen and drank his concoction.
Fausto had mixed feeling about the birth of the little girl. He knew it was a girl because he overheard the mid-wife chatting with Prunella before she left that morning. The thought that it might be his child catered to his manliness but that burst of pride was short lived because of what he perceived to be Amelia’s sanctimonious silence. He reckoned she would bring what he did to light one day to serve her own purpose. Since she had kept the secret this long he had no intention of changing his ways towards Amelia and his coldness and cruelty would extend to this abominable addition. Try as he might, he could not deny an undercurrent of excitement and curiosity to see what the child looked like.
He drank down the last swallow of his breakfast, wiped his lips on the back of his hand and left the kitchen. Fausto stopped in the main room and opened the shutters. It was still very early and the sky outside was as dark as the inside of the house. There was a chill in the air. He looked down at the silhouette of Farintino who slept in the only upholstered chair in the house, his feet propped up on a footstool that had been recovered many, many times. He was still fully clothed and asleep under a rumpled blanket. The chair was near the hearth and by the morning, the fire was reduced to a few ash covered embers. He was not admitted to the room so he could only wait. Farintino faithfully stayed awake for as long as he could but finally dozed off.
Fausto did not notice Farintino stir as he quietly passed by him and left the room. Fausto went down the hall, stood in front of Amelia’s door, pondered for a moment, and finally pushed it open. The room was warm and lit by a few candles in wall sconces by the dressing table. The soft golden halo of candlelight surrounded and caressed Amelia and Marcella. She was exhausted and barely awake. She held the sleeping Marcella in her arms. Fausto looked at his sister who was asleep in the chair, head hanging down and rosary in hand.
He leaned in close and looked at the baby’s small, puffy red face. Marcella’s hair, of which she had quite a lot, was light, unlike Amelia’s and Farintino’s. Marcella had the Parma chin with its deep dimple. That trait was not passed down to Farintino. Amelia, still dazed by the experience, looked up at Fausto. Their eyes met and for an instant there was an uneasy and deep connection that neither one wanted to acknowledge.
“A girl, is it?” Fausto spoke in a loud whisper. “Oh well, that figures it would be.”
Prunella recognized her brother’s voice. His presence pulled her to the edge of wakefulness but she was still too much in a dream state to open her eyes.
Fausto touched the dimple on his chin, thought for an instant, pretended he had an itch, left his fingers there and rubbed as he spoke, now in an audible but low voice. “She isn’t one of us, look at her; look at that hair. She doesn’t look like you or my son. Are you sure Farintino it the father?”
Amelia started at the accusation and made a slight sound, something like a whimper. She closed her eyes and prayed to the Holy Mother for strength.
A bolt of electric anger shot through her when Prunella heard Fausto’s awful words. She was wide awake now but kept her eyes closed. Prunella wanted to jump up, take her rosary beads, wrap them around her brother’s neck and squeeze with all of her might. She held herself in check. She forced herself to keep her eyes closed. She did not move. She feigned sleep and with a racing heart thought of Amelia, Marcella and her nephew. Prunella asked herself “what good would it do? Why ruin the most wonderful and holy of days with something so awful, something that will lead to nothing good?” This was not the time for confrontation. But it also pained her that she would repeat the past and allow her brother to not be held accountable for his deeds.
Unbeknownst to Fausto, Farintino had followed him into the room and stood behind him but did not quite hear what his father said to Amelia. When Fausto turned around to leave the room he was startled to see that his son stood directly behind him in his way. Fausto grunted and made his intentions known by sticking his chest out as he advanced toward the door.
“Father, where are you going?” Farintino asked. He did not understand why his father would walk out on one of the most important days of his life.
Still pinching his chin he looked back at his son. “I leave you to your little wife and that baby, not a son I might add. Oh yes, yes least I forget, congratulations.” Then with a characteristic smirk Fausto added “may you have as much joy in fatherhood as I’ve had.” With that said Fausto left. Outside of the room the rest of the house was cold and damp. He felt a shiver run up his spine. He took his thumb and forefinger away from his chin and decided to grow a goatee.
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