Alchemist Gift – Fausto has a Stroke
Alchemist Gift continued: Marcella sat curled up in the chair next to the bed. She had a blanket over her lap and leaned to the side with a pillow behind her head. The room was dark and still except for Fausto’s slow and regular breathing that was accompanied by a wet rasping sound every fourth of fifth exhalation. Marcella was given the task to sit with Fausto and awaken Farintino or her mother if Fausto should wake up. She tried her best to stay awake but nodded off several times.
At the first stirrings of dawn when the sun was just beyond the horizon and the heavy dew dripped from the leaves and eave outside the window in a steady, gentle rhythm, both Marcella and Fausto opened their eyes.
Fausto was confused; he was unable to sit up. He let out something of a gasp.
“Sir, sir, you are awake.” An excited Marcella uncurled her stiff legs and arms, jumped up, and with a timid smile touched Fausto on the shoulder. She opened the shutters to let in the light then quickly left the room to fetch her mother.
Fausto was flat on his back. He looked up; the ceiling beams twisted and straightened; the walls grew and shrunk in height and width. He did not know where he was. He tried to prop himself up on his right elbow, but it was no good. He fell back onto the bed. Fausto didn’t understand why he could not move. He didn’t understand why everything was so strange. The room was alive with twisting, ghastly grey shadows.
Fausto tried to call out, but his words were trapped inside his head. He was afraid; he went into a panic. He frantically felt his face with his right hand. His left cheek was as hard as stone. He felt the warm wet spittle at the corner of his mouth. He patted his left shoulder and ran his hand down his arm. His left arm was bent at the elbow and wrist and held crooked by tightened sinew and rock hard muscles. He tried to call out again but his speech was reduced to gurgling slurs.
Marcella led Farintino, Amelia, Maria, Miranda and Rini, into the room. The three girls stood at the foot of the bed. Their curly hair was uncombed; their eyes were laden with sleep. Rini, more asleep than awake, held her rag doll in her hands and leaned her head against Maria’s shoulder.
Farintino and Amelia stood on the right side of the bed and Marcella on the left.
“Papa, thank God you are awake.” Farintino leaned in close and looked into his father’s eyes. Fausto’s left eye drooped and the lid was outlined in red. He looked blankly at his son. With a few forced jerks of his head he was able to look at his granddaughters. They looked back with sad and puzzled expressions. The three little girls could not understand why their grandfather’s face was contorted into something that resembled half of a shocked smile, or why his eye looked so funny and why his left hand was in a constant palsy.
More sunlight streamed through the window and surrounded the bed and those who stood around it. The room became unbearably warm and everyone felt uneasy and impatient and helpless. Amelia backed away from Fausto and stood a little behind Farintino. A sick feeling crept from the center of her stomach into her lungs and into her head. She had to look away. “I must leave.” She whispered into Farintino’s ear as she slipped past him. She gave a nod to Maria. Maria understood and gently nudged her sisters to follow her and their mother out of the room.
Fausto noticed them leave and looked at Farintino with the same frightened look he gave his son when Farintino finally confronted him so many years ago concerning his treatment of Amelia and the then infant Marcella.
“Do you need water?” Farintino asked.
Fausto looked away from his son and then to Marcella. He grabbed her wrist and held on so tight that it began to hurt. He looked up at her and tried to speak. Even though he hurt her wrist she bore the pain and gently placed her other hand on top of his. Fausto relaxed his grip and let go of Marcella’s wrist. He then took her small hand in his and held it and guided it to his heart. He closed his eyes and slipped back in the arms of Morpheus. Marcella left her hand in Fausto’s for a good while and looked to Farintino who quietly watched. He picked up the chair that Marcella slept on the night before, brought it around to the other side of the bed and placed it behind her and silently bid her to sit. She sat, still holding Fausto’s hand and looked curiously at this man who shunned her for her entire life.
Marcella’s fears of an early marriage were certainly over. By pointing and mustering whatever expressions with the half of his face that still responded to his will, and whatever guttural croaks he could produce with his tortured throat, Fausto conveyed to Farintino that he wanted Marcella to be the one to take care of him. He took to heart those words that Amelia said those dozen plus years that passed since the morning he raped her. He could still see her in his mind as she calmly straightened her clothing and spoke in a sure and un-nerving voice, “What is done, can never be undone, nor should it be.” Fausto understood now that Marcella was obviously born to tend to his needs at this time in his life.
And so she did. Marcella dutifully spent the last tiny bit of her childhood and lost the next nine years of her youth taking care of Fausto. She watched over him, cleaned and washed him, and wiped away his drool. She fed him, turned him at least once or twice a day, recited verse from memory and sang to him. She put up with his tantrums and frustrations. Marcella watched him cry. His broad chest and muscular arms shrunk to the bone. In time his hair fell out and each tooth, one by one became loose and slipped from their sockets.
Early on, when Fausto could still hobble about with the help of Marcella under one arm and a cane, there came word of a man who, through the power of the Holy Ghost was able to heal those who God thought worthy. Marcella broached the subject to her mama. Amelia gave her some money and she hired Giovanni Billini and his cart to take Fausto and her to see this man. The healer went only by Pietro, wore a white shift tied at the waist with a coarse hank of rope, crude sandals and he would never perform his “miracles” in sight of any church.
On the morning of the excursion Giovanni arrived at the appointed time. Marcella told Fausto she had a surprise for him and they waited on a stone bench by the back gate that opened into the alley behind the garden. When Giovanni pulled up at the gate Fausto became agitated. Marcella stood and took Fausto’s left hand to help him to his feet. He did not co-operate. “Giovanni, please help me.” she called out. Giovanni
went to Fausto’s left side and offered his shoulder for him to lean on. Fausto made a feeble attempt to hit Giovanni with his right hand.
“There, there, we’ll have none of that.” Giovanni spoke to Fausto as if he was a spoiled child.
“Sir, sir, please.” coaxed Marcella. Fausto grabbed onto the bench with his right hand and wouldn’t let go. He threw a frightened glance at Giovanni and tried to speak. Angry and frustrated Fausto finally bowed his head; he began to shudder and whimper.
“There, there, old fellow, calm yourself; it’s alright.” Giovanni tried to pat Fausto on the shoulder in a friendly gesture but Fausto shrunk away from him as if the man’s touch was poisonous.
Giovanni shrugged and smiled. “Well, signorina perhaps today is not the day for miracles.”
Marcella offered Giovanni the two coppers they agreed on for the fare,
but Giovanni refused. Always the gentleman he asked if he could be of any assistance. When she nodded “no” he tipped his hat and left Marcella to deal with Fausto.
* * * * * *
During the time Marcella took care of Fausto her sisters grew into industrious, clever, down to earth and vivacious young women. They were referred to as the Three Andano Angels. They were robust and fiery and the picture of classical Mediterranean beauty; thick dark curly hair; olive complexions that captured the glow of the summer afternoon sun. They were well proportioned and beautiful. They were always together and the boys and young men would flirt with them constantly.
At age sixteen Marcella started to show more womanly traits in both her looks and her actions. She kept her straight, light brown hair cut short. Her round face was still very girlish, almost childish, and the most noticeable feature was the deep dimple in her chin. Unlike her sisters, Marcella’s breasts were small and flat and her hips were narrow. When she was with the Three Andano Angels she felt plain and unattractive. She knew she would never be sought after like Maria, Miranda and Rini.
Marcella did not spend every waking moment at Fausto’s side. Occasionally one of her sisters at the request of Amelia would take over the duties. At these times Marcella would join the others in the workshop. As for the trade, she tried very hard, but her stitching was never as straight and precise as her sisters’. The pieces she did sew together might bulge or pucker and the needle hurt her fingers after a short time.
Marcella did have a flair for design but that wellspring was tainted by her lack of practical skill. Farintino who could have shown some regard and encouragement for her artistic tendencies didn’t. “People buy what they know.” was his dull reply.
When her sisters came of age they were courted and wooed. One by one they married young men who were as vigorous as themselves with bright and certain futures. They moved away and started their new lives. Trade slowed in the shop when Rini, the last of the Andano Angels married. The young men no longer came into the shop or loitered outside waiting to get a glimpse of the sisters. Farintino and Amelia were tired and getting old. The family work force was gone. Marcella was not even considered as a viable heir.
As if Fate smiled on Farintino and Amelia, Prunella’s oldest son, Anselmo and his wife Cianina and the eleven year old twin boys Paulo and Pietro returned from Sicily. Anselmo had his army pension and Cianina came from a well-connected family who left her financially well off. Hints were dropped and overtures were made and Anselmo who still had many ties to the military thought it a good idea to start his sons in a business that would always be in demand, whether it was for military caps or hats, or gloves or capes and all other clothing or accessory needs.
Farintino’s and Amelia’s needs were small. For a lump sum and eight percent of the yearly gross they were able to retire and live the rest of their lives comfortably. Marcella’s life didn’t change much. She was happy for Farintino and her mama. They had worked long and hard and now they could rest. But the bloom of her youth opened and closed and at the age of twenty three she was left with her task of tending to Fausto. That would end in less than a fortnight. After the papers were signed and the greater amount of the gold was buried under a paving stone in the garden under the wooden table and some kept on hand in the locked desk, Farintino broke the news to his father.
Fausto heard what his son had to say and at first did not understand.
He had inherited the business from his father, and his father from his father and on and on and so the lineage went back to the eleven hundreds, even before the great church and the square were built Andano hats graced the heads of many a rich signore or signora. Farintino could see the frustration and horror in his father’s eyes. “Papa, it’s still in the family. Calm yourself, calm yourself. Prunella’s son, Anselmo, he and his wife are the new owners. It’s still in the family.”
Marcella looked on as Farintino delivered the bad news. Fausto was pale, his face twitched and his eyes glistened with tears. His jaw quivered and his lips squirmed but he was unable to speak.
“There, there, papa, things will be just fine, nothing is really going to change.” Farintino stood and nodded to Marcella and extended his hand as a sign of re-assurance but Fausto slapped it away and with all of his strength turned himself ever so slightly on his side so as not to have to look at his son. Farintino looked at his father with annoyed impatience and then to Marcella and shrugged. Farintino shook his head and left the room.
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The Alchemist Gift is a book about the lives of people in the Renaissance and the alchemy that brought them together with its repercussions on our modern-day hero, Roland.
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