Alchemist Gift – Marcella’s Real Father
Alchemist Gift continued: Marcella looked at the old man who was still pushing his body with all of his might. “Sir, please relax, he is gone.” At hearing her words Fausto rolled onto his back. His face was wet with sweat. Marcella stood up and went to the dressing chest. On top was a basin, three small towels and a pitcher of water she had just filled at the fountain that morning. She took a soft white towel and soaked it in cool water, wrung it out in the basin, returned to Fausto and ran it over his brow and cheeks. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Things will be fine sir.” she said softly.
From that morning on Fausto took only water and thin soup. He kept Marcella at his side all through the day. Whenever she tried to leave he would whimper or grab at her wrist with his right hand. Marcella would acquiesce and sit back down. On the fifth day Fausto only took water. Marcella understood what he was doing. She did not mention this change from his diet of thin gruel, or runny soft boiled eggs or bread soaked in milk and honey to nothing but water to Farintino or her mother.
Before he became too weak, Fausto through crude pantomime communicated the idea that he wanted Marcella to shave off his whiskers. Marcella was so used to catering to his whims she gave it little thought as she collected the tools she would need, some small scissors, a hot damp towel, warm olive oil and Fausto’s long idle razor that was in the top drawer of his dressing chest. The razor was in a narrow wooden box with a sliding top, wrapped in a transparent, oily flannel cloth and still remarkably sharp as Marcella discovered when she accidentally touched the keen edge with the ball of her thumb and nicked herself.
Marcella knelt down next to the bed and softly stroked the stiff, dry hairs that covered Fausto’s chin and cheeks with her fingertips. Slowly and carefully she pinched up a little tuft of whiskers between her thumb, index and middle fingers and clipped the whiskers away. She placed each wiry white tuft she removed on a saucer she placed on Fausto’s chest. It was slow work and she was very careful not to pull too hard or cut his parchment like skin with the sharp scissors. Finally the whiskers were cropped. She had never seen him without his beard. The only thing that remained was white stubble that now covered his face.
Marcella fetched a towel that she had simmering in a pot by the fire in the kitchen. She put it there on her way to the shop to retrieve the scissors. Marcella fished the towel out with a wooden spoon and quickly rolled the steaming cloth around the handle so the hot water would run back into the pot. The towel was very hot but she held it up by its corners and let some of the steam dissipate. When the towel was cool enough to handle without scalding her she returned to Fausto. He flinched when she carefully arranged the towel on his face. After a few moments Fausto pulled the towel off his face and put it on the bed next to him.
Marcella knelt at Fausto’s side. She brought along the razor and vial of olive oil. Marcella laid the unwrapped razor on Fausto’s chest and poured a little bit of olive oil on her fingertips. She rubbed the stubble with the oil until it felt silky. Finally she picked up the razor and held it the same way she saw the barber hold his. Marcella did very well shaving Fausto. Surprisingly well for never having shaved anyone before. She left only one tiny crimson nick under his left ear.
Marcella wiped Fausto’s face clean with the damp towel. She sat back on her heels and studied that face, its contours, the angles, the shape of the eyes and nose and mouth. Even though she had seen that face every day since she could remember it looked so different, naked and exposed. Its features were no longer secretive or hidden. The most dominant detail was the deep dimple in his chin; the Parma dimple.
She touched the dimple on her own chin. Fausto smiled inwardly as he watched her do so and bid her to come closer to him. He reached up and took her hand and guided it to his chin. He took her index finger and placed it on his dimple and then on to hers. He repeated that motion several times and then he took her hand and patted his heart and then he patted hers.
Marcella was touched by this display which she took for some kind of recognition even a slight display of affection. “Yes sir, I see we have the same dimple.”
Fausto snorted. That was something Marcella long recognized as a sign of frustration on his part. Fausto took her hand again, this time with more passion and touched her finger tips to his dimple, then to hers, to his lips, then hers, he touched his nose, then her nose, his eyes, her eyes and finally traced the circle of his face and compared it to the roundness of hers. He touched his forehead then hers and to leave no doubt as to the message he flung away her hand, patted his genitals, then his chest and finally his laid his open palm on her chest.
Marcella was perplexed at his actions. Fausto was still agitated. She knew he obviously was trying to share something that he thought was very important. She just did not know what it was. Marcella repeated his motions. She touched the dimple in her chin, her lips, her nose, her eyes; she traced the roundness of her face. She patted her own sex then she patted her chest and extended her open hand and placed it on Fausto’s chest.
Fausto mustered what he hoped was a smile and cupped his hand behind his daughter’s neck and pulled her close and pressed his lips on her forehead. Exhausted he let her go and fell back on the bed and closed his eyes.
Marcella sat back on her heels and thought about what had just happened. She was stunned when she guessed Fausto’s message. A thousand questions were answered and a thousand questions arose from this mongrel of a Greek tragedy. There was only one question that needed to be answered and only one person who could answer it. Marcella angrily tidied up, taking her frustrations out on the shaving gear by throwing it all in the basin and slamming it down on to the dressing chest. With an anxious heart she went in search of her mother.
Amelia had just returned from market. She sat at the table in the garden and was looking over her purchase of some almonds, a salty slab of baccala and a small package of risotto that she had laid out in front of her.
Marcella stormed out the back door. She saw her mother sitting there and threw open the garden gate, the gate swung back, bounced on its hinges and swung right back in front of Marcella. She caught the swinging gate and held it while she passed into the garden.
Marcella stood there with her hands on her hips. She cast a shadow over her mother. Marcella was momentarily speechless as she tried to form the terrible question that she needed her mother to answer.
Amelia looked up. “Look at the size of the fish, and I got it cheap today.”
“Mama, tell me the truth. Who is my father?”
Amelia felt the wave of Marcella’s anger crash over her. Amelia swallowed hard and her heart pounded in her chest. “Of course you know who your father is.” she said as calmly as she could. It was the best she could come up with.
“No I don’t!” Marcella insisted. “Tell me. Is it Fausto?” Amelia remained silent. “He is, isn’t he? Tell me.”
“I have never been unfaithful to Farintino, never.”
“Is my father Fausto?”
“Where do get such a notion?” again Amelia dodged the answer.
“Mama, stop, I am a grown woman. I have a right to know. Fausto all but told me.”
“The man can’t talk. He hasn’t said a word you can understand in years. How could he tell you?” Amelia felt trapped by her omissions and miss-directions. Her entire world of denial and her sick solution of self-imposed, unending penance at the kneeler was about to vanish and leave her raw and open to the gritty truth.
“He told me. He wanted me to shave him this morning and so, I thought it strange, he has always worn a beard ever since I can remember, but that’s what he wanted so I shaved him. I could finally see his face. I could see how we look so much alike. He touched my face, he embraced me; he kissed my forehead. He accepted me. He had never done that before. I know what he was trying to tell me in his own way. It was quite clear. Now I know why Farintino always hated me and you always hated me.” Marcella was shaking with anger and grief and a sorrow that drained her heart and soul and left her empty.
Amelia arose and hugged her daughter. “I have never hated you. I could never hate you. I love you; you are my flesh and my blood. You are my daughter. God has given me life so you could have yours. I am so sorry. I am so sorry I could not tell you. I could never tell you.”
Marcella relaxed her embrace and pulled away from Amelia. “So, this is the sin that could never be forgiven? You lay with your husband’s father. How could you?”
“I did not lay with him. He took me when Farintino was away. He took me right there next to the hearth. Every time I make a fire there I feel sick at my stomach having to be at that spot.”
“Then why didn’t you tell Farintino?”
“I couldn’t. Fausto had so much power over him and something over me that I did not know about until later. That very day, that very moment he was raping me I had my vision. I saw you; I knew you would be growing in me. I knew you would be my daughter. I had to think of you.”
Marcella calmed herself and sat down at the table. Amelia joined her. They sat in silence and looked down at the table top.
Marcella finally looked up at her mother. “But why did you keep this a secret?”
“I was young, I was afraid. I needed a place for you to grow up in.
I was just married for less than a year. I had nowhere to go, no one to help me. I couldn’t go home, back to my mother. She had nothing, not even enough food for herself.”
“What was it that Fausto had over you? What was so damaging?” Marcella’s tone was conciliatory and curious. She took her mother’s hand.
When Amelia felt her daughter’s hand in hers she felt giddy and free, she all but chuckled. “Love letters. Love letters that I did not even know existed. Some silly boys slipped them under the door and Fausto found them and convinced himself I had lovers. Now that I think of it, he probably saw me as someone unvirtuous, someone he could take and not worry about me telling.”
“But mama, why didn’t you tell? Why keep such a secret?”
“It would hurt Farintino, but mostly it would hurt you. I thought because I didn’t say anything at first it would be unbelievable and that it was I who was to blame if I told Farintino and all these years afterwards.”
“And the praying?”
“To give me strength, I prayed for strength to live the life I chose. I prayed that God might forgive me for keeping silent. I prayed for my soul because I could never forgive Fausto for making all of our lives as black as his. And I prayed for the strength not to think ill of him and wish him ill. But I failed at all of those things. I did wish ill of him. I think Satan heard my thought too and caused Fausto to fall and hit his head. That was my fault; that was my wish.”
“Only a saint could show so much forgiveness.”
“But still, I committed a sin, and a sin is a sin whether in thought or deed. God will judge me for my evil wishes.” The feelings of giddiness and freedom were replaced with the guilt that Amelia was used to and understood. Marcella watched her mother’s countenance change visibly as she sunk back into the dismal depression she was unable to escape from for all of these years.
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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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