Alchemist Gift – Amelia’s Revenge on Fausto
Alchemist Gift continued: Fausto died that same afternoon right before the church bells rang for evening mass. He died alone. Marcella divided her time between her mother who had taken to her bed with a headache and tending to the evening meal.
She did check on him. He was quite pale and his breathing was weak. Marcella had seen him sleep like that before and did not give much thought to it. It was only when she heard him gasp and make a hollow rattling sound that she took notice and looked in on him again.
He had slipped his mortal coil. Marcella wiped her hands on her apron and looked down at him. His face was finally relaxed and so was his left arm and leg. She pulled his left arm straight and as soon as she let go of it, it curled back up. Marcella shrugged, took a kerchief out of the top drawer of the dressing chest, folded it on the diagonal into a piece no wider than two fingers held together, placed it under Fausto’s chin and tied it at the top on his head. She went to the kitchen and took two large coppers out of the grocery money, returned to the bedroom and placed them over his eyes. She made the sign of the cross and said the Lord’s Prayer for his soul.
Marcella had no real feeling of grief, neither did Farintino or Amelia. Prunella did shed a few tears for the little boy she remembered. Anselmo and his wife Cianina showed their respects. Maria, Miranda and Rini arrived with their children and husbands and the house was alive with children running and laughing, food and family.
Amelia could not make herself get up from bed. She truly tried as hard as she could but could not shake the dark weight that held her body and soul down. She knew she should be glad to see all of her happy daughters and her healthy grandchildren playing together, so when they came into the bedroom to say hello she put on a great front for them. The second they left the room Amelia fell into a state of tears, she mourned for Marcella and Farintino and herself, for the unlived and uncelebrated moments of their lives.
Before dawn the next morning after Marcella and Miranda started the morning porridge on a very slow simmer, the two sisters headed to the cottage of Cesare Lippo to order the coffin. It was a pleasant and brisk walk for the two young women. Marcella hadn’t taken a walk for quite a time and Miranda very rarely left the walls of Terra Sanctus when she was a girl. They passed by the first marker. The short stacks of stones on the other side of the hill were still there. Marcella looked for the tree with the broken branch but it was gone, probably cut for fire wood. They passed the side trail that lead to the Longo’s pond. That brought a smile to her face.
“Remember the time we met you on the road, Auntie Pru and we were coming back from getting honey.” said Miranda.
“Yes, I’ll never forget that day.”
“Oh, that’s right, that’s when grandpapa fell ill. I will miss him.”
After a few steps further Marcella said, “It’s not too much further to Lippo’s path. It’s on the left, so let’s be mindful. He lets it get overgrown.”
“At least you got to spend time with grandpapa; you got to take care of him.”
Marcella held her tongue. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” asked Miranda.
“It’s an echo, its sounds like someone is hammering.”
They continued in silence, following the sounds Cesare made as he drove home a large tendon with a two-handed wooden mallet into its mated mortise that was the lower corner of the frame of a huge door.
Farintino told Marcella to order the least expensive coffin Cesare could make. Cesare paid his condolences and pulled the boards from a stack in the corner of his workshop. “Don’t bother with sending the coffin, Farintino will send our wagon to pick it up.”
“Ah, you know, I have one already made.” Cesare built a coffin that was never picked up.
“Does it have a problem?” asked Miranda.
“Why, no, it seems the wife who ordered it for her husband did so thinking he would die soon. That was quite a few years ago. It seems she took him to a healer who…well, healed him. I think Giovanni Billini, told me that you hired him to take your grandfather to see the healer too, did he not?”
“Oh yes, Pietro the Healer. Too bad Il Signore would not allow it.”
“You may have the coffin for what is owed on it, twenty coppers as I recall.”
“I can only offer you ten.” said Marcella. She looked at her sister and nodded to her as if to go.
“To order a new one it would cost four or five times that. But, for your sake and the sake of your family I will offer it to you for fifteen.”
“Done.” Marcella took the purse off her sash and poured out coins both silver and copper into the palm of her hand. She counted out fifteen large coppers and handed them to Cesare.
“Tell your family I share in their grief.”
“I will.” Their task done the two returned to Terra Sanctus and back to the Andano house where the people had spilled outside. The three husbands filled the tiny court yard in front of the house and the sisters and their children occupied the larger garden at the rear of the house.
Farintino went to Monsignor Petri to reserve a mass. After the formalities, the mass stipend offered and the gravesite selected the two bowed their heads in prayer.
The coffin was collected as per Farintino’s instructions. He sent his cousin’s twins, Paulo and Pietro in the family wagon to Cesare Lippo’s to pick it up. They returned very late in the afternoon with muddy clothes and a muddy wagon much too much late for a good excuse. They got a stern talking to from their father and switch to their backside from their mother.
Maria, Miranda and Rini had already washed their grandfather. They dressed him in his best breeches and his embroidered wedding shirt. The coffin was placed on a makeshift bier cobbled together from a few crates from the workshop. Rini draped the crates with a sheet. Farintino and Anselmo laid Fausto in the coffin. The lid was left off. A candle was lit and placed on a small stand next to the coffin. Farintino arranged his father’s hand across his chest and placed his mother’s crucifix in them.
The family knelt on both sides of the coffin and prepared themselves for the solemn ritual. Signora Onesti was hired to lead the rosary, which she did with a great chanting diction and efficiency. Amelia stayed in the bedroom and put her pillow over her head so she could hear nothing but the indistinguishable drone of people at prayer.
Marcella entered the dark bedroom and saw her mother under the covers on the bed, pillow over her ears and her eyes closed. She waited for Signora Onesti to end the prayers before she tapped her mother on the hand.
“Mama, it is almost done. Will you come out? Everyone has been asking about you. Please, I’ll be there for you.” she asked softly and then added, “Oh and by the way, we got the coffin for only fifteen coppers.”
Amelia had to smile at the last bit of news. “Fifteen you say. You did well.” She paused and added thoughtfully. “Knowing he is gone should make me feel sad or happy but I don’t feel either. I don’t feel anything. I only wish now I stood up to him.”
Marcella sat on the bed and gently stroked her mother’s shoulder. “Mama, please it is something that is done, and it can never be undone. He is dead; let his deeds die with him.”
“Yes he is dead, but I cannot forget what he did.” Amelia pulled the covers over her shoulder and closed her eyes. “Maybe, tomorrow, yes, maybe tomorrow.” her mother’s words trailed off on a vaguely bitter note.
* * * * * * * *
Monsignor Petri was in the front room. The lid had been nailed onto the coffin right before he arrived. The monsignor recited the De Profundis and the cross bearer and the censer carriers chanted the Si Iniquatates in response. They left the house with the cross bearer leading followed by two altar boys carrying candles, followed by Monsignor, Fausto in his coffin and the family and friends.
The pall bearers brought the coffin to the center of the church where the bier had already been set up. They had to reverse the coffin so Fausto’s feet were pointed toward the altar and finally set it down. Monsignor Petri gave the blessing and sprinkled the coffin with holy water.
Farintino was irked with himself. He had mistakenly paid for a high mass when he could have had a low mass said for half the price. The church was less than a quarter full, and of those in attendance a good two dozen or so were devout, white haired old widows wrapped in black weeds who always haunted the church biding their time before they too would enter the kingdom of heaven and be re-united with those who had already departed.
Farintino, Amelia, Marcella, Maria, Miranda and Rini along with Prunella sat in the first pew. Behind them the husbands sat. Each had an armful of wiggly toddler, most of whom were under the age of four. Paulo and Pietro sat at the far end of the pew next to the outer aisle. The rack of votive candles was within arm’s length; and when they thought no one was looking, they quickly turned their heads one at a time toward the flickering offerings and tried to blow them out. Behind the family the pews were sparsely inhabited by old acquaintances of Fausto and family friends, the curious who always attended church gatherings and admirers of Andano Angels. A few of their old beaus were there hoping for a second chance if the opportunity should arise. Mass finally ended to a chorus of crying babies. The people were already standing and ready to go before Monsignor Petri could say the final blessing.
The coffin was lifted off of its bier by Farintino, Anselmo and Maria’s husband Gius and Miranda’s husband Mateo. They followed the cross bearer, the incense bearers with their smoking censers and Monsignor Petri, who was in front of the coffin, out of the church, down the stone steps and across the square into the bright afternoon sun. It was a hot day. Anyone near took off their caps or made the sign of the cross or showed their respect by simply bowing as the funeral party went by. They passed through the north gate and the procession proceeded slowly and stately with great dignity onto the dusty road to the cemetery that had been in use since the Roman Empire.
The sun reflected off the silver crucifix mounted atop a black wooden shaft that the cross bearer carried. He was flanked on the left and right by an altar boy. Each swung an incense censer that let out great clouds of aromatic smoke. The monsignor and his personal aide, walked in front of the coffin and the others followed.
They arrived at the grave. The pall bearers set the coffin on two long ropes that were laid out perpendicular to the right of the grave. Dark, chunky earth was piled in a neat narrow heap along the other side of the opening.
Monsignor Petri said the last blessing over Fausto, the altar boys wagged their censers freeing pungent smoke that floated all about them. Monsignor nodded to his personal aide who was entrusted with the silver container of chrism. He handed it to monsignor, who with a silver aspergillum, sprinkled the coffin and all those who stood graveside. The pall bearers lifted the ropes under the coffin and without the slightest misstep lowered Fausto into his grave.
Farintino’s daughters and Prunella were the first to toss the symbolic handful of earth onto the coffin. Farintino followed and Marcella followed him. Amelia stood off to the side and began to shake. She started to cry in a high pitch. She fell to her knees in the narrow pile of dirt that bordered the grave, grabbed a large clod, held it over her head and with an animal look in her eyes threw it as hard as she could against the coffin causing a loud hollow noise. She grabbed another clod and did the same thing. This time she let out a primal grunt. When she reached for a third missile to hurl at Fausto’s coffin Farintino ran towards her. He fell to his knees behind Amelia and grabbed her low around the middle pinning her arms against her sides. He gave her a quick shake hoping to snap her out of her fit, then stood up dragging her to her feet. She held the dirt clod at her waist and gave it a clumsy, stunted, underhand toss into the grave. By this time everyone was aghast, no one could comprehend this unbelievable desecration.
As Farintino pulled a struggling Amelia away she made one last spectacular kick sending a spray of brown, damp dirt into the grave and onto those few unfortunate people standing directly across from her.
When Farintino dragged her far enough from the grave, he pushed her down to the ground in anger. She lay face down in a heaving mass. She wept and pounded the ground with her fists. By then a tearful Marcella and very concerned Maria were kneeling at their mother’s side. Farintino immediately regretted what he had just done to his wife. He knelt down next to her and leaned as low as she was and put his arm around her. He lifted her to her knees and petted her back and cajoled her to sit up.
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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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