Alchemist Gift – Amelia undergoes a purification
Alchemist Gift continued: The oblong vat was finally free. It was dirty and dusty on the outside and when they pulled it away from the wall she saw it was fairly clean on the inside because of the way it was stored. There was a thick copper ring attached to either end. The boys picked it up by the rings, it was heavier than they thought but they could manage just fine. As soon as they found their balance they started to trot.
“Slow down boys!” Marcella called out.
“Yes, your highness.” said Pietro.
“We shall make it a procession. I’ll be the Pope, you can be the King of Naples.” Paulo offered. “Your highness, get in and we will carry you. You can be the Virgin Mary.” he added, hoping Marcella would sit in the vat while they carried it into the house.
Marcella let out an innocent, natural laugh. For this moment her heart felt light and her soul sparkled. It was a feeling from her childhood that she thought she had lost. It was a feeling she had not experienced since those few precious months, right before puberty, when she could spend her days as she wished. The feeling brought sweet tears to her eyes. “No, no there is only one Holy Virgin Mary. I will be the Grand Prioress and lead the procession.” She said with a cracking voice as she looked away from the twins not wanting them to see the emotion she was feeling. The boys were too busy to notice anyway being mightily occupied as they struggled to carry the vat.
Just outside the kitchen door they were all but spent. They dropped the vat with no thought of the noise it might make or of any damage it might cause. Thy tried the few angular variations open to them but no matter, the door was not wide enough to allow the vat into the house. The twins staggered into the house and sprawled out on the work table in the kitchen. “We need water. Water I say.” croaked Paulo in a way that would make any theatrical director take notice.
The boys’ faces were red and shiny with sweat. Marcella could not help but smile at her two knights. “I’ll make you some honey water, would you like that?”
“Yes your highness.” The boys answered together.
Marcella poured the honey, she used quite a bit more than usual, into a pitcher of water and stirred it. As the boys drank and refreshed themselves Marcella asked them to take every vessel that was water tight they could find, as long as it was clean, and fill them at the fountain and bring them back to the kitchen.
The boys set themselves to the task. While they did that, Marcella built a nice hot fire in the hearth. She found rags, wetted them, went outside, and carefully cleaned the inside of the vat. When she was satisfied the vat was clean she collected every clay pot and crock they owned and waited for the fire to turn to embers. After the twins made quite a few trips to the fountain, there was enough water to fill the vat at least half way. She took a stick, broke the embers up and made as flat a bed with them as possible. Then she filled each clay vessel with water and placed them on the bed of coals.
Now that their task was finished the boys were beginning to get squirmy, Marcella gave them both a thick slab of bread and few candied figs, sent Pietro back to the shop and asked Paulo to go to the church and ask the new priest, Father Eduardo to come and perform a purification.
Marcella hung a line between the two posts that held up the wisteria covered pergola that extended out over the kitchen door. She then draped a sheet over the line for privacy. The sheet flapped in the gentle breeze sending the families of larks that had built their nests in the overhead lattice, into the air where they flew in acrobatic joy and sang their pretty songs.
In the kitchen she carefully took each steaming clay pot off of the embers, carried it out the back door and poured it into the vat. When the pots and crocks were empty she remembered the old stories of the Virgin Mary and added one of the many bouquets of rosemary that were hung throughout the house to illicit the memories of the deceased and more practically to cover the malodorous scent of death, to the bath water.
“Finally.” she thought. She went to her mother’s room, knocked softly and pushed the door open. The shutters were closed and the room was dark. Amelia looked in Marcella’s direction and squinted; she held her hand in front of her eyes to block the bright morning light that glowed around Marcella’s silhouette.
“Where were you this morning? You weren’t here when I woke up.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Amelia yawned, turned from her side onto her back and looked up at the ceiling.
“Mama, you must get up. You have lain there for four days. You have not seen the light of day or felt the sun on your face.” Marcella approached the bed and extended her hand.
Still staring at the ceiling she answered Marcella by pulling the blanket up under her chin.
“Enough. Today is a gift from our Lord, it should not be squandered. Pity should be felt for others, not oneself. ” Marcella repeated things she heard her mother say many, many times over the years. Marcella went to the window and opened the shutters. The light tumbled in and further illuminated the room. She turned back to the bed, grabbed the edge of the blanket and sheet, quickly pulled them away and let them fall on the floor in front of her. Amelia covered her face with her hands. Marcella knelt on the bed, worked her hand under her mother’s head and gently raised her up to a sitting position. “It is time to come back to us, to yourself. We all miss you and we all love you.” Marcella crawled over Amelia and into the large square of shimmering sun light that spread out over the bed. She sat on the edge of the bed with her feet on the floor and her upper body turned toward her mother. The light played on the soft contours of her face and short hair imbuing a delicate golden glow. “Come now, mama, we have made a surprise for you, Pietro and Paulo and me. It is something that won’t last.” Marcella gave as a little tease. She stood and took her mother’s hand, smiled and playfully tugged.
Amelia knew she needed to get out of bed. She knew she needed to return to her kitchen. She needed to return to Farintino and beg his forgiveness.
* * * * * * * * *
Paulo was at the kitchen door at the back of the rectory. He knocked. Marta opened the door and looked at the shy boy standing there.
“Yes, young master, do you look for food?”
“No, I look for Father Eduardo.” Paulo held his hands together in front of him, but couldn’t help fidgeting.
Marta was enjoying her little diversion. “And who should I say is calling?”
“I am calling for my…for my mistress, Marcella Andano, daughter of Farintino the hat maker.”
“Yes, dear boy, I know the family well. I’ll see if Father Eduardo is available.” Marta wiped her hands on her apron.
“He must be, the bath water is getting cold.”
Marta outright chuckled at the unexpected statement. She knew right where Father Eduardo was, in the front room sitting by the window reading. She told him there was a boy sent by Marcella Andano to see him.
Eduardo, a very recent addition to an overjoyed monsignor arrived at the rectory at sunset on the day of Fausto’s funeral. He was sent up from a small village a little north of Naples. He hadn’t even unpacked all of his things yet or said his first mass at Terra Sanctus. This was his first assignment. Eduardo put his book down and followed Marta into the kitchen.
Paulo was just about to dip his fingers into a bubbling pot of stew that simmered on the fire for a quick sample.
“Which is it, Pietro or Paulo?”
Paulo looked up and almost dropped the lid as he quickly and clumsily replaced it. Stepping away from the hearth he looked at the priest and asked unsure of the answer. “Am I in trouble?”
The priest smiled and wagged his head “no.”
“I am Paulo. My mistress needs you to perform a Purification at her house, the Andano house.”
“A Purification? The house and the family were just blessed at the funeral. Yes?”
Paulo thought for a moment and repeated Marcella’s request. “She wants you to come, and the water is getting cold.”
“I must get my kit, return and tell the mistress I’ll be there anon.”
* * * * * * * *
Amelia stood next to the bed and faced her daughter. Marcella loosened the lacing on her mother’s over bodice and pulled the stiff and filthy garment over her head and placed it on the bed. She did so with the outer skirt which was just as dirty. Marcella sat Amelia on the edge of the bed and untied the ribbons that held up her linen stocking, removed them and put them along with the other clothing. Amelia now wore only her chemise and her underskirt.
Marcella took her mother’s hand as if Amelia was the daughter now and led her down the short hallway, through the front room and into the kitchen. Amelia looked over at the hearth, the savory aroma from the simmering rabbit and carrot stew wafted throughout the room.
Marcella opened the door. The copper vat sat in the shade of the rippling sheet. The water was fragrant with rosemary. Marcella put her hand in the water, it was still warm. She steadied her mother and Amelia stepped into the vat. When she sat down the water rushed up against her underskirt and caressed her naked legs and naked lower torso. The warm water, the fresh air, the wisteria hanging down from above and the twittering larks all gave a feeling of ease, calm and peace. Amelia leaned back against the sloped side of the vat and closed her eyes.
* * * * * * * *
“Follow me Father Eduardo.” Paulo skipped a little ahead of Eduardo and turned down the narrow alley behind the stables that would deliver them a few doors away from the Andano front gate two streets over. Eduardo quickened his pace. This was the first request and he was curious about the “water getting cold.” Paulo waited at the gate, opened it for the priest, scooted in front of him and opened the front door. They entered the main room.
The first thing Farther Eduardo noticed with the copious bundles of rosemary that festooned the walls. Paulo took the priest through the kitchen and knocked on the door that lead to the sheltered landing that was dominated by the vat occupied by Amelia with Marcella in attendance using a wooden ladle to pour water over her mother’s head and shoulders and breast.
“Yes, come.” Marcella said when she heard, whom she quite expected to be Paulo, knock on the door. Paulo opened the door and peered at Amelia who sat with her head back and eyes closed and watched Marcella pour a ladle full of water over her mother’s forehead. Marcella looked up and stood.
“Sit by mama.” She said to Paulo. She nodded to the priest, whom she had never met before and with a nod of her head invited him into the kitchen.
“Would you like water, Father…?”
Eduardo, “No thank you. But now I understand about the water getting cold.” He smiled. “The boy said something about a Purification.”
“It’s my mother. There must be a blessing to lift this terrible darkness that she has lived since my…fa…my grandfather died.
“Of course I can give her a blessing. And you are?”
“I am Marcella Andano, the daughter.”
“Is your mother in the state of grace?”
“I don’t know; can someone who is in the grip of such darkness be in the state of grace?”
“Do you know the last time your mother received the Holy Eucharist?”
Marcella was stung by this question. She had never seen her mother take the sacrament. “I can’t say for sure, but she prays every day, sometimes for great lengths of time.”
“Let us pray to Saint Michael.” Father Eduardo headed toward the door with Marcella close behind. They knelt by the vat and made the sign of the cross.
“Saint Michael we beseech you to protect our sister…” Eduardo paused and looked at Marcella who understood what he needed.
“…Amelia Andano as you protect the holy mother the church from the wiles and grasp of Satan. Use your divine sword to cut the Lord of Darkness out of her soul and keep him away from her. By the faith of the divine apostles Peter and Paul and all the other apostles and martyrs I command you to leave, to be gone from our sister in God. May she find hope and salvation in the true light in our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”
Father Eduardo stopped and took a vial from his pocket and poured a few drops of oil into the water. He put the vial back into his pocket and produced a small packet that was no more than a piece of paper folded over twice with a small bit of salt in it. He added the salt to the water in the vat and gave the water his blessing.
Amelia heard the prayer and behind her closed eyes she could feel a rumble in her soul akin to the sound that thunder makes. A bolt of white light cleaved the dark horizon that filled her mind. After the blessing Amelia imagined the sanctified water begin to roil and froth. Another bolt of light exploded across Amelia’s mindscape, then another and another. Amelia was rushed along in a current that coursed through her being, from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. The strange cyclic sensation became stronger and louder until it reached a frantic crescendo. Amelia began to convulse. The water in the vat violently splashed from side to side and from front to back and spilled over the sides onto the landing. Her arms and legs flailed and she hit the back of her head and neck on the rim of the vat quite hard several times as her back arched and fell and arched and fell again. Her entire body shuddered and then the convulsions suddenly stopped and Amelia’s inert body slipped under the water. A frightened and shocked priest and a horrified Marcella watched as a tiny string of bubbles escaped from each of Amelia’s nostrils.
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