A Short Story
By Kelly Ansara
I saw my Lady by a purling brook
With laughing maidens, where green branches twined;
Lucia ran her hands down her dress, an A-line with sleeves worked together from rough black fabric. The belt around her waist cut into her hips that gave away the secrets of her children. The collar snaked up her neck, tight and unrelenting, as she tugged at it. The hem fell mid-way to her calves and it caught on her stockings. Her black shoes cutting into her feet; swollen and red.
The room’s smell choked her memories to life, his smell wafted around her; winding like vines and rooting her to the spot. Lucia sat down on the bed, the springs groaning beneath her. She laid her palms flat on the bed, the patterned cotton running under her fingertips.
Squared and right-angled, the room was softened with the touches of being lived in. The four-poster bed, unused since a week ago, stood at attention with the sheet a pristine shine of uselessness. Lucia had found herself unable to peel the covers back and ease onto the mattress as she had done for years. Now it seemed cold, a suffocating chamber that would hold her under the clouds of misery, thundering above her and paralysing her. The chair in the corner sat alone; dethroned of its glory of being needed.
O never since that primal, passionate look
Lodovico, or Vic to his friends and family – amante to Lucia, a secret between them – had bought the cotton the day they had met among blowing winds and haggling hands on the promenade of Port of Reggio. His face was tanned and his blue eyes shone as he looked up at her from the street. She saw him, years later in this room, as he sat straight up reading; eyes squinted through the glasses perched on his nose. Him looking up, smiling at her – smiling only for her. The years tacked together in flashes.
He would run his hand down her face, smooth, soft and reassuring as if he would never come back. Always an ache in his eyes, words whispering in the air. His hands, hard and thin, show years of working on the boats, hauling, yelling, salting and scrubbing as experience and life nudged their way into his face.
Have I beheld her face so soft and kind.
Hence for a space my yearning was content
The curtains danced across the rail as the wind milled through the room, flute-like and fleeting. It reminded her of the small church in Messina, its cobbled walls and wooden window flats. The way the heat had sunk into her pores as she sweated in the lace dress her grandmother gave her. Her wedding day, his hands lightly on her waist as he kissed her, her head pointed up as if in prayer. Deep into the night he whispered lines of a poem to her, his hands tangled in her hair – his smell of soap and salt, like she could run her tongue down his arm and taste him.
And my sad soul some consolation knew;
Alas, my heart remained although I went,
She looked around the room, its walls covered in a yellow daisy paper and dripping syrupy memories that she could pick out and eat, savouring with closed eyes. Faces gleaming back at her, an eddy of moving pictures that regale and demand.
They had left Messina, cow-hung with baggage and little money, but Lodovico insisted he wanted the dream for his new wife. She looked back unsure of the world she would step into, her eyes praying for someone to stop them and take them back to their little apartment, the smells in the street and the old woman on the corner with the vegetables. This new life smelled of pollution, dirt, wasted lives and uncertainties. The walls tell her of the night he heaved her skirts to her knees, poignant against the wall, the night they moved in.
Stifling the blush seeping along her crumpled cheeks, she grazed the carpet with her foot remembering the night she gave birth to Luigi, her screams slicing through her body, blood matting the floor and fingers tearing sheets; hurried hushed tones needing more, breathing more. And the night his anger exploded, barraged in shrapnel bursts that cut her, amputating her emotions. He’d thrown the shoe in a forceful movement, meant for the wall, but it hit her, the eye swelling large, blue. Painted mistakes. Lucia fingered the sagging skin under her eye, the place where his lips seemed to seek her out as if in apology long after the bruise had faded. These were the walls that would be stripped bare, clean canvases for a new artist, a new family to paint memories in colours of bright orange and yellow.
And constantly my pain and sorrow grew.
Early the sun sank down in western skies
Thick smells of garlic wafted through the air, voices popping in the silence. They’d told her it would be alright, that he was in a better place – how could he be in a better place; he wasn’t with her? The funeral made her feel small in her own body, her shoulders hunched and her fingers knotted as she sat staring at her shoes as the sacerdote lilted and hankered the verse and psalms. Vic hadn’t been religious, his drunken ranting and berating had made her giggle at sixteen and scowl at fifty. Nodding slowly and meekly at sympathies.
She wished she could have scooped the hurried goodbyes and missed smiles into her palms and pressed her face into them, feeling the fizzing against her skin and then tie them together with the followed through promises and held onto pronouncements of love.
And left the earth to woeful hours obscure,
Afar my sun hath also veiled her ray;
Upon the mind first bliss most heavily lies,
The memories rose forth and tumbled down upon her, furious waves crashing and beating down leaving her breathless and battling to get her head above. She gripped onto the wooded four-poster frame, and stood to face the bed; a soldier in battle, standing fast. Wrapping her arms around her chest, she pulled tighter, holding herself together so she wouldn’t dissolve into nothing. It was as if a hole had been punched through her heart ready to be filed in some dark attic forever, only to be left and forgotten.
How short a while all mortal joys endure,
‘Mamma, are you here?,’ Luigi called, his accent soft and light with a western world English. She’d insisted he speak English when he was little, his face scrunching up in confusion as he thought of a word. Luigi mimicked his father in feature and gesture, furrowed brows and talking hands. She turned her head, her hand on her throat and smiled at her son. Reaching out to touch his cheek, his head inclined watching the tears slowly drip down her face. When had she started crying?
He stepped forward into her touch, his eyes soft and sad – a duller blue. His shirt squared out his shoulders, he was a man. How had her little figlio become this man, emanating strength and adoration?
Vic clutched his heart as if looking at her hurt, knees buckling and shoulders thrusting forward – his arm reaching out as if begging for help. She turned hearing the rattling choke from his throat that seemed to tap her on the shoulder. It felt as if a vacuum had sucked the sound from the room despite dishes shattering to the floor. A screech for help: Luigi! Sinking to her knees and grabbing for her husband, those wonderful eyes that held her like a noose, looked grey as their blue leached from the iris. Large orbs staring back, frightened acceptance; she tried to grab his collar to keep him up.
‘Amante,’ she begged, sounding like a desperate child. Luigi rigid in the doorway unmoving.
‘Auito!,’ she looked helplessly at her son shooting the word like a bullet. He jumped at the sudden rage.
‘Non Posso,’ he said lifting his palms up towards her. Panic held him there breathless and unmoving ‘the ambulance is on their way, mamma’
‘Auito,’ she sank her face into Vic’s shirt, his breathing shallow, drool trickling from his mouth. Feeling like lifetimes passing as his life tripped and tumbled to another world, she sat there stroking his hair and burying her tear-soaked lips to his forehead before the men picked her up by the elbows to move her out of the way. Shaking heads and stepping back. She stood weeping.
‘Auito,’ she whispered as the young men left, nodding their heads in respect. They left.
‘We should go,’ Luigi tried to guide her out, her head meekly nodding. Turning, he heard her say, almost as a whisper as if it was a secret to the room and no one else.
‘ma il rimembrar si tosto non si parte, amante,’ she said.
Nodding, he led her out of the door.
But not so soon doth memory pass away.