Saturday, July 3, 2010

Three - Sundry Advice

Maria was used to funerals in Noepoli. Who wasn’t? It seemed as if every day there was a funeral. The long mass in the Church della Madonna delle Grazie. The doleful procession through the twisting streets. The burial itself with another longwinded liturgy from the priests who always sounded as if they were disengaged automatons. Hollow words. Empty sounds. Everyone wore black. The women, all heavily veiled in black gauzy stuff or some black shawl or here and there, one made of lace. They moved about as if they were ghosts. Maria among them.

The church was thronged with the mourners, shoulder to shoulder – for Tanio and for Nino. There are always more to mourn when the dead are young. Besides, they had prolific relatives.

The church’s nave was a marvelous mix of high baroque artistry and simple folk art; with many places to draw the eye. Familiar to the mourners, it was so colorful and old. A great fresco over the sacristy was half moldered away and half intact, the portion that remained looked quite stunning, and as if it had escaped from some museum. Before it, Nino and Tanio lay in their open caskets, side by side, encircled by flowers.

The mass was long with many "amens", much sprinkling of holy water, and flamboyant swinging of the smoking censer. When it was over, Maria and all the others filed solemnly out of the church.

There, the mourners stood, waiting until the coffins were brought out of the church, carried by the pallbearers, Maria and Tanio’s fathers and brothers and uncles and cousins among them. Out of the church and placed onto the carts that would bear them away.

So Tanio was carried forth, his flowers following close behind him. As the mourners waited, all of the flowers were placed over his coffin and over Nino’s coffin, until there were so many that some slid off onto the pavement and were left there to wilt. And then the carts moved down the lane as everyone followed, to the cemetery.

At that, each mourner moved forward with the procession. They walked slowly, most of them crying softly upon this solemn occasion. All of the wailing and lamenting which had begun at the time of the death was, as everyone knew, forbidden during the procession, because the souls of the dead might hear the pleading and thereby lose their way. As they started out, Maria heard one of the mourners say under his breath, the old proverb, "After the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box".

It was a long way. Maria saw the Padrone himself among those who walked with a dignity due the dead. In the place of honor, the Padrone walked, just behind the biers. A small band played dreadfully doleful music, on instruments completely unknown outside the region, that is, the organetto, zampogna, cupa-cupa, ciaramella and surdillina.

And then they arrived at the cemetery, ringed by the mountains, with the dark pines, the "Pino Loricato”, and the ancient olive trees clustered round, the many graves, above ground and of dressed stone, finer made than the homes of the living, were these many mansions of the dead.

So often, thought Maria, we lavish more expense and attention on the dead than on the living.
Lisabetta must have been thinking much the same thing. As the proceedings neared their close, she slipped her arm into Maria’s and whispered, “It seems wrong, somehow, to do all of this for them, now, when they cannot see or hear or know it.

Maria nodded, just as the interment service concluded. She then answered gently, “I remind myself that a whole lifetime of expense and attention for our dear Tanio and Nino has to be compressed into these few hours. So perhaps it is right, after all.”

They turned, still arm in arm, and began making their way out of the cemetery. As they did so, the Padrone, with a courtly gesture, bowed to them both, and then looking at Lisabetta, said, “My deepest sympathy on this sad, sad, loss of your dear brothers. It is all too much; the ways of the good Lord are beyond my understanding when such as these are called to heaven before their time.”

How surprising that the Padrone should speak to them, Maria thought. And of a subject so close to his own heavy sorrow of many years standing, which they now shared in their bitter loss. Maria had heard whispers of the story only. In his youth, the Padrone had been much beloved; he was a friend to all the townspeople—and much admired for his wit and style. “He brought life to every festival,” she recalled her mother’s way of describing the man who was almost as mysterious as the moon to the younger people. For, when he was a young man, not long married, both his wife and son had died under tragic circumstances. Thereafter, the Padrone had kept himself apart from the people of Noepoli. Indeed, from all the world.

His was a compelling, perfectly oval face, with a grand forehead and a jaw that exhibited strength of purpose. The mouth, nearly lipless, drooped down slightly at each side, not so much as to give an air of disapproval as a tone of discernment. The hair, though grey was not yet white; it had receded over the years, perhaps from severe brushing and plastering with pomata for decades.

Lisabetta thanked the Padrone quietly. He then turned to Maria.

“My dear young lady,” the Padrone said, “Tanio spoke much of you when he came to read the books in my library. I dare say not a day went by that he did not tell me some little tale about what you did or wore or said. It was clear that he loved you very much. As I am sure you have loved him. This will be a heavy sadness, but with every unfolding day, you must allow the love to be stronger than the sadness. “

“I shall try,” Marie promised. By now they had come to the gate leading out of the cemetery.

“Good. Good. That is good,” the Padrone said with a nod, as he rested one gloved hand on the stone gatepost. “You must both come to see me this week. I am an old man and see so few young people. If you are able, do try. The two of you, with your fathers’ permission, naturally.”

The girls said that they would do their best to honor his kind invitation. Then the old gentleman nodded and walked off in the direction of his home, the Palazzo Rinaldi.

“He really is a kindly man,” Lisabetta observed.

“Yes,” Maria agreed. “Tanio loved him too. We should have told him that. I think it would have done his heart good.”

“We shall tell it to him when we visit,” Lisabetta suggested.

“What better?” agreed Maria. And together they resolved to make plans to call upon the Padrone.

“What have you girls been saying to the Padrone?” asked Maria’s Mama, as both her parents and Lisabetta’s drew up alongside them. They told their families of the great kindness the Padrone had showed them and about his invitation as well.

“This is a rare thing indeed,” Joseph said, upon hearing it. “For the Padrone to ask anyone to come and see him.”

Lisabetta’s father agreed, “The Padrone is practically a hermit in that old palace. Ever since his great tragedy. No one visits him. Except for our own Tanio. Somehow that boy charmed the old man from the start.”

“Is it alright then for us to visit him?” asked Maria.

“Under the circumstances, it would be a terrible thing for you not to,” Joseph observed. And so it was arranged. Naturally, the details were in the Padrone’s hand.

* * *

On the following Tuesday afternoon, Lisabetta and Maria presented themselves at the Palazzo Rinaldi “for tea” as the invitation had evolved.

They came to the palazzo filled with curiosity and some sense of awe as well as respect. No one visited the Palazzo Rinaldi in these days, nor had visited there for many years. Yes, the façade of the palace was familiar to Maria, as it was to all the townspeople. And perhaps she could claim a deeper kinship with it, having shared her inmost dreams with the friends she had made of the stone carved faces upon it.

“Grazie and “Lucia” smiled down upon her now, as she approached the palazzo. If they could only talk, they might assure her or bring some comfort. Maria listened. They kept silent as she and Lisabetta entered through the grand old doorway.

They were led into the salon of the palazzo, a room of no small distinction, by a solemn butler. The cool floors of the salon were travertine; the walls of a pale bisque colored plaster. Here and there were tall windows, deep set in the walls, with many panes of ancient glass, all of which were covered with curtains of the most delicate lace. The bright light was thereby diffused and made golden.

The salon was tall, and near the tops of the walls clerestory window provided more light, which allowed the visitors to see the ancient wooden beams to great advantage.

The walls were adorned with sculpted plaster frames, surrounded by leafy designs, which were painted a crisp white and thus stood out from their coral background. Inset within these were portraits of the ancestors of the Padrone, men and women whose memorialized stern faces peered out from backgrounds of umber and grey. Overhead was suspended a fantastic double tiered Venetian chandelier, though no candles were lighted.

The room was furnished sparingly. By the carved stone fireplace stood a matched set of two chairs and a divan, upholstered in golden mohair, with arms that rose upward to form something like wings. And at the top of the backs of each chair, the carved mahogany frames were embellished with the traditional masks of comedy and tragedy, the mouths of the masks being holes that had been carved straight through the wood, like the mouth of a jack-o-lantern.

The only other furniture in the room was an Erard grand piano, made of some fine light colored wood with marquetry flowers and ormolu mounts. If the two girls had been mystically transported to the Alhambra or the Papal Apartments, they could not have been more astonished.

The Padrone entered and greeted them warmly, “It is good of you to come to see an old man in his solitude.”

“We are glad to do so,” said Lisabetta, “You have done us a great kindness to invite us.”

“Yes,” agreed Maria. “And we have this love from Tanio that we share. He loved you very much, and praised you often.”

The Padrone nodded almost imperceptibly and then said, “I thought we would have tea here, in this room and then I would show you the library which was the favorite place of Tanio.”

To this, they agreed.

Then, tea was wheeled in on a gilded cart. There were delicate cups and lacy napkins and dainty tea cakes arranged with care. The woman who served them was not unfamiliar to Maria and Lisabetta. A distant relation to the Padrone, Marginalia Pericoloso was tall and gangly, and while she was not more than six or seven years older than Lisabetta and Maria, she seemed all elbows and knees and terribly out of place in the fine old room. She smiled at the girls, but the smile did not evoke warmth. It was like the smile of some cornered animal. Having served the tea, Marginalia departed.

As Marginalia disappeared out of the salon, under his breath, as if to himself, the Padrone said, “Le ragazze basse per marito, le alte per raccogliere i fichi,” which means, "The short girls for marriage, the tall to collect the figs."

Utterly surprised by this, Lisabetta snickered in spite of herself. Maria smiled inwardly as well, but bit her tongue to maintain her composure. The Padrone saw that both were amused, and laughed heartily. It was the first time either girl had seen such merriment upon his face.

“I am neither tall nor short,” Maria said, quietly, “so I wonder which will it be for me, marriage or figs?”

“These things the good Lord will show us in time,” said the Padrone. “Now tell me about your days, dear girls, as we enjoy our tea.”

They talked of many things, of their schooling, which was nearing its end, of their families and of course of Tanio and Nino. Maria told of her brother Giacomo’s letters from America. When they had finished their refreshments, the Padrone said, “Let us go into the library where you can see the place that charmed Tanio so.”

It was a short distance away, just through an anteroom and around a corner. The library was as one might expect, lined with bookshelves on most of the four walls, from ceiling to floor. A large table, covered in a Turkish carpet, and two deep armchairs stood with their backs to the tall windows, in the center of the room, facing the table and beyond it was another carved mantelpiece, a twin to the one in the salon. Above the fireplace was a portrait unlike those in the salon. Here was a beautiful woman in a gorgeous ball gown, filled with life and movement, signed with a flourish in one corner, “Boldini”.

The painting gave Maria a start. Not because of the contrast with the others in the salon, but rather, because it seemed as if she were looking at her own features when she gazed upon its face.

Maria gasped audibly. The Padrone looked at her with gentle eyes, “You see it too?” he asked her. Maria nodded.

“I was uncertain at first,” the Padrone confided. “So many years had passed. I thought perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part. But now that I see you in this room, standing before this cherished image, I am quite certain.”

“The two are much alike,” agreed Lisabetta, looking back and forth between the Boldini portrait and the face of her friend. “The eyes have that same dancing light; the cheeks, the same rosiness. There is much about the brow and chin that are the same. And the mouth of the portrait looks as if it is about to greet me in the familiar voice of Maria Fucci. Who is this woman? Is it as if they are one and the same, or sisters, at the very least.”

“That is what I first thought, as well,” said the Padrone. “No, but that cannot be, for my own dear Francesca, my lamented wife whom you see there, came to us from afar, from the chilly north of Italy, along the shores of the Lago de Como. There, she was born. There she was raised. There, I met her when I was just eighteen. She had never been far from her home in Cadenabbia. O, across the lake of course, to Bellagio. And once or twice as far as Como itself. But never beyond it, until I knew her. She was married in the little church in Cadenabbia, amid the scent of freshly cut oleander. Francesca never set foot in Noepoli until I brought her home to the Palazzo Rinaldi as my wife, at the conclusion of our honeymoon journey.”

“So this uncanny resemblance, it is a pure coincidence,” said Maria.

The Padrone shook his head, “I have never known the good Lord to deal in coincidences, Maria. It is more than that, I am sure.” He continued as if he were in church, as if he were praying a solemn prayer. “I believe that the Lord has permitted Francesca to send you as a kind of ministering angel, as a reminder of what once was, and as an encouragement to me, not to grieve as bitterly as I have done all these years.”

All three of them fell silent for a time. How long, none could say. And then the Padrone took from a bookshelf a velvet bound hinged picture frame.

“I hesitate to share this, for it may be another surprise and one too great to bear. Please, dear girl, be seated, and you as well Miss Lisabetta. And now, if you will, open it and look at the photographs there.”

Maria did as the Padrone requested, and upon opening the frame, which was mad like a small book, therein found two photographs, one of the woman of the portrait, and the other of Tanio.

“Here is your Francesca once more. And how dear Tanio’s face is to me,” Maria said, as she traced it through the glass. She was touched. Her heart was full to overflowing that the Padrone would cherish Tanio in so intimate a way. She looked at him and saw that there were tears in his eyes. “You are so good to keep his photo next to the one who claims your heart so completely.”

“You must believe me,” said the Patron. “You are not looking at Tanio, any more than you are looking at yourself. The boy in the photograph is my own son, who perished with his mother so long ago.”

“This is too much to comprehend,” Lisabetta said, as she strained to look at the photographs. “Can that not be Tanio? Do I not know my own brother?”

But Maria spoke in a whole new way, “Yes, I see. I see it is not Tanio. His clothes were never this fine, and these are of a style no one wears any longer. Also, this boy has a slight scar on his cheek—see here? As if some sharp thing had cut him there. At first I thought it was a scratch on the glass, but it is on his face itself. Tanio never bore such a mark, Lisabetta. This is not our Tanio.”

“My head is all dizzy,” Lisabetta said. “I understand these things less and less.”

“We must be dreaming,” Maria agreed. She turned to ask the Padrone, “You say this is your son?”

“I pledge you my word, this is a photograph of Domenico Rinaldi, my only son, taken less than a year before his tragic end.”

Then the Padrone told them the story of the disaster that had befallen his wife and son.

“I have not spoken of this in years, but it is with me every day,” he began. “In those days, I was often called to Vienna, on business. That time, as in some other times, I took Francesca and Domenico with me. We decided to combine business with pleasure, and so had arranged to stay at a hotel and to see a few entertainments. It was a few weeks before Christmas and we were all in a festive mood.

“We thought it a special treat to attend the second night’s performance of Jacques Offenbach’s opera "Les Contes d’Hoffmann”, which was already proving to be popular with a sophisticated audience, as well as being whistled about the city by trades people. By any standards, the Ring Theater was luxurious, an ornate place that hosted the most popular performances of the day.

“According to the custom of the time, it was fashionable to arrive at the very last moment and to sit up front, near the stage. We did not arrive until about 6:45 p.m. What happened next is hard to believe and painful to tell. One of the stagehands was using a long-arm igniter to light the row of gas lights above the stage. He inadvertently set fire to some prop clouds that were hanging over the stage.

“Flames soon caught the stage curtain ablaze. Quick thinking might have prevented the tragedy even then, had the management lowered the fire curtain. But instead they shut off the gas, which meant the theater was plunged into darkness save for the flames.

“The balconies became clogged, the exits were jammed. In a panic, people began jumping from the balconies. This was how my Francesca and Domenico died, as the poor frightened souls from overhead came plunging down upon them, killing themselves, as they also crushed my dear ones to death, instantly. I was right beside them, and it was only by chance that I remained among the living.

“About this time, nets were brought in. This allowed people to jump from the balconies in safety. I suppose as many as one hundred who jumped were saved. But for Domenico and Francesca and hundreds of others, it was too little, too late.

“Just then, the Austrian royal family, who had planned to come to the performance, arrived. There they stood, as the disaster was ending. The newlyweds, Crown Prince Rudolf and Crown Princess Stefanie were overcome with tears, weeping with us, over the hundreds of the dead.”

The girls sat silent and motionless.

“I went to Vienna a young and happy father and husband,” the Padrone said. “I returned to Noepoli empty and alone.” He reached out and took the photographs from Maria’s hands. “Now, you see why I was so fond of Tanio. From his first days, he reminded me of Domenico. And after he was older and came here often to read and told me of his love for you Maria, I made it a point to see who you were. As it happened, you were the young lady who had as a little girl, stood often outside the palazzo, gazing up at the carvings on the wall, as if you could hear what they were saying. And the young lady who grew to be so like Francesca. You can imagine my astonishment to find not one, but two young people who are so much like my perished family.”

And still, neither girl could say a word.

“You must pardon me for speaking of these things,” the Padrone said. “I do not do so to increase your sorrow, nor to sooth my own, but rather to explain to you why I sense there is a bond between us that traces beyond time. This is why I was first so fond of Tanio, but as I got to know him, I learned to love him for himself, as all who knew him did.”

“You have told us such astonishing things,” Maria said. “Frightening. Terrible. But they are also deeply wonderful in their way.”

“Yes, somehow I knew that you would feel that way.”

Maria felt that she must say something else, and so, took from her purse a book, “This, honored Padrone, is your own book. Tanio was reading from it when he fell ill. I thought it best to return it to you, as he intended to do, before the malaria overtook his life.”

“Ah, Francesco Petrarca,” the Padrone said. “Tanio had good taste in reading. I could always find him with something worthwhile in his hands.” He took the book and carefully placed it on the shelf, among many volumes, in its rightful place.

“Is there something more you wish of me”? A voice came from the doorway to the anteroom. It made the girls jump and the Padrone himself scowl. There in the door stood Marginalia Pericoloso, with her arms akimbo, as if she had come to scold them all. “The tea things have all been cleared away.” Maria wondered just how long the woman had been standing there, and how much she had heard.

“No, no, Marginalia,” answered the Padrone somewhat vaguely. “You may go home whenever you wish.”

* * *

It was some way to the small home of Briccone and Marginalia Pericoloso. The home of the Percolosos was scarcely that. A hovel really. Just two rooms that seemed more cave than house and this was exactly the case. The front room had been added on, at some time long before, to an ancient cave carved right into the living rock of the hillside. There were no windows to this dwelling, just a door that when opened during the daytime allowed some light to find its way into the front room, where Marginalia and Briccone took their meals. No natural light ever found its way into the back room, where they slept amid the rough hewn walls.

Briccone was already at home when Marginalia arrived there. She began making preparations for their evening meal, a simple dish of crusty bread crumbled over pasta with a few seasonings from herbs that she had secreted into her apron as she left the palazzo. To this, at the last minute, she added some shaved cheese and sausage, both of which were also courtesy of the larder of her employer.

Briccone grunted his approval as he downed the meal quickly.

“What do you think?” Marginalia said, as she saw him return to a more civil mood. “The Padrone had company today.”

Briccone put down his fork and stared at her as if she had said she had flown home from Noepoli on a broomstick.

“Company,” he scowled, “the Padrone never has company. The closest thing to it was that scamp Tanio we are now well rid of. So, what is all this about?”

“Tanio’s sister and Tanio’s betrothed,” Marginalia cooed. “They came for tea at the Padrone’s invitation.”

“This sounds like trouble,” Briccone said.

“That’s what I thought, too.” Marginalia cleared away the plate and set before her husband a pipe and his tobacco pouch. He rummaged in it till the pipe was filled and lighted and then she went on.

“So I listened at the doorway and you will be surprised at what I heard.”

She swiftly related all the details of the conversation between the Padrone and Maria and Lisabetta, for if the truth be told, Marginalia missed nothing that occurred at the Palazzo Rinaldi. There was a reason for this. If one were to track the linage of Marginalia back far enough, say three generations, one would find the name Rinaldi there, a younger son of a younger son, but still a Rinaldi. And because the older son of the older son tracked down to the Padrone himself, and because there were few other branches to be found by even the most scrumptious genealogists, the fact remained that Marginalia was the Padrone’s next living relative and presumptive heir. Everything that occurred at the Palazzo Rinaldi, was therefore of the deepest personal interest to Marginalia and to Briccone Pericoloso.

“We will have to keep a sharp eye on this,” Briccone said.

“Trust me,” Marginalia replied, “I will miss nothing.”

She did however miss the remaining conversation between the Padrone and his visitors. The Padrone asked them both to return the following week for tea. And to make this a weekly event. Lisabetta and Maria agreed.

The following Tuesday, they presented themselves as before. Again, the door was opened by the butler who took them to the salon. There, the Padrone greeted them warmly and again they shared the tea and cakes as they chatted together. The Padrone seemed infinitely interested in the small doings of their lives. Near the end of the visit, the Padrone was called away; something having to do with a message that had arrived. After a few minutes, Marginalia came into the salon.

“The Padrone begs your forgiveness but important business makes it impossible for him to return. He wishes to say he will see you next Tuesday for tea.” The girls were surprised by this, but made their way homeward.

“I wonder what it could have been to take him away like that?” Maria said.

“It must have been something very good or very bad,” Lisabetta replied.

The next Tuesday they came again to the Palazzo Rinaldi. Again they had tea. This time Maria brought along a letter from Giacomo, which she read aloud to the Padrone.

“I hope you will consider this, my family,” he had written. “Our house is now so filled with the borders, these men who work in the mine and in the mill, that Rosa is kept busy from dawn to midnight. If you would see fit to send Maria to us, she would have the benefit of a good life in America and also help us in our work here.”

The letter ended with a promise to pay for Maria’s passage to America, if all were in agreement about this plan.

“What do you think of it?” the Padrone asked her.

“The idea never occurred to me,” Maria confided. “Now that it has been proposed, I am of two minds about it. The thought of going to America seems exciting and frightening all at once. I have never pictured myself there. Nor did I think that I would end up being a maid in my brother’s house. But worse things could happen. Here, I have no real prospects except to marry and there is no one I am inclined to consider as a husband. So the idea is gaining weight with me.”

“You would miss your family here, of course,” Lisabetta said.

“And you most of all,” Maria relied. “And you, dear Padrone.”

The next several weeks passed uneventfully but on the third week, Maria had a strange experience which made her wonder just what was happening in her small world. She had been to visit her Aunt Gostanza in Sinese and was on her way home again when a man she did not know came walking in the other direction toward her.

It was a particularly desolate stretch of the road, out of sight of any farmhouse, where the road followed the mountainous terrain, hugging the slope, so that to Maria’s right the land fell away into a deep valley and to her left, it rose sharply toward a very high summit. As the stranger came closer, she felt a kind of terror inside of her that was unexplainable. Truly, her only choice was to move forward or to retrace her steps.

She decided to move along the road and beyond as quickly as she could, looking at the path instead of at the man, or off in a distance. Anything but to look in to his face. This, plan seemed to be working well, as they were about to pass one another, each going in their own direction when the man suddenly gave a stifled cry, stumbled and fell to the ground.

The man did not move. It was as if he had died right there. He lay face downward in the dirt of the road. But as she looked Maria could see from the rise and fall of his shoulders that he was still breathing in and out. So he was not dead. Perhaps unconscious. Maybe this was a fit of some kind. Epilepsy? No matter. It was not wise to try to intervene here. If she went on to the next farm, she could tell someone there to go and find the man.

So Maria maintained her distance and while keeping an eye on the man, she resumed her pace, toward Noepoli.

She had just about rounded the hillside to the spot where the fallen stranger would be no longer visible. Then out of nowhere a voice cried out loudly and with malice, “Beware! Stay away from the Padrone! He means you harm! Never go to the Palazzo again!”

Maria sensed that the warning was coming from the man in the road, but he was still lying there as if unable to rise. She rounded the hillside and then as soon as she was out of sight of him, Maria began to run. She ran most of the way back to Noepoli, at least till she came close to where there were houses of people she knew.

Slowing down, she looked back for the first time, and assured herself that no one was on the road behind her. Panting and overheated, Maria longed to stop and rest, but she feared that the stranger and the evil voice might catch up with her. So she walked onward feeling the pounding of her heart with every step.

By now, she was between several larger land holdings and was drawing near the abandoned farmhouse, behind which was the Spring of Nino. Maria had not been there since Tanio had shown it to her, but she thought that if she were just to make her way through the bushes and to the other side, she could drink some of the cool water and rest herself there in the spot that was hidden from the road. This, she did.

The secret spring was just as she remembered it. Maria was careful to look about for snakes and for mosquitoes as well. None were to be seen. So she went to the edge of the spring and drank some of the water. It was cold and sweet. She placed both of her wrists under the flowing stream and allowed the coolness to calm her. All was quiet and still.

“O Tanio,” Maria thought to herself as she rested there, “where are you when I need you more than ever? Will you go with me and watch over me as I make my way home?”

Feeling herself refreshed, she stood and quietly went as far as where the bushes hid the stream from the road. She looked through them, keeping under cover as much as possible. There was no one about. Maria parted the branches and walked toward the road. Just as she reached it a chilling sound broke the stillness.

“Beware! Stay away from the Padrone!” It was the same frightening voice—coming from inside the abandoned farmhouse! “He means you harm!” It threatened. “Never go to the Palazzo again!”

In sheer terror, Maria ran again, ran as if for her life, as fast as she could, until she reached the stairway that would lead her up into Noepoli. As for mentioning that the man in the road had fallen, and might need help, the whole idea had gone out of her head and never returned. Instead a new idea had formed there. The idea that here she would be forever wondering what dire voice, what tragic event waited around the next turning. To Maria, Noepoli had become an exclaimation point of shock upon shock. America was a question mark, but one that at least held some measure of hopefulness.

And so it was, that evening Maria told her parents that she would go to America as her brother and sister-in-law had suggested.

The reader is invited to check this blog often to be able to read the next chapters as they are posted.

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