The orphanage is perched on a hill made of lava rocks. No trees, besides risible puffs of conifers, dusty and bent by the wind (around here it is horrible, screaming as it rushes down the canyons, towards the beach).
The orphanage overlooks a desert strip of shoreline, jutting out in a sort of peninsula. Why so far from the closest village, not to speak of a town? Why so lonely, so remote?
I don’t know if there’s a reason. Maybe a combination. First of all, the mansion was liberally given to the nuns, who of course didn’t refuse… The rich family who built it, long ago, carefully chose the location. Like a sentinel, the mansion surveys land and water, always aware of newcomers.
The gratuity of the mansion isn’t all. I’m sure forlornness befits the orphanage in the common mentality. So preserved (like exquisite marmalade) the girls are spared temptation—that most abhorred evil, worse than melancholia, depression, even madness.
Three sides of a large courtyard are screened by the building’s walls. The fourth one looks toward the mountains, tapering into a slope—a ravine where goats graze, scrawny and bent like the conifers, their perfect companions.
We are going up the winding road on a Sunday morning. It’s a sunny day (they all are, year round) and a windy one, obviously. Dust is raised by our newly waxed four-wheel drive, shiny black. Afterwards it will be waxed again. But the driver has all the time in the world, since we drive only in special occasions. This is one such.
Daddy likes to ride with the windows open. He has a high body temperature and he sweats—especially when in formal cloths, waistcoat and jacket. Even more when flustered by an important matter. This is one, though he’s trying to downplay it, I think.
Dust generously pours in, getting into my eyes. I’m alone in the back, my suitcase for company. Two large trunks are tied on top of the car, which is panting uphill… we proceed at the leisurely pace of a mule. Not a problem, only a matter of bearing the dust.
My straw hat, quite large, shields my face (the brim hangs like a veil, if I tilt it forwards). Still I had to remove my glasses, then clean them meticulously, more than once, with the kerchief I keep rolled into my sleeve.
When I did it for the fourth time I noticed the embroidered initials, white on white. Kind of subtle, hard to see… at least for me. I realized I had taken mother’s kerchief—by mistake, the maid must have put it in my drawer. My stepmother had a moment of distraction, apparently. She stacked it in the wrong pile. (The maid cannot read).
The operation has been extremely costly, but father is rich. That is why we have the four-wheel drive that gets waxed before and after each outing, always shining like a pair of dancing shoes. Dad is rich and my appearance counts, for the uglier I look the harder will be for me to get wed, in spite of the money. Though, money will prevail. It always does. I am young—younger than I feel—but I know this.
The operation was performed on mainland. First we took the ferry, then the train. Our cabins looked the same in both transportations: padded, leathered, curtained and fringed. You had to pull the curtain, discretely, to see a flash of landscape—possibly when father was hiding behind his newspaper, aunt behind her fan. Too much sunlight disturbed both. Father started to puff and sweat, aunt to cough (I wonder why). They preferred the curtain closed.
Aunt and dad accompanied me—aunt for comfort, I guess, dad for talking to doctors and paying the bills. I only spent a day at the clinic. I was way too scared for noticing the surroundings, though I recall a park with tall pines. Very different from these scrambling bunches… Those were bright green, their branches shaped like perfect spheres. I remember the color through my one open eye. I remember the smell, embalming.
Father didn’t want to linger more than it was needed. We left on the same night, half of my face wrapped in bandages, stark white, scenting of disinfectant. All went wonderfully, said the surgeon (I was healthy, and so young). I could be checked locally, my doctor would know what to do, if anything. It was safe to travel, he said.
We had couchettes and I slept in the lowest one. It was screened by curtains—a kind of cocoon. Aunt slept right above me, dad in another compartment. We would reunite at the station. All was under control.
Mother didn’t travel with us because she was ill. Now I wonder why she wasn’t brought on mainland instead of me. Why a cure wasn’t sought for her from those continental doctors, so bright. I don’t have the answer… I can only assume she was more expendable than I was. She had already produced me. I hadn’t yet done my part.
Anyway those doctors weren’t that smart, as I’m about to prove. My bandages were to come off one week later. I could not wait: our weather, I said, is hot and windy all year round, with little variation. I started itching. I wanted to get rid of that mummification, wash my face.
On the eighth day our doctor cut the gauze with a pair of small scissors: a barber trimming a beard. I would give I don’t know what for the look on his face—that I missed, for I shyly stared down with my unencumbered eye, breathing as quietly as I could. Well, doc must have looked mischievously satisfied. He said nothing.
Nobody said nothing while I stood up and went to the threefold mirror, vainly gilded and as shiny as dad’s car. My usual face met me… My eyes, same as before: out of sync, diverging, the left one kind of stuck at an uncanny angle.
It was still stuck. The surgery had not changed a thing. But we never went back.
I will find a husband no matter how: because of dad’s riches, properties, factory and all. I am not worried, besides the fact I’m still eight. This should give me another ten years, hopefully yet not certainly… Mom eloped at thirteen.
But mother was beautiful. I am not: I can notice it even with my defective eyesight. Anyway, I won’t have to look for a husband. He will find me, or dad’s bank account. Perhaps he has already.
The orphanage… I should not call it so. I should stop, right now. It isn’t an orphanage, though the girls who live there are orphans, stepmother said. I heard her mention it to her daughter (from a former marriage—stepmom is a widow). Still the place isn’t an orphanage. It’s a boarding house. Dad explained it to auntie. The name sounded strange… it evoked upholstered cabins and some moving device. In fact here I am, all packed up and in my traveling suit. I look so much older than I am.
Mother died a month ago, giving birth, they said. The weird thing is I hadn’t noticed she was expecting. For the last year I saw little of her, briefly visiting morning and night. When I entered her room (she never left it…) she sat by the window. She had her fluffy robe on—pale grey with blue flowers, enhanced with small golden beads. Quite enchanting. I so wanted to grow up and wear it. I knew she would give it to me, although I never asked. But I knew, and I couldn’t wait.
Mother’s hair wasn’t done in the morning, or at night. I’m not sure it was during the day, when I couldn’t see her. It must have, but when I came it was down, and I kept staring at it. My eyes switched from the brocade of the robe (those little blue flowers) to the long hair I assessed with a kind of greed, proud as if it were my own. As she sat, her hair brushed the floor. It looked tired like she did. She had her sewing basket close by, but she never sewed. Her arms hung on her sides. She wore no rings.
She smiled while I gave her a long, good hug. No climbing in her lap—that was no more of my age. But since she never joined us in the dining room, or the kitchen, since we didn’t walk in the gardens, since she didn’t come to mass or in town, I longed for her lap again. I knew I shouldn’t… thus I hugged her as much as I could. I would have hugged her all day, all night long. I hung in there until aunt coughed, and that meant we should go.
I don’t know if mom was informed of my surgery. When my face was dressed I wasn’t allowed to see her. Not sure why. I was glad when the bandage went, for I could resume my visits.
But they didn’t last long. She died very soon. Father married after less than a month. Summer… leaves were still on the trees. They fell afterwards. Suddenly, all became a slippery carpet of rust. When the leaves fell all had already happened.
It is fall now, though you truly can’t tell. On the hill there are only these scrawny conifers—they look the same in all seasons.
I remember the night when mom died. It was horribly hot. Aunt had been complaining all day, putting her mending down to wipe her brow, shake her fan. After dinner she read a story to me—one I already knew. I said nothing. I could hear it again. Then she sent me to wash up and change—no visit with mother.
In my room the window was open and the shutters pulled, but not tightly. Still no air circulated. I lay on top of the sheet, incessantly turning my pillow, holding my rag doll at arm length. I am sure I eventually fell asleep… I always did.
At four I was awaken (there is a clock in the room—a tall, dark kind of tower. I have learned how to read its hands long ago). I heard screams and I knew it was mother. I heard steps and other noises, but I didn’t move. I sneaked under the sheets—the room was much cooler now.
I had already been up at four, twice, because of earthquakes. You know, don’t you, they come at four in the morning? I have asked why, but I haven’t got an answer. Not one I have understood. It’s the quietest hour—everything is at rest.
I’m a light sleeper, auntie said. I hear noises and can tell where they come from. Growing up, I have also learned what makes them, or who. Until three (the clock’s hands tell me—I like things big and far, they are the ones I see)… Until three there is sound from the dining room, right below me. I know it’s dad, at the table. He does things with papers. He counts up. He also drinks from those crystal bottles with a million facets, like rubies.
Until three, sound comes from aunt’s room, next to mine. Especially in summer it is very distinct. I hear the scratching of her pen on paper—she writes. Not numbers, like dad—I don’t think. She must write to someone and she sighs a lot. There are other noises of course. I’m not listing them all.
Then a thick silence comes. The rooster breaks it as soon as four thirty. It is not that precise—it can also croak at five, six, six thirty, or never. Roosters can’t be used for telling time, they are approximate. But the maid isn’t, or the driver who opens the garage door, or the gardener headed to the tool shed. They are up at five. I hear the maid all year round. I hear the others quite often. I know what happens and when.
So if earthquakes are meant, as they are, to take us by surprise, there’s no better time than four, the still hour. Though the animals know before hand. They fret from the previous afternoon. And the gardener says: “Earthquake’s coming”. Then he looks at the sky and says: “Earthquake sky”. I look at the sky and it’s empty. There’s no comet, I mean, like for baby Jesus. No signs. What does he possibly see?
He—the gardener—says these things quite often then nothing happens, so he is like the rooster: approximate. But sometimes the earth shakes and that puts a smile on his face, and he brags: “I told you”. I still think it is guesswork—if earthquakes are supposed to sneak on us, they shouldn’t advertise.
Earthquakes happen a lot, here. Not on mainland. They are our special thing, in a way. They are usually small, though the second one smashed all of our china vases. And the cow mooed more loudly than I had ever heard. The toolshed was crooked: it remained stuck, suspended. A bit like my left eye.
The first time, only the light fixture swung. Right above me it swung boldly, as if an altar boy was going nuts with incense. Did I tell how large are those chandeliers? But I wasn’t scared. I enjoyed watching it.
Around four I was awaken by mother screams. They were distanced but scary. Long wailings—not like her, but I recognized her voice. I slipped under the sheet and tried to fall asleep. I think I succeeded.
She died giving birth, they said, but I never saw the baby. All was very chaotic. Aunt cried. The maid cried as well… every one was red-faced, gardener and driver included. Our doctor came, then a priest, then more people until I lost count. I was sat in the kitchen with a cup of milk for what seemed like hours. Aunt, then, sat me in the drawing room, on an armchair with a tall back, turned toward the window. I stayed still—I doubt anybody could see me. I preferred they didn’t, because I was scared. I’m not sure of what, but I was, more than when I had surgery in the middle of those scenting pines.
Strange smells by the way came and went—strong drafts, pungent, like perfumes but also medication, then something else. All was upside down as if we were going to travel, as if a much bigger earthquake had occurred.
At some point the maid redirected me to the kitchen, pushing a bowl of soup under my nose. But I never ate in the kitchen… She turned towards the stove, busy with pots and pans. Food smelled good, covering the extraneous scents. I always liked watching the maid cook, but not then. I did not touch the soup.
I heard people upstairs, noises, voices. Doors were opened then slammed shut, opened, slammed again.
Then evening came. Aunt took me by the hand and said I’d stay with her sister (yet another aunt, who lived in town). I did not really know her. I did not want to go, but said nothing. Auntie pushed me on the back seat of the car that was ready in the alley, facing the gate. Just the driver and me… that had never happened. I closed my eyes.
My other aunt told me mother had died. Again, soup was in front of me, but we were not in a kitchen. We sat at a long mahogany table, in a dark mournful dining room. She and I (aunt didn’t have a husband) plus the maid, going back and forth with our dishes. We hadn’t started eating yet. Aunt said mother died, in a short sentence. My reply was shorter: “Why?” I said. “She died while delivering,” auntie explained. That didn’t answer my question, but I had nothing to add.
At the funeral (after another day, then another night of quiet boredom) I looked for the baby. I expected to see it: all white, with his little cap, in the arms of auntie perhaps? There was none. I knew I shouldn’t inquire but I wanted to.
Mommy’s casket was closed and covered with flowers. Bows of large ribbon, trimmed silver and gold, had things written on I could read. Also my name was there.
Now, you want to know if I was desperate because mother died. I wasn’t. Not then. I have been very sad later—when the leaves started falling and dad married again. I have wept every night in my bed, also in daytime, but not at the funeral, when I was looking for the baby who was nowhere.
I asked auntie as soon as I dared. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist. We were coming home from the graveyard, the two of us sitting in the back of the car. I whispered: “Where’s the baby?” She didn’t answer, and did not look at me. I was wondering if I should repeat, when she said: “The baby is dead”. I said nothing.
Then I said: “But I didn’t see the white box”. I knew how babies where buried—lots of them passed. They got those pretty little white caskets. She said nothing. I wondered if I should repeat. I repeated. She sighed, then she said: “The baby was buried with mother”. That made sense: I figured it in mom’s arms—a Jesus with Mary, like I saw them in paintings, on the small gilded images I was given as bookmarks.
Still I wasn’t sad. I asked: “Was it a boy or a girl?” She sighed. Then: “A girl”. Then she burst in tears and murmured something I couldn’t grasp until later. But later I did: she had said “Victorina”.
That was a brash lie, as I knew since I was brought to the graveyard—by aunt herself, by the maid… not by father. We went every day for a month. Aunt had lied, for only mom’s name was on the grave—and an angel of stone. Tall, impressive, but one… no small angel, as it should have occurred if also a baby was buried. Only mother’s name was carved on, with the dates of her birth and death. I could make sense of those, no problem. Mother died at twenty-one.
Victorina (I will call her Vicky) is not dead. Why didn’t I figure it before? The thought strikes me while we’re almost arrived: the boarding house is in sight. A few more hairpin turns (sickening me with vertigo) and we’ll see the main gate, the nuns maybe.
She is alive: why didn’t I guess? I must have been distracted, confused… First, the marriage—my dress to be sewn in a week, fittings every day. Lots of things to be done and no one in charge, the house a wild rumpus. Mother’s clothes were taken out of her room, put in trunks and carried away. Where, I do not know. And I don’t know why. Shouldn’t they be mine? Of course they should.
I thought of the robe with blue flowers only when it was in a trunk, god-knows-where. (I shouldn’t say “god” but its fine. I don’t truly believe since mom died. I only pray to the Virgin and Baby—before he grows up. Alas, the robe is gone.)
For a couple of days I feared aunt would leave us as well… everything, as I said, was upside down. Walls were painted over, curtains changed, furniture switched around. Aunt remained, and quite busy. She stuck flowers in each vase the earthquake had spared. Hundreds, thousands of blooms… When the newly married came in, the house looked like a jungle. I came back from church earlier to help her. Guests started arriving. There were hired maids.
I’m not sure why aunt didn’t come today… just for company, just to say goodbye. I am alone in the back with my suitcase. I keep cleaning my glasses, for the dust is blinding me. It is making me cry… my kerchief is all crumpled. I wonder who will do the washing. Who will do the ironing.
I haven’t seen baby things when mom’s clothes were packed. There should have been a trunkful at least. Mother must have made them, in those months when she never came out and never was combed. Truly, I didn’t see her sew—hands limp in her lap, two dead birds—but I wasn’t there all the time.
I haven’t seen baby things at all, but of course they are gone with mom’s stuff. Why weren’t they given to me? I’ll also have babies. I should have those, together with mother’s dresses, jewelry, and all. Where did baby clothes go? They must have been green, yellow, white—for boy or girl… never know. I regret not having seen them, I terribly do.
I haven’t seen the crib either. I have asked aunt about it… First she said nothing, then: “The baby was premature”. Early, I guess? It sneaked in like an earthquake at four in the morning. This is not what she meant, I know. They hadn’t bought yet a cradle—it wasn’t time yet.
Still I think Victorina is not dead. They have sent her somewhere as they’re sending me. Did they send clothes and crib along? Possibly. Only, I have to find where.
The orphanage is a boarding house… Pardon me if I keep changing on you—in fact it is a convent. There are too many nuns to call this place otherwise.
I have spent ten years in this convent, in the company of the waves splashing against the rock we are perched over. As you know I hear night noises, I always did. How could I have missed this one? But it didn’t bother me. It helped me to sleep—kind of a shush, shush, baby.
I have been home for visits, though never for long… I mean there was no such thing as summer vacations. But we went home sometimes, those who had one to go to. Those who weren’t totally orphans—only partly, like me. Our driver came up on Saturday morning (once per season?) He brought me back on Sunday, after lunch.
At home I did not sleep in my previous room. I had a new one, small, neat, next to the kitchen. An immaculate bed, a table, a chair, plus a closet where I hung my coat, put my hat on the top shelf, my bag on the bottom one. Nothing more was needed. I came properly attired for Mass. I left as I came.
In the closet I kept an apron, mouse grey with a trim. I had sewn it. I have sewn all of my clothes in the convent. Dad sent expensive fabrics in huge packages, wrapped in paper and tied with a rope. Aunt must have purchased them in town. I never asked.
I liked visiting home because I liked the room. It was close to the kitchen, I said—the maid slept on the other side of the corridor. Her place was even smaller and certainly not as clean. My new room reminded me of a couchette, on a train, or a boat. It was like being always in transit, always traveling, and I liked the feeling.
Aunt didn’t live with us any more. She staid with her sister, the one I was sent to when mom died. It made sense for them to be together. In the house there were father, stepmother, and her daughter from a previous marriage. With me, that made four around the dinner table, one per side—I liked the geometry. I liked having lots of elbowroom—a nice change from the crowded refectory where I usually ate. But I enjoyed the refectory as well.
Nothing happened when I visited home: nothing bad, nothing good but the pleasure of the little room, the wide table. The maid was getting older. Same was true for the gardener and the driver. Not for dad, stepmom, and stepsister—through the years they looked as if they were frozen. I suspect it’s because they were kept in shape: combed, powdered, nicely dressed. Dad, impeccable with his rimmed glasses, shiny mustache, black hat and so on. Those things make you perennial.
How did I look to them, I wonder. No mirror in my room, but I glanced at the large one in the hallway, though it was screened by too many flowers. I checked if I was in order. I always was. Like dad, I wore glasses. I always will: my eyes only get worse. They tire easily.
I was not sent away for educational purposes. Step-ma didn’t want me, that’s all. I was never told such a thing, but I knew it on the wedding day. That’s why I came home early, under pretext of helping aunt with the flowers. No one gave me permission but no one cared. No one even noticed, I’m sure.
I sneaked into the car with aunt out of panic. That’s a big word: confusion perhaps, and a sense of distress? When the newly married arrived (in a hired carriage, snow white, leaving them at the gate), step-ma bent down to pick up her train, while dad held her by the forearm. I noticed her very long gloves.
She laboriously gathered her veil, then she stood for a while, straight and tall, before marching towards the house at dad’s side. First her eyes had a quick, anxious lift, as if she had spied something invisible. Then she smiled: a sharp, toothy smirk that made me feel queasy. I was by the main entrance. Her eyes met mine rapidly. Her face remained still.
On the day of the wedding I knew step-ma didn’t want me, but she wasn’t unkind. She said nothing. I was packed on the following Saturday. Sunday morning we drove to the convent. Aunt was gone very soon, she went to live with her sister. It was as if a rock had fallen into the water—a few ripples, then the surface is sealed. The stone lies at the bottom. It was as if a rock had crushed something: very small, and nobody would know, nobody would find it. I don’t know what it was.
I’ve remained at the boarding house for ten years—with all of those visits, identical. I don’t know where these years have gone. I’m not leaving because I have finished school—just as there aren’t vacations, there aren’t diplomas. I am engaged and I will marry soon.
It’s not really a surprise. This is how things go. What else could I wish? I’ll be happy to be married, I guess, though I never doubted it. I’ve known it since I was eight, and before.
Suddenly, while we drive downhill (same car, same trunks tied on top—full of different dresses, all sewn by these hands of mine), I think of old baby clothes. The ones mom must have embroidered and knitted. The ones I never saw.
I feel nauseous. It’s the turns, of course, the speed, the sun dazzling over a sea that gets closer and closer, almost frightening me. I think of those clothes because I should have them: I will have babies too. And I think of Vicky—I haven’t… for ten years. I haven’t wondered any more about her being alive. Dead. It all sunk, swallowed away.
In the convent the days were so full, they slipped by like beads on a rosary (pardon me, that’s what comes to mind—a habit, I guess). That is how ten years went down the drain. It’s not casual… it is how an orphanage works. You do stuff all the time, so you don’t feel or think. Moderately I mean.
You are not tempted… You aren’t sick with nostalgia. You don’t want to get out, you have no longing. You do things so you’ll be ready to marry, with some luck (for sure, in my case). Day by day you get prepared. Just follow instructions—it’s a deal. You comply and you feel comfy. A lulling sensation, repetitive—like the waves, when they do not crash.
Like a tunnel, you know? Like a train. I mean a train in a tunnel. You only need to lie quietly on your cot. Easy up: the train will bring you there.
For ten years I never went to see mother’s grave. Why? I have described my visits home—the rituals, immutable. Saturday we had lunch, then a quiet afternoon. Read a book, mend your stockings, take a walk in the gardens—always within the gates. Dinner, then. Sunday Mass in our best clothes.
In church I saw people, people saw me—that’s how I met my to-be-husband, though I suspect he already had found me. Sunday, at lunch, my betrothed was unfailingly invited, for the last year or two. He never missed. Then I was driven back—too short to be boring.
Yes, I’ve thought of the graveyard many times—in the night, in the room that looked like a train. But I haven’t asked to go, I don’t know why. If I think deep and strong… I guess I didn’t want to please mother. Sure, I knew she was dead. Still I didn’t want to please her. I did not want to visit her grave, though I knew it was there (the grave) and probably waiting. But the stone couldn’t call, the angel couldn’t. Mother couldn’t. I am sure I didn’t want to please mother, but I wasn’t aware of it. I was aware of nothing.
Now my throat knots itself. Luckily we have arrived in the flats.
Unlike father, stepmother, and sis, aunt looks older.
There’s this thing about lies: they split. That is why vipers, with their bifurcate tongues, are not to be trusted. That is why you say of a gossiper he or she is a viper. I’ve learned it from the nuns… they gave me an education, though I wasn’t there for such purpose. It is weird how things work out.
Now let’s analyze this. Aunt said baby was buried in mom’s arms, but there’s no trace of it (her, a girl, Victoria) on the epigraph. So the baby isn’t dead. Where is she? She would be ten by now. I could take care of her, like the elder took care of the younger in the convent. Boarding house. Orphanage. After all Vicky is an orphan, is she? Even more than I am, since she has no dad either. I mean: does she know father is father? Was she ever told? I believe not.
Where is Vicky anyway? How can I find her? Who should I ask, admitted I’d dare? Admitted I’d be answered the truth. I cannot ask father… I don’t think I ever addressed him a question (I’d be terrified). I only answer to dad, when he bothers to interrogate me.
There is aunt. Aunts. Since they live together, I could ask both at the same time. Would they dare lying in concert? Maybe they’ll contradict one another. I think I should try. They look so much older.
I have asked. I was invited for dinner—the three of us around the mahogany table, in the dark room that didn’t get any jollier. I was blunt, I guess, but I didn’t know better. After dessert I simply put down my fork. I did not think of gingerly lifting my wine glass, to look casual. I haven’t learned that kind of finesse in the convent. Stiffly, I proffered: “Is Vicky alive?” There was silence (as expected).
Aunt (the eldest) was eating… she kept her eyes down, but after a forkful she said: “Who?” Auntie (my dearest) coughed—that was a good sign—then puffed under her breath: “Of course not”. She at least understood whom I was talking about.
I knew it was a now-or-never occasion, so I summoned courage. “Why her name is not on the grave?” Auntie left the table. Aunt said nothing. I didn’t repeat. There was no point.
Lies have been told—to me at least. And they keep bifurcating… I mean there’s a possibility I haven’t considered. Maybe, Vicky is dead and she is in the grave. Only that shouldn’t be known. They (father? aunts? doctor?) didn’t tell anyone mom died of childbirth—besides me. But why would they conceal it? Wasn’t the baby registered? Should I verify… I’m not sure I’d know where to start.
Or, the baby could have been earlier than I thought. Auntie said she was premature. Maybe she wasn’t a child to speak of, not quite. In such case why was she named? Was she christened? A priest was around when mom died—that I recall. He was there for mother, but he could have baptized Victoria.
I could check the books at the City Hall. I know dad wouldn’t like me to, and he would find out. I’m not sure if I’d dare anyway, or if they’d let me. Not all by myself, I’m afraid.
Or, the grave could be opened. Well, one day. When they all will be dead and I will be old. Then I’ll have the grave opened. Then I’ll dare. Only, if in the meantime Vicky’s somewhere— alive—I am missing my chance. See how things become twisted.
See how the lie keeps splitting, like a river into more and more rivulets… For let’s say mother didn’t expect at all—there was no baby, just as there weren’t baby clothes. Mother never sewed a single one—she couldn’t, more than all she had no reason. Then what did she die of?
That isn’t the point. Maybe they didn’t know. Sometimes doctors don’t. They are approximate, like roosters when they tell dawn, gardeners when they predict earthquakes. They have no clue about why mother was ill, why she died. But why did aunt make up a baby, and she named her? Who’s Victoria?
The earthquake. That would clarify it, of course. Earthquakes can uncover graves—it is known. Not frequent, but heard of. I’ve been catching myself praying for an earthquake.
I said I don’t believe in god. The nuns didn’t change my mind—they never suspected they had to. I’m not praying god for this simple calamity to happen. I’m not sure yet who I’m calling on this. Maybe I’m only wishing, but I’m wishing hard.
Nothing tragic—but a very strong one. Epicenter right on, in the graveyard. Four a.m., all asleep, no one yet outside. Cattle in the barns, chicken in the coops. I don’t wish for casualties. A good shake, one, then the aftershocks, tiny. But the tombs upside down, the dead scrambling out, bones all over.
Not too messy—they can’t be too scattered. I’ve to see that cute girly skeleton (mother’s), with a bundle niched against her ulna and radius. Vicky in mother’s arm, pearly white.
Unless she was so small, early, premature, her bones have already crumbled like talcum.
Let’s hope not, or I’ll never know the truth.
Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in The Altadena Poetry Review, Nebo Literary Journal, Sandy River Review, and Colorado Boulevard. You can visit O’ Brien’s website at totio’brien and her Facebook page.