Alchemist's Gift

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Some Rise by Sin

Fausto died late that 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.

When she checked on Fausto, he was quite pale, and his breathing was weak. Marcella tried to overlook the truth of the man and did not give much thought to his condition. When she heard him gasp and the hollow rattling sound, she took notice and looked in on him again.

He had slipped away. Marcella wiped her hands on her apron and looked down at him. His face was finally relaxed. She pulled his left arm straight. Marcella 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 breadth, 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 and placed them over his eyes. She made the sign of the cross and said the Lord’s Prayer for his soul.

Marcella, Farintino, and Amelia had no feelings of grief. Prunella shed a few tears for the little boy that she remembered. Anselmo and his wife Cianina showed their respects. When Maria, Miranda, and Rini arrived with their children and husbands, the house came alive with children running and laughing, food, and family.

Amelia could not make herself get out of bed. She 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. When they entered the bedroom to say hello, Amelia 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.

Before dawn the next morning, after Marcella and Miranda started the morning porridge, the two sisters headed to Cesare Lippo’s, the cottage, to order a 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 had very rarely left the walls of Terra Sanctus when she was a girl.

They passed by the stacks of stones at the bend in the lane. Marcella looked for the tree with the broken branch, but it was gone, probably cut for firewood. They passed the side trail that lead to the Longo’s pond. That brought a smile to Marcella’s face.

“Remember the time we met you on the road? Auntie Prunella and we were coming back from getting honey,” said Miranda.

“Yes, I will never forget that day.”

“Oh, right, that is when Grandpapa fell ill. I will miss him.”

After a few steps further Marcella said, “It is not too much further to Lippo’s path. It is on the left, so let us 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.

“An echo. It sounds like someone is hammering.”

They followed the sounds that Cesare made as he drove home a tenon into its mated mortise that was the lower corner of a huge door.

Farintino told Marcella to order the least expensive coffin Cesare could make. Cesare looked up from his work when he saw the shadows of the women. Although Miranda did the talking, Cesare’s gaze was drawn to Marcella. He checked this ill-timed attraction when he heard the reason they had come to him. “Do not bother with transporting the coffin. Farintino will send our wagon to pick it up.”

Cesare thought for a moment, “Ah, you know, I have one already made. It is in my shed.” Cesare had 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. As I recall, she took him to a healer who… well, healed him. I think Giovanni Bellini told me that you hired him to take your grandfather to see the same healer too, did he not?” he asked Marcella directly. He held her in his gaze.

Marcella sensed his attention. She blushed and looked down. “Oh yes, Pietro the Healer. Too bad Il Signore Fausto would not allow it.”

“You may have the coffin for what is owed. I believe it was twenty coppers.” He saw Marcella’s eyebrows arch with approval at the generous discount.

“We can only offer you ten,” said Miranda. She waited a few seconds, looked at her older 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 was embarrassed by her sister’s frugality. She would have gladly paid Cesare the twenty coppers. She took the purse from her sash and poured out coins both silver and copper into her palm. She counted out fifteen large coppers and handed them to Cesare. Both felt a tiny thrill when Marcella touched Cesare’s hand as she gave him the coins. They looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds and then looked away. Marcella slowly pulled her hand away.

“Tell your family I share in their grief.” Again Cesare addressed Marcella. He caught himself, and in order not to be rude, he nodded to Miranda.

“Thank you. I will,” said Marcella. She did not know why but she wanted to stay. She even wished Miranda wasn’t with her.

Miranda watched Marcella and Cesare just standing there. “Come, sister, we must return.”

Cesare reluctantly broke the spell. “If there is nothing more, I must continue my work. Good day to you, Signorina Marcella, and you too, Signora Miranda.” Cesare bowed and watched Marcella and her sister leave his shop. After a few steps, Marcella looked over her shoulder at Cesare and smiled. He smiled back.

Miranda and Marcella returned home. The family had spilled outside. The three husbands sat on the front steps and chatted. The sisters and their children crowded around the garden table.

Farintino went to Monsignor Petri to reserve a mass. After the formalities were settled, the mass stipend offered, and the gravesite selected, the two bowed their heads in prayer.

The eleven-year-old twins, Paulo and Pietro, collected the coffin in the family wagon. They returned very late in the afternoon with muddy clothes and a muddy wagon, much too late to come up with a good excuse. Anselmo gave them a stern reproach and Cianina took a switch to their backsides.

Maria, Miranda, and Rini had already washed their grandfather and dressed him in his best breeches and the embroidered shirt from his wedding. The coffin was placed on a makeshift bier cobbled together from a few crates found in the workshop. 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 folded his father’s hands 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. Marcella slipped away and went to her mother. The bedroom was dark, and her mama was under the covers with a 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. When will you come be with us?” she asked softly and then added, “Oh and, by the way, we got the coffin for only fifteen coppers.”

Amelia managed a smile. “Fifteen, you say? You did well,” she added thoughtfully. “Knowing that he is gone should make me feel sad or happy, but I do not feel either. I do not feel anything. I only wish now that I had stood up to him.”

Marcella sat on the bed and gently stroked her mother’s shoulder. “Mama, please, let his deeds die with him.”

“Yes. He may be dead, but I will never forget what he did.” Amelia pulled the covers over her shoulder and closed her eyes. “Maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow…” Her mother’s words trailed off on a vaguely bitter note.

XI

Monsignor Petri stood next to the coffin and performed Extreme Unction. Anselmo nailed the lid down. The monsignor recited the De Profundis and his retinue chanted the Si Iniquatates in response. The funeral party left the house and made their way to the church steps.

The pallbearers brought the coffin to the front of the church. They had to reverse the coffin so Fausto’s feet pointed toward the altar, and finally set it down on a waiting bier. Monsignor Petri gave the blessing and sprinkled the coffin with holy water.

Farintino mistakenly paid for a high mass when he could have had a low mass said for half the price. The church was haunted by a dozen devout aged widows, wrapped in black weeds, waiting to join their loved ones in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The family sat in the first two pews. Behind the family, the pews were sparsely inhabited by old acquaintances of Fausto, family friends, and even a few of the Andano Angels’ old beaus hoping for a second chance, if the opportunity should arise. The people were already standing and ready to go before the mass ended and Monsignor Petri could say the final blessing.

The funeral party left the church and crossed the piazza. The afternoon was bright and hot. Citizens showed their respect with a tip of their hat or a sign of the cross.

They passed through the north gate and proceeded slowly down the dusty road to the cemetery that had been in use since the Roman Empire. The sun reflected off the cross bearer’s silver crucifix mounted atop a black wooden shaft. The censer bearers swung the incense censers, causing great clouds of aromatic smoke. The Monsignor and his personal aide walked in front of the coffin, and the others followed.

When they arrived at the gravesite, the pallbearers set the coffin on the two lowering ropes. Dark chunks of earth were piled in a neat, narrow heap along the far side of the grave.

Monsignor Petri said the last blessing. The censers released more pungent smoke. The Monsignor’s dipped the aspergillum into the holy water and sprinkled and blessed the coffin and all those who stood graveside. The pallbearers lifted the ropes and, without the slightest misstep, lowered Fausto into the earth.

Farintino’s daughters and Prunella were the first to toss the symbolic handful of earth onto the coffin. Farintino and Marcella looked back at Amelia, who had fallen to her knees in the narrow pile of dirt at the graveside. She 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. She grabbed another large clod and did the same thing. This time she let out a primal grunt. When she reached for a third clod, Farintino was already running toward her. He fell to his knees behind Amelia and grabbed her low around the middle, pinning her arms to her sides. He gave her a quick shake and 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.

As Farintino pulled a struggling Amelia away, she made one last spectacular kick, sending a spray of damp brown dirt into the grave and onto those few unfortunate people standing directly across from her.

Farintino dragged her a few paces away from the grave. Amelia collapsed to her knees and then fell forward and pounded the ground with her fists. A tearful Marcella knelt next to her mother. Farintino put his arm around his wife, lifted her to her knees, petted her back, and cajoled her to sit up. The girls knelt around their mother. The others in the party stayed their distance and stood in little groups and whispered quiet, unsure words. Farintino and Marcella helped Amelia to her feet. She was barely able to stand, and swayed between the two of them as they walked.

Maria took her father’s place supporting Amelia. “Take her home and put her to bed. Stay with her until she falls asleep.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Farintino looked at the others. “I am so sorry. Please pray that Amelia will regain herself.”

Some Fall by Virtue

For Marcella, Maria, and Amelia, the piazza stretched on before them. The sun beat down on Amelia’s already aching head. She forced herself on and with great effort. A girl named Cinzia came from the fountain and offered them her pitcher. Amelia drank a few swallows. Maria thanked the girl for the kindness.

The struggling trio drew the morbidly curious, who wanted to look into Amelia’s eyes, hoping to see a fierce animal or madness. The marketplace gossips that had berated the pretty young country girl those so many years ago now felt that their initial observations were true and sage. They nodded and smugly agreed that this was the inevitable outcome for any scheming outsider. This murder of crones eagerly whispered among themselves the titillating words “demon” and “possessed.”

All three were greatly relieved when they passed through the Andano front gate and finally entered the cool, empty house. Marcella guided Amelia to the bedroom. She slipped off her shoes, got under the covers, clothes and all, where she would stay for the next three days.

Miranda, Rini, Maria, and their families would be leaving. Although they planned to stay for a few days more, they thought it best to leave the house a tranquil refuge for their mother.

By mid-morning of the following day, her daughters, their children, and husbands came to the bedroom to say their goodbyes and wish Amelia well. Their mother lay trancelike and could just lift her hand up to touch their faces as they kissed her goodbye.

With the house finally empty, Farintino collapsed on the large chair in the main room and immediately dozed off. Marcella changed out of her good dress and put on her ordinary clothes and her comfortable open-back slippers.

She went to the kitchen and made some honey water. Marcella looked up and was happy to see Aunt Prunella crossing the garden and heading toward the kitchen door.

Prunella entered the kitchen, hugged Marcella, sat on the bench, put her elbows on the work table, and sighed. Both women were spent. “Zietta, do have something to drink. I made some honey water.”

“Yes, I would like that.”

Marcella poured two cups and put one in front of her aunt.

“Quite an affair…I feel so bad for your poor mother.”

Marcella nodded. They sat in silence. Prunella softly drummed her fingers on the tabletop and looked at Marcella. “Fausto looked so peaceful, all shaved and clean, and his face no longer twisted up.”

Marcella did not say a word.

“Poor Amelia,” Prunella whispered. She moved a little closer to her niece. “Do you have any notion why your mother would do such a thing?” Prunella cautiously searched Marcella’s eyes for a sign that her niece might know the truth.

Marcella gave an indefinable nod and countered, “Do you?”

Prunella smiled, reached out, and took Marcella’s hands in hers. “Oh, sweetheart, life is such a strange tangle.”

“I want you to tell me.” Marcella would only be a little surprised that her aunt might know.

“At this very table, twenty-two years ago I was sitting just as I am now, holding your mother’s hands, just as I am holding yours, and she told me the terrible thing that Fausto did to her.”

“You knew he was my father all this time?”

Prunella could feel Marcella’s hand tug against her. She tightened her hold. “Please do not pull away, please. We must be as one to help your mama.”

Marcella relaxed her shoulders and hands. “Why did you not tell me?”

“I promised your mother I would not. I promised her I would tell no one--not you, not anyone. I gave her my word. I hated to see her punish herself for all of those years. She was innocent. That brother of mine had them both by the throat. Farintino once told me Fausto called your mother a--may God forgive me… a slut. And he always carried that ugly thought with him, no matter how hard he tried to get rid of it. Farintino told me the family peace was more important to him than not knowing for sure if what his father said was true. If I told him the truth, Farintino might have driven you and your mother out.”

Marcella listened.

“And Fausto, after he was sure he had poisoned Farintino with his lies, told your mama that if she spoke out, it would be easy to show that she was just a temptress. What with those love letters and her imagined admirers, it would be an easy argument that she had seduced him. And where would she go? The street?” She took a drink of honey water and again let out a long sigh. “Finally, after so many years, it can be said.” Prunella nodded, exhaled a long, slow breath, let go of Marcella’s hands, and patted them.

“How can we help Mama?”

For the next three days, Marcella did not leave her mother’s side. She brought her breakfast every morning that at first she refused, but by the third day she had an appetite. Marcella washed her mother’s face every morning and combed her hair. She rubbed her back and massaged her feet. She climbed into bed with her at night whispered their prayers together and slept with her front snuggled against her mother’s back and legs.

On the fourth morning Marcella arose, dressed and kissed her mother on the cheek. She went to the workshop where Farintino was showing Pietro and Paulo some basic stitches as Anselmo looked on.

“Sir, will you help me bring the copper dying tub to the house?” Marcella asked Farintino.

“Daughter, why do you want to do that?” Farintino smiled at the two boys who were intrigued by Marcella’s request.

“For Mama.”

“You know where it is.”

“The twins can help me, yes?”

Anselmo, who was leaning against the cutting table, stood up straight and stretched. “Yes, they could use a break. Boys, help Marcella.”

Pietro and Paulo almost knocked themselves over jumping down from their seats. They followed her outside and watched as she tugged on the wooden gate that closed off the storage yard behind the workshop. The gate was hindered by thick stands of dead grass. Marcella tugged again. The boys rushed to the gate, threw their backs into it and in their enthusiasm tore the top leather hinge, so the gate was now unserviceable. It had to be propped up against the wall at an ungainly angle.

The boys rushed in. The area was overgrown with a beautiful wild grapevine lush with broad green leaves and clusters of ruby grapes dusted with fine white pollen. The boys picked a handful of grapes and were about to throw them at each other. “Boys! Enough!”

Pietro bowed and gave a courtly salute. Paulo clicked his heels together and also bowed his head. “How may we serve you, your ladyship?”

Marcella was quite unaccustomed to the unbounded energy these two dervishes generated. “Well, my good knights, your quest is to pull that copper dying vat out of the Great Forest of Weeds and carry it to my castle.”

The twins went into a weed-pulling frenzy, throwing hanks of dead grass held together at the roots by the dried earth over their shoulders, until the air behind them was filled with dust. Much to Marcella’s surprise they were very careful when it came to the grapevine. They gently unwound each of the pale green tendrils from whatever it used for support.

The oblong vat was finally free. It was dirty and dusty on the outside but fairly clean on the inside. 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 managed 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 will be the Pope, and 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.

At this moment, Marcella’s heart lightened at the great compliment. “No, no, there is only one Holy Virgin Mary. I will be the Grand Prioress and lead the procession,” she said. The boys were mightily occupied as they struggled to carry the vat.

Just outside the kitchen door they dropped the vat with no thought of the noise it might make or of any damage it might cause. They tried, but the door was not wide enough. The twins staggered into the house, sat on the bench, and sprawled out on the work table in the kitchen. “We need water. Water, I say,” croaked Paulo.

The boys’ faces were red and shiny with sweat. Marcella could not help but smile at her two knights. “Would you like some honey water?”

“Yes, your highness,” the boys answered together.

Marcella poured the honey, using quite a bit more than usual, into a pitcher of water and stirred it. As the boys refreshed themselves Marcella asked them to take every vessel that was water-tight that they could find, as long as it was clean, fill them at the fountain, and bring them back to the kitchen.

Marcella collected every clay pot and crock they owned. While the boys set themselves to the task, Marcella built a nice hot fire. She carefully cleaned the inside of the vat. She raked the embers level and placed the filled vessels on the fire. Soon there was enough water to fill the vat more than half-full.

Marcella rewarded the boys with a thick slab of bread and a few candied figs. She sent Pietro back to the shop and asked Paulo to fetch the new priest, Father Eduardo, to come and perform a purification blessing.

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 flitting into the air where they sang their pretty songs.

In the kitchen she carefully took each steaming clay pot off of the embers and poured it into the vat. When the pots and crocks were empty, she added a bouquet of rosemary to the water in memory of the Holy Virgin and the recently deceased.

Marcella knocked softly on her mother’s door and gently pushed it open. The shuttered room was dark. Amelia looked in Marcella’s direction and squinted. She shielded her eyes to block the bright morning light that glowed around Marcella.

“Where were you this morning? You were not here when I woke up.”

“No, I was not.”

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.

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.” She repeated what she heard her mother say many, many times over the years. Marcella went to the window and opened the shutters. The light tumbled into 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. We all miss you and we all love you.”

Marcella crawled over Amelia and into the large square of bright sunlight 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 hair. “Come now, Mama, we have made a surprise for you, Pietro and Paulo and me. It is something that will not last,” Marcella added as a little tease. She stood and took her mother’s hand, smiled, and playfully tugged.

Amelia needed to get out of bed and return to her kitchen. She needed to go to Farintino and beg his forgiveness.

XIII

Paulo knocked on the rectory kitchen door.

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 will 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. 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. 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.”

Amelia stood next to the bed and faced her daughter. Marcella loosened the lacing on her mother’s over bodice and removed the stiff and filthy garment. She did so with the outer skirt that was just as dirty. Marcella sat Amelia on the edge of the bed and untied the ribbons and slipped off her linen stocking. Amelia now wore only her chemise and her underskirt.

Marcella led her mama 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 still quite warm and fragrant with rosemary. She steadied her mother as Amelia stepped into the vat. When Amelia sat down, a rush of water caressed her legs and naked lower torso. The warm, scented water, the fresh air, the wisteria hanging down from above, and the twittering larks created 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 the priest and turned down the narrow alley behind the stables that would deliver them a few doors away from the Andano front gate. Eduardo quickened his pace. Paulo waited at the gate and opened it for the priest, scooted in front of him, and opened the front door.

Bundles of rosemary from the funeral still hung from the walls. Paulo took the priest to the back door. The boy knocked. Marcella knelt and ladled water over her mother’s head and shoulders. “Yes, come.” Amelia’s eyes were closed and her expression was serene. The boy and the priest stepped onto the landing. They 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. Amelia sat with the back of her head resting on the rim of the vat.

Marcella nodded, and the priest followed her into the house.

“Would you like wine, Father?”

“No thank you. But now I understand about the water getting cold.” He smiled. “The boy said something about Purification.”

“It is Mama. There must be a blessing to lift this terrible darkness that surrounds her since my… fa… my grandfather died.”

“Of course I can give her a blessing. And you are?”

“I am Marcella.”

“Is your mother in the state of grace?”

“I do not 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 cannot say for sure, but she prays every day, sometimes for great lengths of time.”

Father Eduardo took the narrow stole from his pocket and draped it around his neck with the two ends resting on his chest. “Let us pray to Saint Michael.”

Marcella opened the door and nodded at Paulo. The boy bowed and went off to the workshop. Marcella and the priest knelt by the vat and made the sign of the cross.

“Saint Michael, we beseech you to protect our sister 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 of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Amelia heard the prayer but was unable to move or open her eyes.

Father Eduardo then took a vial from his pocket and poured a few drops of oil into the water. He returned the vial to 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 felt a rumble in her soul akin to the sound of thunder. A bolt of white light cleaved the dark horizon of her mind. The last thing she heard was the echoing voice of the priest. For Amelia, the sanctified water began to roil and froth. Another bolt of light exploded across Amelia’s mindscape, and then another, and another. Amelia was rushed along on 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 slipped under the water. Father Eduardo was shocked. Marcella watched as a tiny string of bubbles escaped from each of Amelia’s nostrils.

They grabbed her by her arms and pulled her up out of the water. Amelia’s body fell loose. Her arms hung at her sides and her legs collapsed as one ankle turned in and the other turned out.

“Mama, please say something,” Marcella pleaded.

Amelia’s head leaned forward to one side. Her eyes were just barely open and vacant. Eduardo and Marcella laid Amelia down next to the vat and Marcella dried her mother’s face with her apron.

Amelia opened her eyes and looked at her daughter and the priest. She was in a dreamy state, but when she spoke to them they couldn’t seem to hear her. And when she sat up and went to embrace and comfort her crying daughter, Amelia’s arms could only gather ether and shadow. Amelia watched as Father Eduardo helped Marcella stand up. He put his arm around her shoulder and Marcella leaned her face on his chest and cried. And so Amelia was lifted by invisible hands into the air and floated up above the sky, and as the dust is scattered by the wind, so her being dissolved into its individual atoms and spread and she became one with the cosmos.

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