The Novel…

This the draft I wrote in November 2005 as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge…


He ran the back of his hand across his brow. It was too hot to be doing this sort of work. He should be indoors with the others, sleeping off lunch, but his wife wanted this done and so it would be done, now.
Rodolfo Fabbroni was not a henpecked or timid man. In the local town and surrounding area he was a known as a man who could get things done. He was not the sort of man who backed down from any situation, but when it came to his wife he found it difficult to refuse her anything.
She did not nag, threaten or cajole, she merely asked and he would look in to those big, almond shaped brown eyes, and he would find himself doing things he had no intention of doing.
This why he found himself rodding the block sewer drain to the silage tank in the heat of the afternoon sun, when he would rather be lying in the cool of the bedroom with his wife by his side.
He straightened up and pulled a grubby yellowing piece of cloth from his pocket. He wiped his face, trying to clear the stinging sweat from his eyes. He had been up since five o’clock this morning. He had already done a full day’s work driving livestock to and from the local market. His back ached, his arms and legs felt heavy. He wanted to sleep, but until he had cleared the pipe no one could use the toilets and so here he was, tired, aching and irritable. Then there was the ploughing to do. That could wait until the cool of the evening. At least there was no rush to get that done.
He shoved the rag back in his pocket, picked up another section of rod and screwed it on to the long section which disappeared down in to the foul smelling pit and off down into the sewer drain which ran from the house.
What ever it was that was causing the blockage, and he had a good idea what it may be, was well and truly stuck. He had attempted to clear it from the end nearest to the house but that had proved fruitless. So now, here he was, standing in a field, at the side of the house, pushing, prodding and poking with a set of old fashioned drain rods.
He had spoken to his father, Adolfo, on many occasions about the need to buy some modern drain clearing equipment but his father would have none of it. Why waste money on new fangled machinery, which was bound to break down when you needed it, when they had a perfectly good set of rods. He had used them; his father had used them, now Rodolfo could use them. He would hear no more about it.
Rodolfo braced himself, as best as he could, against the hard dry earth and pushed, twisting the rods as he did so. He could feel the blockage. He could feel the metal, double helix corkscrew on the end of the rods bite in to what ever the blockage was and then jam.
He straightened up again and swore gently under his breath. Then he raised his eyes heavenwards and apologised. Rodolfo was not a particularly religious man but he felt it was never wise to tempt fate. He was also worried that Prima Nonna Etta would appear and clip him round the ear as she had done when he was a child.
When he was younger he was convinced she was a witch. She could appear and disappear at will. This fear, even though he was thirty three years old and Prima Nonna Etta was thought to be over a hundred years old, lived with him and he often found himself apologising, flinching and genuflecting several times a day even when he was many miles from home and well out of range of Prima Nonna Etta’s shoe.
He pushed again on the rods, not with any real force, just allowing them to take his weight so that at least it would look like he was doing something should anybody be watching. He could feel the sweat running down his back under his vest. He wanted to shower. He wanted to stand under the jets of cool water, but most of all he wanted to sleep.
He listened carefully; it was silent save for the occasional clang of the cow bell tied round the neck of the old ram in the sheep pen.
There was an advantage to be out here at this time of day. The silence. Normally the farm was a continuing babble of sounds. His children running and laughing; his mother and wife gossiping; his two brothers arguing and Prima Nonna’s radio playing, permanently tuned to any station that was playing the old folk tunes and polkas.
But now all was silent, even the insects seemed to be sleeping. The chirp and hum that had been part of the background for as long as he could remember was silent.
He half heartedly gave the rod a shove and a twist; he looked across the field that made up the majority of the farm and down the sides of the mountain towards the town which lay several kilometres away in the bottom of the valley. Even that appeared to be silent. The distant buildings shimmered in the haze of the hot summer sun. He imagined the quiet, empty streets. The shuttered windows. The silent bars and cafes.
His reverie was broken by Rufus, his favourite dog a large aged Alsatian, who at present was laying in the shade of an olive tree some meters off. Rufus lifted his head off his paws, pricked up his ears and growled deep at the back of his throat. Rodolfo followed the direction of his gaze over to the sheep pen. “Calm down boy,” he said “there’s nobody there.” Rufus dropped his head back on his paws closed his eyes and continued his nap.
The bell around the old rams neck clanged again and the sheep in the pen began to bleat loudly. Rodolfo looked back over to the pen, he called out “Is anybody there?” He was not expecting an answer and did not receive one. Then he noticed something that did worry him. The gate to the pen was open. He was sure it had not been a moment ago. Then he noticed the second thing to cause him worry. The cow bell, which was usually tied about the neck of the old ram, was now hanging over the gate post.
He released his grip slightly on the rods and was about to cross over to the pen, when he realised the sheep were lined up in the entrance of the pen, staring at him. Well, not so much at him as through him and behind. He half turned, to see what they were looking at and saw, too late, what it was. It was the old ram.
What happened next happened at such speed that it took Rodolfo by total surprise. The ram pawed at the dry earth, his gaze fixed on Rodolfo. Like a mangy, woolly bull it dropped its head and charged at Rodolfo. Rodolfo was no Matador and the afternoon’s hard work, heat and large lunch had slowed him down. The ram hit him square in the stomach. Rodolfo made a grab at its horns and missed, he staggered backwards towards the edge of the pit. He managed to turn and lunged at the rod sticking up out of the thick brown sludge. He caught hold of it and it bent slightly under his weight. 
He hung for a moment, seemingly suspended in midair. His feet looked for purchase on the crumbly edge of the pit. His body hung out over the sludge. His already tired arms and hands fought to keep hold of the smooth wooden rod. He hoped that if he could walk his hands back up the rods he would be able to pull himself upright.
Slowly, one hand at a time, his feet scrabbling at the disintegrating edge, he began the ponderous process. Then it happened. The thing he had been trying to do for the past hour. The blockage gave way. The rods jerked forward. Rodolfo, his hands scrambling upwards, tried to steady himself. The rods stopped, slide forward slowly and then gave way, disappearing at great speed in to the brown sludge.
As Rodolfo tumbled towards the mire he caught, out of the corner of his eye, a familiar figure leaning against the fence of the sheep pen. His slicked back hair and leather box jacket gleaming in the bright afternoon sun.
Rodolfo was not sure, but the figure seemed to be smiling.

Chapter One.

The boy zigzagged through the early morning shoppers milling around the street markets in La Forcella. Many meters behind him he could hear the shouts of a chasing policeman and the lady whose bag he had just snatched. He ducked under the grabbing arm of a market trader and turned sharply, diving between two fruit stalls. Instinctively his arm shot out and he picked up an apple. He had eaten nothing since last night and his tired legs began to buckle under him.
He felt a tug on his T-Shirt; adrenaline pumping through his veins, he turned slightly and saw that an old lady, in the traditional black of the catholic widow, had managed to get a handful of material. Twisting fiercely he managed to pull free. The voices were closer now, his heart started to beat harder, he gasped, trying to fill his lungs with much needed oxygen. His lungs filled with the smells of the market, a mixture of fish, coffee, rotting vegetables and sweat. He wanted to sit down, to give in, to let them take him, but his legs, as weak and wobbly as they were, would not stop.
He dodged left, narrowly missing a young girl on a scooter, her helmet swung from her arm and her long hair billowed in the breeze as she swerved to avoid him. He could hear her calling after him, cursing him and his family, but he did not dare look back. Then he saw it, his escape route.
Despite his tiredness he quickened his pace and whistled loudly through his teeth. On the corner, about one hundred and fifty meters away, a young boy nodded, spat out his cigarette, climbed lazily on to his scooter, started the tinny motor, and kicked the scooter off its stand. He clunked it in to gear and slowly rolled forward. As he did so, the bag snatcher, now less than a meter away, leapfrogged over the back pannier and onto the waiting seat. The driver throttled back and the two disappeared in to the maze of side streets that made up La Forcella.
Constable Nardone rounded the corner just in time to see them vanish. He half stood, his hands supporting his weight on his knees, sweat dripping from every pour, his lungs bursting, his heart pounding and watched as the two boys weaved there way expertly through the crowds and off down a side street.
Three weeks from retirement, he decided that he was definitely too old for this and was only half listening as the woman, whose bag had been snatched, caught up with him and started to berate him, his wife, his mother, his father and any one even remotely connected to him. He was sure that at one point he heard, through the roar of the blood pumping in his ears, the Pope’s name being mentioned.
He sat down on the side of the road, lit a cigarette and began to day dream about the small villa he and his wife had just purchased, many kilometres from here and the dirty streets of Napoli.
But, dear reader, for the moment we must leave Constable Nardone, for this is not where our story begins. To find our tale we must leave the crowded narrow streets of La Forcella, with its citizens of every nation and all life, and death, on every corner. We must even leave the beautiful city of Napoli.
To find our narrative we must head north east and travel some fifty kilometres, as the crow flies, in land. If we were to drive our journey would be nearer a hundred and twenty kilometres and would take us through the volcanic foot hills surrounding Napoli and on upwards towards the mountains of the Southern Apennines.
Eventually, one hundred and thirty metres above sea level, we would reach the town of Suoloduro. A once glorious town of the Roman Empire, it is now a faded shadow of its former self.
We will not pause here, for we will be returning for a closer look at the town later in our tale, but we will continue our journey onwards and upwards, heading north out of the town on the new dual carriageway until we see a small turning on the right. It is easy to miss, looking as it does like a dirt track, but we will take it and follow it. As we follow it we will become unsure that we are on the right road, but then, some ten kilometres out of town we will reach our destination, the Villa Fatiscente.
Again we will not stop here either, for the man we are seeking is not here. From here we must travel on foot, following the well trodden path up the mountain to the pasture were our story will start.
We climb up higher into the mountain until at last we reach a sloping plateau and with that our journey is nearly over. We have reached our goal.
Up there, a little further up the slope, is the character we have been seeking. See that old man seated in the shade of that old olive tree? He is where our story will begin.
Follow me dear reader.


Adolfo Fabbroni shifted his weight slightly, he could not get comfortable. He had sat here, beneath this tree, on this stone worn smooth by the passage of time, every morning for the past sixty five years. This morning though something was different. The walk up here had taken longer than usual. His knees ached from the effort; his breath had begun to come in short, sharp pants; for the first time in his memory he had become irritated with his small herd of sheep. He had even struck Caesar, the old ram, across the flanks, something he had never done before.
He realised, for the first time, that he was getting old. For the past seventy seven years he had lived on this farm. For the past sixty nine years had worked this land; and for the past sixty five years he had risen at sunrise and walked the sheep, up the old path, to the pasture.
Even when the winter snows lay thick on the ground, and the roads in to town were blocked, he and the herd made their way up here so that the sheep could graze on the coarse leaves, of the few evergreen shrubs, which poked their sharp thorny branches above the blanket of white.
His mind drifted back to when he was twelve and his father, Papa Peppe, had first told him that he was now old enough to have some responsibility. The herd had numbered over sixty then and the money from the sale of the wool and meat had seen the farm through some lean winters. But now he had only a dozen ewes and Caesar. All of them, like him, where past their prime. All of them, like him, were a throwback to better times.
His eldest son, Rodolfo, had suggested, on more than one occasion, that they got rid of the sheep. He had shown his father the figures; it was costing them more to keep the sheep than they made from the sale of the lambs. They had argued that day, over lunch. Rodolfo had called him an old fool, but Adolfo knew that to get rid of the sheep would mean the beginning of the end for him.
Him and the farm.
They had finished lunch in silence. A family divided by age and attitude. Rodolfo had wanted to move on, to modernise; Adolfo was worried that change would mean the end. They had parted in bad humour, each man convinced he was right. Each mans pride making it impossible for him to back down.
After lunch Rodolfo had gone to clear the blockage in the drain to the silage tank. The next time Adolfo had seen his son was when his two younger sons, Dino and Giacomo, had pulled their elder brother’s lifeless body from the foul smelling pit.
Now he sat here, under the old, gnarled olive tree, waiting to bury his son. They were right; no parent should have to bury a child.
It had been two weeks since Rodolfo had died. They had had to wait while the local magistrate had investigated. The coroner had declared that Rodolfo was probably unconscious before he hit the sludge. He had a large contusion on his forehead where he had hit the side of the pit as he fell. Adolfo had had to ask what a contusion was, when the clerk had explained it Adolfo had wondered why the coroner could not simply say bump. Progress, it got you nothing and simply confused matters.
The magistrate had declared it an accidental death. No one could account for the bruising on the upper thighs and it was assumed he had been hurt, at work that morning, whilst moving livestock.
Adolfo shifted his weight again. The rock, smooth and shiny from years of sitting, now felt cold and hard. The tree, its bark worn to match the curve of his back, now seemed sharp and jagged. It dug in to his spine at strange angles. It poked at his kidneys. It snagged at the material of his suit.
The suit. His wife, Rita, had made him put it on. It was the day of their son’s funeral and she had insisted that he wear it to show respect. She did not want family and friends to turn up to the farm and find him, Adolfo, wandering around in his work clothes. He had tried to explain that he was going to take the sheep up to the pasture, but there was no arguing with her this morning. He found it hard to disagree with her most days, but on this day, this day they both should not be around to see he did not have the heart to point out the foolishness of her wishes.
The material of the suit was thick and heavy and even though the sun had barely been up an hour he was already beginning to sweat. It looked as though it was going to be a hot day. Late July was always hot, but today it looked as though the sun was going to make an extra effort to make the day even more uncomfortable.
The stiff, white collar of the shirt dug in to his neck. He tried to ease a short stubby finger, calloused by years of manual work, into the gap between flesh and cloth. He pulled and stretched at collar but it would not ease. He dare not loosen the tie and undo the collar stud, Rita had struggled for nearly half an hour before she was happy with them both and he was allowed to get on with his mornings work. Her warnings, to stay clean and be back before the cars started to arrive, had echoed up the path as he had made his way up here.
Here, his favourite spot on the entire farm. Here, where he could usually find a little peace and solitude. Here, where he would let his mind wander. Here, where he would sit with his sheep and let the world pass by with out him. Here, where all his troubles were a kilometre down the mountain.
Today he could find none of these things. The sheep seemed especially loud, particularly Caesar, whose clanging bell and bleating had brought them all outside on that fateful afternoon. Now their incessant noise did not calm him but annoyed him. He wanted to stand up and run at them shouting and screaming. He wanted to drive them away. Perhaps Rodolfo had been right. Perhaps they were more trouble than they were worth.
His thoughts kept returning to the death of his son. The world, in the shape of his stiff suit with its odour of mothballs and stale lavender, had followed him up here. His problems and worries had not stayed back on the farm, but had followed him here and were demanding his attention. Normally he would have eaten his breakfast and then napped as, knowing that his old Alsatian, Musso, would keep an eye on the flock. He would sit and think, think and doze, doze and dream of better times, as the sun traced its slow arc across the sky towards noon.
Today though, he could not eat. The small cloth wrap which contained some bread, cheese and prosciutto, sat unopened by his side. He opened it and took out the meat. The colour was deep and rich, its texture fine with a streak of soft, pure fat running through it. He and Rodolfo had prepared it two summers ago and it had aged beautifully. He wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve as the tears welled up in his sparkling steel blues eyes.
He took a long bladed pocket knife from his trouser pocket. The wooden handle was deep brown, its surface smooth and glossy from the years of handling. Papa Peppe had given it to him on his thirteenth birthday; it marked his entry in to manhood. He had hope to leave it to Rodolfo, it was not much, but it was one of the few things he could truly call his own. Now that small pleasure would be denied to him. He stared at the knife for a moment; perhaps he could give it to Little Peppe, Rodolfo’s son. Little Peppe, they still called him Little Peppe even though Papa Peppe had died shortly after the boy’s birth. Little Peppe would be thirteen in fours years time. He would give it to him then.
He opened the knife up and carefully cut off a thin slice. Beside him Musso opened an eye and sniffed the air expectantly. Adolfo laid the thin slice carefully across his knee. Reaching into his jacket pocket and took out a small, battered silver flask. He flipped open the lid, picked up the slice of meat and held both towards the heavens, “To you boy, may we see each other soon.” He took a bite of the salty dried meat and quickly washed it down with a swig from the flask. The home made Grappa bit at the back of his throat and again tears welled up in his eyes.
Musso was now sitting in front of him, waiting patiently, his tail wagging across the dry earth expectantly. “There you go then lad,” Adolfo held out the remains of the thin sliver of meat and Musso took it eagerly. He patted the dogs head and then stroked him under the chin. Musso tilted his head sideways and looked at him, “No more boy, not today. I’m not going to spoil you to make myself feel better.” Musso moved back round in to the shade, lay down and seemed to go immediately to back to sleep.
Adolfo settled back against the tree, still trying to get comfortable, and looked down the slope to where the herd were grazing. Perhaps Rodolfo had been right. They were a poor example of the ovine family. They were thin, their spindly legs stuck out, like downwards facing twigs, from the mass of straggly yellowing wool. They looked as though they had been made by a small child who had never seen a sheep and only had it described to him by another child.
Adolfo glanced at the pocket watch, which hung from chain across his waistcoat, it had never worked but he liked the look of it. He felt it gave him an air of class. He had found late in nineteen forty three, he had just turned fifteen. The allies were fighting they way from Napoli up towards Rome. He had been out collecting firewood when had spotted a burnt out German halftrack. He had seen a dead body before, but that had been laid out in a coffin, cleaned, combed and brought to life with thickly applied make up.
The first German looked as though he had fallen asleep by the side of the road. He lay on his side, eyes closed, one hand under his head. The only indication, from the front, that all was not right, was the dark stain on the front of his chest. The other two Germans were not at first recognisable as human. Their charred twisted corpses looked almost like parts of the vehicle. To this day he does not know why he was drawn towards them, but he was. Fascinated by the burnt and charred flesh, the limbs twisted and contorted by the heat. The flesh on their faces was shrunken back to reveal wide and permanent smiles. Their empty eye sockets stared off into the distance as though they were looking for their rescuers to come over the horizon.
Then he had spotted it, clasped in the hand of the driver, the glint of gold in the evening sun. He had tried to pull it free, but the hand refused to give up its prize. He had taken his long bladed pocket knife and carefully cut through the man’s fingers. His efforts were rewarded with the pocket watch and its fine gold chain.
His first thought was to sell it to buy food on the black market, but when he rubbed it against his jumper and had cleaned off most of the burnt skin and thick black soot, with clumps of damp grass, he had realised it was only plated steel and not even worth, at the current prices, a loaf of bread. So he had decided to keep it.
When he returned home that evening Papa Peppe had asked him where he had got it, he lied, saying that he had found it laying next to an abandoned vehicle. He had never told any one the real story. It was not that he felt ashamed by what he had done; he just knew, deep down, that others would not understand. He slipped the watch back in to his waistcoat pocket.
Down past the farm, towards the floor of the valley, a cloud of dust rose up as a vehicle turned off the duel carriageway and onto the track which led up to the Villa Fatiscente. He realised that soon they would be expecting him back, ready to greet the many callers who would be paying their respects on this, the second worse day of his life.
He pulled out the flask and took another swig of the fiery liquid, and then he settled back against the tree and tried to clear his mind of the thoughts which filled it. He kept returning to the problem that had been plaguing him the most over these past few weeks. Who would take over the running of the farm?
For the past ten years he had left most of the day to day decisions to Rodolfo, anything major they had discussed and then decided between them. For all intents and purposes Rodolfo had run the farm, but now where did its future lay?
By rights the farm would pass to Little Peppe, but he was only nine years old, until he was old enough someone else would have to take charge. He could not trust his other two sons. As much as he loved, and he loved as much as any father could, he had to admit they were both, well, idiots.
The youngest, Giacomo had watched too many American gangster movies and seemed to be determined to became a “made man”. The boy was a fool. The only organised crimes in Suoloduro were the Grappa stills hidden away in every cellar, barn and hen coop. Then there was Dino, his middle son. A gentler kinder man you could not whish to meet, but he was, well he was Dino.
From down below he heard the beep of a car horn as it pulled in to the yard outside the house, its arrival heralded by another large cloud of dust. He closed his eyes. If they wanted him they would fetch him. He had time to sit. Time to sit and think. Time to sit and think and doze. There was no rush. He knew Rodolfo would not mind, he was never in a hurry to get anywhere and Adolfo was sure his son would not want to hurry this final journey.
And so, for the moment dear reader, we will leave Adolfo with his thoughts, with his fears and his problems. For our attention is required elsewhere.
Follow me.

Chapter Two.

Come with me now dear reader, down the mountain, past the farm and back in to town. Follow me, if you will, in to the ancient, narrow streets of Suoloduro. We have not long, so quickly, if you please. We are heading to the southern end of this once magnificent city.
Along the way you will notice the higgledy-piggledy buildings. Ancient and modern stand side by side, along the main streets. Down the side roads the older buildings bear the scars of the years. Man and nature have taken their toll on this city. Earthquakes and war have left their marks.
We must hurry along these well travelled streets. On in to the heart of this ancient city, with its wide tree lined central avenues and narrow, claustrophobic side streets.
Following the main road we pass by the Roman Triumphal Arch and enter the grand market square, the Plaza di Mille Fiori. Making our way through the stalls and groups of early morning shoppers who fill the square, we will pause, just for a moment, to take in the sights, sounds and smells that surround us.
The smells of the fish and meat, the hams, salamis and cheeses, the fruit and vegetables from all over this tiny province, fill or nostrils. The continuous murmur of people haggling, gossiping, laughing and arguing fills our ears.
To our right the square is dominated by the façade of the great cathedral. This building has looked out over these people for over seven hundred years. Like an old relative it face is pockmarked and covered with the scars of the many battles it has witnessed. The beautifully cast bronze doors glint in the early morning sun.
It is interesting to note that this square, the Plaza di Mille Fiori, acquired its name in the fifteenth century, when heretics and witches were tortured, in public, on the steps in front of the cathedral. The phrase can be found in the writings of an unknown monk who chronicled the events.
He wrote, “The flames, which so consumed their bodies and cleansed them of their sins and their blood, which ran down the steps of our great cathedral and formed rivers and pools in the market square made me raise my voice to heaven and praise our Heavenly Father. For it reminded me of the fields in spring as a thousand blooms open their faces and raise their heads to the heavens in praise of the God who had created them.”
We must continue now dear reader, we must move on quickly for the man we seek is about to rise. On we go, through the warren of side streets that make up the densely populated residential area. Apartment buildings, old and new together, their balconies hung with washing. Every available flat sunny surface is strewn with pots and tubs bursting with the colours of summer, tomatoes, peppers, chillies aubergines and herbs. The smells drift down on the still, warm air.
We eventually come to the southern outer edges of the city. Where ancient and modern battle for space; factories jostle with small farms and old villas. Warehouses nudge up against the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre. It is here, down a narrow side street that opens out on to a small square, that we will find an old church. Its white marble portico stained by years of pollution and neglect. The once glorious front of the church echoes the Roman past of the city. The steps, leading up to the large oak doors, are worn smooth and hollow by the footsteps of the penitent. It would be nice to enter and spend some time studying the frescos but our attention is required on the other side of the square.
There a large white villa stands in immaculate gardens. This is the home of the parish priest, Father Jonathan Makepeace Cutbill, an unusual name, you might think, for a parish priest in an Italian town and you would be right.
Let us step out of the heat of the rapidly rising morning sun and step in to the cool interior of Father Jonathan’s vicarage.
Follow me, quietly please.
Father Jonathan lay beneath the white silk sheet, the soft feather pillow pulled up tight around his head in a effort to block out the noise of the bells. Not the bells of his parish church we lay just across the square and whose tower he could see through his balcony window. They had been silenced in nineteen forty four, when the church had been nearly hit by a stray mortar shell, in the battle for the city. The force of the blast had shook the bells loose and sent them crashing to the floor of the tower. They still lay there, cracked and broken, blocking the access to the stairs. He had been promised they would be fixed next year. He had been promised they would be fixed next year, for the past eleven years.
The bells he was trying to block out wound down and stopped. He released his grip on the pillow and turned to look at the antique style alarm clock which stood on the walnut veneer bedside table. It was a little after six and he knew he really should get up.  
Mrs Franchino, his elderly housekeeper would arrive soon and start banging around in the kitchen. He knew she did it on purpose; it was her way of showing her disapproval for his rising.
She was an old fashioned lady with old fashion values. She believed a priest should rise before the sun and start his devotions to God. Father Jonathan believed she should mind her own business.
He climb out of bed and caught a glimpse of his naked body in the oak Victorian wardrobe mirror. His years in this parish were taking there toll. His once taut and athletic body now sagged and bulged. He realised that his hips and stomach were now wider than his shoulders. The flesh was the milky white of an English tourist, his face pink and bloated from the sun and fine wines.
He cupped his hands to his chest, it confirmed his worst fears, and he was developing man breasts. His parish was poor but the many years of dining with the richer members of the community and the more influential members of the city council were starting to show. There were still enough people who thought that the way into heaven was through the local priest’s stomach.
He sat on the edge of the bed. The steel frame and springs of the brass bed frame creaked slightly as they took his weight. The sun had continued on its slow arc and a beam of brilliant light was crawling its way across the white walled bedroom. It found its target, the thin patch of hair a top Father Jonathan’s head. His heart sank as he caught his profile reflected in the dressing table mirror. The glare from the shiny white skin of bald patch bouncing from his head, it put him in mind of one of the saints on the icons in the recess of his small church. His sudden elevation to the halls of hagiography did not comfort him. He raised his eyes heaven ward ‘thank you God, you certainly know how to make a middle aged priest feel even older’.
He pulled on the soft hand stitched slippers, which had been a present from Paulo, a young Spanish gentleman he had met on his trip to Tunisia last year. He stood up and pulled on his Kimono. As he did he heard the thud of the back door. Mr Franchino had entered the premises with her usual grace. She liked to announce her arrival so that there was no danger of her catching Father Jonathan naked, as she was often to be heard saying, ‘if God had meant me to see a naked priest he would have called one of my sons!’
He made his way across the landing; the polished dark wooden floor creaked as he walked. He opened the heavy oak door at the far end and entered the white tiled, marble floored, well equipped bathroom.
And there, for the moment dear reader we shall leave him, for even a priest like Father Jonathan deserves some privacy. We will head down the wide wooden staircase with its intricate wrought iron balustrade, cross the cool marble floored hallway and head to the back of the house, where we shall join Mrs Franchino in the kitchen.
Mrs Franchino was a small framed elderly woman of indeterminate age. To look at her would give no clue. She could be any where between 70 and 170, but she moved with the grace and energy of a woman in her twenties. She seemed capable of lifting and shifting loads that would make a young man buckle under the weight.
She moved around the kitchen like a wasp in a jam factory. She was small in the way that only old ladies can be. Her back bent from years of long shifts in the surrounding tobacco factories, and from the burden of bringing up her eight shiftless sons and work shy husband. She dressed in the traditional thick layers of widow’s black from head to foot, even though her husband Mario was still very much alive, and could be found most days outside of his favourite bar playing Bowles.
Her once long thick black hair, which had made her so popular with the G.I.’s, was now streaked with grey and pulled tightly back, it nestled in a bun on the top of her head like a cowering Magpie watching, waiting, ready to strike anything foolish to come too near.
She tutted loudly as she surveyed the mess in the kitchen. Three empty wine bottles and half finished bottle of gin stood on the wooden table which dominated the centre of the large kitchen. Used glasses, some smeared with bright red lipstick. Beside them stood two plates with the remains of a late supper of bread and cheeses, meats and anti pasta.
She turned the cold tap on full and listened to the shocked screams of Father Jonathan from up stairs.  Through the ceiling she could hear father Jonathan shouting. The few words of English she had learnt from the G.I.’s after the war did not include the ones he was using now, but she could recognise swearing in any language. She crossed herself and under her breath mumbled her own curse.
She turned off the tap and set about the task of clearing away the signs of last night’s debauchery. She scraped the remains off the plates and in to a small, lidded, white enamel bucket that she kept by the sink. Her two fattening pigs were always grateful for the extras. She shivered at the thought of the amount of food that Father Jonathan wasted.
Looking around the kitchen, packed with its modern hi-tech equipment and oak panelled units, she failed to understand why a man of the cloth, such as Father Jonathan, would want such things. She had no need for half the things in here, and Father Jonathan rarely, if ever, cooked. ‘I have brought them to make your life easier.’ he had explained. It had not made her life easier; it had merely meant that there were more things to clean. Any way, she thought, if God had meant her life to be easy, she would have been born a Protestant.
She moved the dirty dishes over to the sink and started to wipe down the large oak table which dominated the middle of the room. When she had finished she set about cleaning down the fitted units with their slate work surfaces.
As a child she, like many in the area, had been brought up a small stone built farm house. There she had lived, with her parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, until she had married. She remembered  how proud they all had been when, after many years of scrimping and saving, they had ripped out the wooden cupboards with there cold slate work tops and had had the new Formica covered units fitted. She remembered how people would make excuses to call on them just so they could come in to the kitchen and see the new units. Nowadays, people she considered her betters, the clever and the rich, were desperately trying to turn their kitchens in to some thing their parents and grandparents had strived so many years to get rid of. They want the country look. They wanted the rustic feel. They wanted all of the style with none of the discomfort.
She gave the kitchen a cursory glance to make sure it met with her approval. It did. It always did. She was not a woman who cut corners, especially if those corners could be seen.
She knelt in front of the sink, opened the cupboard under it and reached back behind the collection of chemicals and paste Father Jonathan though necessary to keep a house clean. Her hand felt around the back of the shelf until it found its prize, she pulled out the tall glass bottle, half full of a viscous yellow liquid. She unscrewed the cap and took a sip; the Grappa warmed her mouth and then made its way down her throat and started its job of gently warming her stomach.
She replaced the cap and put the bottle back in the cupboard, moving a few of the cleaning bottles so that you would not notice it unless you were looking for it. She closed the cupboard and slowly struggled upright.
She had heard Father Jonathan leave the bathroom and head back across the landing to his bedroom. She began to fill the sink with hot soapy water and slid the plates in. She could feel the one piece of equipment she truly despised, glowering at her from her side. The Dishwasher. She did not trust it, how can a machine get pots and pans, plates and cutlery as clean as she could ‘but it will save you time’ Father Jonathan had explained. If time was meant to be saved then there would be a bank on ever corner. Time was there to be filled with hard work and good intentions. It stopped you sinning.
She quickly worked her way through the pots and placing them in the chrome plated draining rack as she did so. Under her breath she mumbled the verses of the Catechism. It was not for her benefit. It was not her soul that needed the forgiveness.
Father Jonathan entered the kitchen she muttered something under her breath he had not even bothered to dress, again. He was wearing that brightly coloured woman’s dressing grown and those silly flip flop slippers, “Good morning Mrs Franchino and what a beautiful morning the Lord has rewarded us with this day.”
“I wouldn’t be knowin’ anything about that Fatha.” she took a soot blacked, two piece, aluminium, espresso coffee pot from the cupboard by the stove and set about filling it.
Father Jonathan shot a glance at the Krupps Espresso coffee maker which sat gleaming on the work surface in front of her. She saw his stern look but choose to ignore it. She slammed the coffee pot onto the stove and set about fiddling with the myriad knobs, buttons and switches, after several attempts the ring under the coffee pot came on.
Father Jonathan was standing by the plate cupboard or ‘Welsh Dresser’ as he insisted it should be called. He was sorting through his post. Mrs Franchino stared at his back, there was something different about him this morning he looked, taller. No, not taller straighter and he looked as though he was thinner. His hair looked odd as well, thicker not more of it but thicker as though it had paint on it.
She watched as he walked over to the table and sat down. He walked as though he had a rod where his spine should be and she noted the way he carefully lowered him self into his seat, leaning on the table and using his arms to support his weight.
“Are you right there fatha?” she raised an enquiring eyebrow.
“Yes, yes I am fine Mrs Franchino. Why?”
“It’s just that you look like you be after hurtin’ ya back.”
“No, no my back is fine.”
The coffee pot on the stove sizzled into life and a jet of steam shot from the spout.
“Just coffee and toast if you please Mr Franchino.”
Mrs Franchino looked at him quizzically like a cat that had just been presented with a bicycle to play with. Father Jonathan hated it when she did this his Italian was perfect. After 15 years in this country it should be. On many occasions he had been complimented on his accent and told on more than one occasion that he spoke the language like a native, especially in the bars and clubs around the port in Napoli. Mrs Franchino seemed to gain pleasure in misunderstanding him ‘its ya accent’ she would exclaim, ‘I can’t understand ya funny accent’.
Father Jonathan repeated himself slowly “Toast. And. Coffee. Only. Today. If. You. Would. Be. So. Kind. Mrs. Franchino.
Mrs Franchino frowned, moved to a cupboard on her left and took out a large, round loaf. A quarter section had already been cut from it She carried it over to the table, thumped it down on to the chopping board and attacked it with the bread knife. After some moments the bread ceded to her struggle and yielded up to lumps of what could kindly be called sliced bread. She crossed over to the main work surface, by the stove, and wedged the bread into the only piece of equipment she seemed to have grasp the workings of, the toaster.
She took the espresso pot off the stove and placed it carefully on the cork mat just in front of, but out of reach of, Father Jonathan. He noted that she knew better than to thump and slam about with boiling liquids.
The toaster clicked, but no toast appeared, only a steadily increasing cloud of blue smoke. The smell of charred bread filled the kitchen, the smoke alarms piercing scream spilt the silence. Mrs Franchino stood for a moment undecided about what to do, her eyes widened; her mouth slowly opened and closed, as though she was chewing at an invisible candy floss. It was not something Father Jonathan had seen before, a flustered Mrs Franchino. It unnerved him; the fact that he was unnerved by the sight of a flustered Mrs Franchino shocked him.
Had he come to rely on this woman, this harridan, so much that her indecision scared him? If she did not know what to who would. Before the thought had developed any further Mrs Franchino snatched up a glass of water and advanced on the smoking toaster.
“No.” Cried Father Jonathan, but he was too late. Mrs Franchino threw the contents of the glass at source of the smoke, which was rapidly filling the kitchen. There was a loud bang, a blue flash and then a pathetic fizzle. The shock of the sudden and, as far as Mrs Franchino was concerned, unexpected explosion caused her to release her grip on the glass, it fell to the floor, bounced twice and then shattered on the flagstones. 
Mrs Franchino stood for a moment, immobile, like a rabbit caught in the spotlight of her husbands truck just before he loosed both barrels of his twelve bore and sent it on its way to the dinner table. Then, as though nothing of the last few minutes had occurred, she calmly reached forward, unplugged the toaster and then began to clear up the shards of broken glass. Neither of them said a word.
Father Jonathan stood, slowly, walked over and opened the back door. Then, with great effort, he climbed on to a chair and reset the smoke alarm.
“Just coffee I think, this morning, thank you Mrs Franchino.” He said as he climbed down.
“As you wish Fatha. I’m sure ya know what’s for the best.” She stopped sweeping for a moment and poured him a small cup of espresso. She crossed over to the welsh dresser and took down a bottle of Anis. She poured a liberal measure in to the coffee, “for your nerves Fatha. A sudden shock can be a terrible thing. I should know, I lived through the war.”
“Thank you Mrs Franchino.” He picked up the coffee and headed towards the kitchen door, “I’ll be in my study, if any one should need me.”
Mrs Franchino waited until she was sure he would not be returning and then poured herself a coffee. She stirred in three heaped teaspoons of sugar and added an even larger measure of Anis to the cup. She raised her eyes heavenwards, “For the shock Lord.” She drank the coffee in two swift gulps, then she poured some more Anis in to the empty cup. She swirled it round, and drained the cup in one.
Father Jonathan entered his study and sat down in the leather executive office chair he had recently taken delivery of. He had had to order it from Roma; none of the office supplies shops in Suoloduro carried such an item. It was styled to match the Corbusier chaise lounge which sat in the bay window. He ran his hand over the warm, soft, black leather and then over the cool, highly polished, chrome. Was it a sin to enjoy the finer things? Probably, he thought. He would have to bring it up with the Bishop when he went to confession next Wednesday, if he remembered.
He drank the coffee and then, taking a small key from his kimono, unlocked the bottom draw of his desk. He reached in and took out a bottle of fifteen year old Laphroaig malt whiskey. He poured some into the cup, sat back in the chair and sipped at the smooth, peaty, amber liquid. If he was still in England he would have considered the act of pouring himself a drink at this time in the morning, the first sign of a drinking problem, but here in Italy it was a way of life. There was no wrong time or right time to have a drink, it more a case of did you fancy a drink. If so, then have one. If not, then do not. It only became a cause for concern when you could no longer stand unaided.
He heard Mrs Franchino move along the hallway outside the door. He quickly gulped down the whisky and put bottle and the cup in to the draw, realising his mistake took out the cup and shut the draw. Mrs Franchino passed by and he heard her start her ascent up the stairs. He breathed a sigh of relief. She would be busy now for the next half an hour at least, vacuuming and dusting her way through the upstairs like a Tasmanian devil.
He looked over to the clock on the wall. It was now just past seven o’clock; on other days he would be making his way across the small square, with is defunct fountain, and entering his parish church. There he would ready the church and himself for mass at seven thirty sharp, but over the years the congregation had dwindled to such an extent that he now took Tuesday and Thursday mornings off. No one seemed to mind.
As little as one hundred years ago the house, the square and the church had stood at the centre of a bustling village, but as Suoloduro grew it had swallowed everything in its path. The causes for the decline in congregation were plain to see around this little impoverished parish he was forced to call his own. In Father Jonathan’s opinion the root of the problem was threefold.
Death was an overwhelming factor. The stalwarts, the old ladies who would turn out for their daily fix of sacrament and gossip, come sun, rain, hail or thick snow, were slowly dieing out. Their daughters were not following in their footsteps and like a lot of young woman when they married they moved out of the area. This led on to the second problem.
As industry demanded more and more space the old, closely packed, densely populated, apartment blocks were knocked down and replaced with factory units and warehouses. Later, as the tobacco companies moved their business to other countries, these closed and Father Jonathan found himself slowly surrounded by failing companies and empty buildings. No workers. No congregation.
The third, and in Father Jonathan’s opinion the biggest cause for decline in his parish, was to be found not two and a half kilometres east from where he sat now.
Father Emmanuelle Bernini.
Father Emmanuelle, or Father Manny as he liked to be called, had taken over the next parish. In father Jonathan’s judgement he was the worst kind of priest; one whose faith in God was immutable, and whose enthusiasm for worship was unbounded. Father Manny was part of the new wave of evangelical priest. Guitars, tambourines and clapping all made regular appearances at his services; he even liked to use Power Point slide shows as part of his sermons.
Father Jonathan had managed to keep hold of the few remaining traditionalist and those members of his parish who could not be bothered to travel the extra few kilometres to Father Manny’s modernised church. It may be a sin thought Father Jonathan, but thank God for sloth. But each month the attendance figures got lower and the collection plate got lighter. The Bishop was beginning to ask questions.
For the present, at least, there was enough to keep him busy. Well enough to make it appear that he was busy. There were the day to day duties of a parish priest. Those little things that nobody can avoid. Birth, marriage and death.
It was death that occupied his thoughts this morning as he picked up a small scrap of paper, on which he had scribbled a few notes. He gave it a cursory glance and then swung himself round in his chair and in to position in front of his computer. He poured himself another measure of the Laphroaig, took a sip and then hit the space bar on the keyboard.
The computer hummed gently from standby and in to life. There were a few emails waiting for him and so, for want of any thing better to do, he decided to look at them before setting about the arduous task of writing a eulogy for a man he hardly knew.
There was the usual junk mail. Spam offering various pills, lotion and potions which promised to increase the size of his penis and offers of friendship from large breasted women. Neither offer held much interest for him. He was more than satisfied with the size of his penis and the woman, well they held no allure. There was one from, Private Pharmaceuticals Inc, which did gain his attention. They were pleased to inform him that his order for Viagra had been dispatch and should arrive with him in three to five working days. He calculated the dates involved and made a mental note to keep a close eye on the post. Letters and parcels had a nasty habit of accidentally opening in the hands of Mrs Franchino.
The final email was from his mother, who still lived in England. He opened it, fearing the worse. His mother was nearly eighty years old and he was never sure what news a missive from her email address would bring. The file opened and as he scanned the first few lines his fears were confirmed. She was in fine health. He sighed under his breath. She was old and yet she still refused to be ill or even take one step closer to deaths door. Friends of his had buried both of their parents by now and were happily spending their in heritance. His mother though, seemed determined to out live him, and also appeared to be spending as fast as she could.
Looking at the size of the file he realised there must be six or seven closely typed pages. It would be the usual inconsequential nonsense, gossip and news from home. He closed the file. He would save the dubious pleasure of reading it until latter, in case he had trouble sleeping tonight.
He moved the cursor across the screen and opened a new Word document. He sat for a moment, elbows on the desk, hands clasped in front of his chin and eyes closed. The stark white screen gave his skin an ethereal glow. To any one viewing the scene they would have seen a devoted priest, perhaps at his daily devotion, perhaps praying for guidance from the Lord. What he was actually doing was trying to remember if he had saved some where on the hard drive, an old eulogy that he could use again.
In his long list of ‘Duties I detest as a Priest’ this particular task definitely made the top ten. It was not that he found it difficult to find the words, or that he found it sad to be mourning the passing of one so young. He simply found it tedious, spouting of platitudes and the expected clichés about a person he hardly knew.
There were the expectations of the family and congregation to consider. They would carefully listen, trying to find the double meanings and discover what had been left unsaid, in the hope that it would uncover some family secret. He minimised the window and double clicked on another icon. A game of Mine Sweeper opened on the screen.
In the game of life Father Jonathan was a master of procrastination. If a job was worth doing it was worth saving until later.
There, dear reader, we must leave Father Jonathan, clicking away at the little grey squares. There we must leave Mrs Franchino, cleaning her way through the upstairs of the house and tutting her way through the unlocked, and locked, drawers. We must return to the Villa Fatiscente, it is now eight o’clock in the morning and the small farm has sprung in to life. The rest of the family are well in to there daily tasks, which they must complete before the funeral later today. Death comes to us all, but life must continue on around it.
Follow me dear reader.

Chapter Three.

So, we begin our journey back to Villa Fatiscente, but before we do let us pause awhile. Do not fret dear reader, we have time. It is time to consider the geography of the area in which our tale is set. Yes, dear reader it is that time, time for some exposition.
I ask of you not to skip over it. I will keep it as brief as possible and hopefully you will find it of some interest. It may even help you with the wider understanding of the story. Pay attention, there may be questions later.
If we stand here, in the square outside Father Jonathan’s house, and face north you will see that the church is on our left and Father Jonathan’s house is to our right. Now let us rise straight up, come on follow me, up, up we go until we can see the city of Suoloduro below us and the valley in which it lies stretched out before us.
Imagine if you will that the valley is shaped like a flint arrow head, its pointed tip aiming north. You will see that a river meanders its way along the valley bottom from the tip of the arrow to its base. At the base it flows into a larger river that runs from west to east. It is here that the original settlement, that eventually became the city below us, started. I am sure that if you read on carefully we will discover the full history of Suoloduro and so, dear reader I will not trouble you with it here.
The western side of the valley was formed by volcanic activity and consequentially the soil is rich and fertile. Lush green woods and flourishing farms smother its slopes. The eastern side of the valley was pushed up many millennia ago as plate pushed against plate and earthquakes helped to shape this country. The soil is poor and thin, rocky out crops scar the landscape. This is where we are heading now, for this is were the Villa Fatiscente stands.
As we head back down to earth let us look at the Villa Fatiscente. We will merely concern ourselves with its layout at present, its history we will try to unravel as we go along. The building is a long, partly, two storey affair. Part house and part farm building. It has been not so much built, over the many years the family have lived here, as evolved. The front of the house faces south west, looking down the length of the valley and down on to the City ten kilometres away. It has been said that is has one of the best views in the valley, looking out as it does down on to the city and across to the lush green slopes of the western side.
If we stand in the yard and face the building we will see that the majority of the ground floor is of the local stone and consists of four large cool rooms. The first, on the furthest left, is where they keep the dairy cattle. This is being generous; the herd at present consists of two old, Italian Brown, cows and a small, bull calf. The next room along is piled high with the detritus of the years. Old farming implements, broken prams, bicycles, toys and the assorted odd and ends you no longer need, but one day may come in useful. The last two rooms are used as above ground cellars, the entire building having been built on a rocky outcrop. The walls of these rooms are thick, the windows small and the doors heavy, they are more than a match for even the sunniest day.
The right hand end of the building is a more modern affair having evolved over the last twenty years. Within its walls it contains, a large kitchen, a living cum dining room, a family bathroom, store rooms and a large garage and workshop. The main door leads out to the area in which we are now standing.
From just outside this door, and rising from right to left, is a concrete staircase which leads to a balcony that runs the full length of the stone built section. Along this balcony, with its brightly painted iron railing and its rusting corrugated iron roof, are the bed rooms and more private areas for the family. We will discuss those at a later time, for the moment all you need to concentrate on is the far left hand end of this balcony, this is the domain of Prima Nonna Etta.
Most days she can be found, sat on an old wooden chair, outside the door that leads to her apartment. She is lucky; she has her own small kitchen, a living room, bedroom and bathroom. Today is no different and she sits, crocheting, watching the farm, and despite her advancing years, hearing and seeing all.
There are a few other structures of interest. If we turn round you will see that we are standing in front of a large, brick built, wood fired, bread oven, still warm from its mornings work, baking the bread and pizzas for the coming funeral. Over to our left is the large, wooden framed, corrugated iron covered barn. In the farms heyday it would be full to the rafters of drying tobacco, now it is home to a tractor, the rabbits and a large colony of spiders. Next to it stands a patio area with a, home made, brick and stone built barbeque. Down the slope and to our right is the chicken run and further round the sheep pen with its low stone built shelter where the small flock spend most of their day.
As you look around you will notice that the whole place has a slightly run down feel to it. Like a film star whose career has faded, man and nature appear have to given up on this little farm. The world is moving on, but has forgotten to tell the inhabitants of Villa Fatiscente.
Now dear reader we must step back. Our tale is about to continue.
Rita Fabbroni made her way slowly back across the yard. Now seventy years old she had moved to the farm upon her marriage to Adolfo. She had lived here now for fifty three years now and today was a day she was not expecting to see.
As she walked she rocked slightly from side to side, her hips worn and tired from years of working the fields, her legs bowed from childhood rickets. She was a short woman, barley a metre and a half tall, Adolfo himself was only about twelve centimetres taller, together they resembled the little figures who popped in and out of a barometer. Her skin was a rich nut brown and deeply lined by years of sun and worrying. She had a thin, light frame, not through lack of food, but from constant hard work and sacrifice. In her hand she held a white enamel bowl in which she had taken the scraps to feed the poultry, a young cockerel, half a dozen capon and a dozen hens.
“Rita. Rita.” Prima Nonna Etta’s thin harsh voice cut through the silence.
Rita stopped her slow progress across the yard and looked up to where Prima Nonna Etta sat, like an ancient vulture, outside the entrance to her apartment, “What is it now Prima Nonna?”
“Come up her child, I have something to show you.” Seventy years old and her mother-in-law still insisted on calling her child.
“Can it wait Prima Nonna? I have so much to do. There is a lot to organise today.” Rita started walk towards the entrance at the end of the house, “People will be arriving soon and I have to help Monica with Tina and Little Peppe.”
“Come child, come.” Prima Nonna Etta lent forward in her seat, gripped the balcony railing and pulled herself as upright as she could. “Your mother-in-law does not ask much of you. Can you not humour an old lady on the day she buries her eldest grandchild.” She turned and headed through her door.
Rita placed the bowl at the foot of the stairs and began the painful ascent. As she reached the top step Prima Nonna Etta reappeared, she beckoned Rita towards her and carefully sat back down in her chair. Rita could see that she had something on her lap, but the old woman kept it covered with her hands.
As Rita drew close Prima Nonna Etta looked up at her, “Here,” she moved her thin, arthritic hands and revealed what lay beneath them, “I thought you might like these.” On her lap lay a small set of old, yellowing, hand crocheted baby mittens and booties. “They were his, do you remember; he wore them for the christening.”
Rita reached forward and picked up the mittens, “Of course I remember Prima Nonna. You made them for him.” she turned the mittens over in her hand; she had forgotten how tiny he had been when he was born. No one thought he would survive the month, born six weeks premature in the middle of a terrible thunder storm, prima Nonna had said it was a bad omen. They had had him christened within the week, just in case.
“I had to send to Napoli for the pattern and the wool. It was so complicated it nearly drove me mad. See.” She held up the booties, Rita took them from her. She had forgotten about the fine filigree stitching around the edge, so delicate, like a spider’s web on a bush on a frosty morning.
“They’re beautiful,” said Rita “I didn’t know you’d kept them.”
“Well,” Prima Nonna Etta reached up and snatched back the booties and mittens, “I didn’t want to see them go to waste. I know you Rita Fabiola Piacquadio; you’d have let the children play with them.” She picked up a wrinkled brown paper bag and placed the delicate items inside. “You’d better be getting on, you’ve lots to do if you want to bury my grandson properly.” With that the old woman pulled herself up and went back in to her apartment.
Rita made her way back along the balcony and down the stairs. Prima Nonna Etta only called her Rita Fabiola Piacquadio, her maiden name, when she was angry. The only time Prima Nonna Etta was truly angry was when she was embarrassed. The only time she got embarrassed was when she let her feelings get the better of her.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs she saw her two grandchildren, Assuntina and Giuseppe the son and daughter of Rodolfo, over by the rabbit cages, they were feeding them weeds and grass through the chicken wire mesh.
She called them over, “Tina, Little Peppe, do your old Nonna a favour and go and fetch Nonno Adolfo. He should be back by now, people will be arriving soon.”
The two children set off across the yard, towards the path at the back of the house that led up to the pasture. Last month they would have run, laughing and joking, arguing and bickering, excited at the prospect at telling off Nonno Adolfo. But today they walked, holding hands, afraid to release their grip should one of them disappear and not return. Their footsteps were heavy for ones so young, their heads bowed, and their voices silent.
Rita stood and watched them until they had gone out of view around the corner of the house. They were so young, too young to loose their father, Little Peppe barely nine and Tina thirteen in a month’s time. She was going to be confirmed the Sunday after her birthday and her father would not be there to see it. He would not be there to see his children graduate from school. He would not be there to help guide them through the problems of first love. He would not be there to offer a hand in times of trouble. He would not be there to walk his daughter down the aisle. He would not be there to drink a toast to his first grandchild.
Rita Fabiola Piacquadio sat down on the hard concrete steps. She hugged the white enamel bowel to her breast, the breast she had suckled the tiny baby at, and for the first time since they had pulled her sons lifeless body from the silage pit, she began to cry.
She cried not just for the loss of her son but for the loss also of a father, a husband, a grandchild, a brother, an uncle, a cousin. She cried for the loss of a man who meant so much and who meant so many things to so many different people.
She cried for the man, who at heart was the little child she had held in her arms and who she had nursed day and night for those first few weeks. She had sat by his crib to watch over him whilst he slept, not daring to leave his side for fear that he should die alone.
This was the little child for whom Adolfo had walked, eight kilometres in the storm, to fetch the doctor. The doctor had sent for the priest and she had lain there, in her mother-in-law’s large wooden framed bed, the tiny infant cradled in her arms as the priest had performed the Last Rites.
To anxious to sleep the doctor had sedated her. She fell in to a fitful sleep full of dark visions. When she awoke the next morning the storm had past and as they opened the shutters on the bedroom window she was greeted with a beautiful late summer’s morning. The tiny child had survived the night and she knew then that he was a fighter.
“Mama?” the voice was soft and concerned. Rita wiped her eyes and looked up, it was her daughter Camilla. Camilla had arrived a little while earlier by car from Roma. She took her mothers hand and helped her to her feet, “He was a good brother.”
“He was a good man.” Replied Rita, dabbing at her eyes with a piece of tissue, “come on girl, we have much to do. We have no time to stand in the yard gossiping.” She headed towards the main entrance to the house, Camilla trailing after her.
The two women entered the kitchen. The heat from the large wood fired range filled the room and the steam from the various pans boiling away on top of it gave the atmosphere a heavy humid feel.
“How are we doing ladies?” said Rita addressing no one in particular. The four women seated around the old Formica kitchen table did not look up but continued in their task of rolling out and shaping the Casarecce. The group consisted of the mother, her two daughters and daughter-in-law; they all lived on the neighbouring farm. Liona, the mother, and her daughter-in-law had been over two days previously to help lay out Rodolfo’s body, and now she had returned with her family to help prepare the food for the meal after the funeral.
Liona stood up; she was a large lady in all senses. Her chubby face was red and ran with sweat from the heart of the kitchen. She laid a damp tea towel over a wooden tray piled high with Casarecce and carried it through to the cool of the store room just off the kitchen. “How is Monica today?” she asked as she returned.
“No better,” replied Rita, stirring one of the sauces that bubbled away on top of the range, “she still hasn’t eaten. She says she has not the strength to attend her own husband’s funeral. This sauce, did you add the oregano?”
“Yes, stop fussing woman. Me and my daughters have everything well in hand. You will not be shamed.”
The two women looked at each other. They had been through so much together over the years. No more needed to be said. Liona spooned a little of the sauce, from one of the pans, in to a bowl and placing it on a tray with a spoon and two slices of bread she turned to the women seated at the table, “Giacinta,” her daughter-in-law looked up from her work, “take this up to Monica, tell her to eat. Perhaps she will listen to an old friend; she certainly won’t listen to the advice of two old ladies.” She looked at Rita and gave her a wink, “lets leave the work to the youngsters, they can cope for a moment or two without us oldies. I have some of Gustavo’s Grappa in my bag, let’s go and drink a toast to your son and I can tell what I heard about young Tito Iannuzzi.”
The two women, friend for more than forty years headed out of the kitchen and out into the yard. They sat in silence for a moment on the wooden bench, which Rodolfo had made, on the patio area by the barn.
There dear reader we will leave them. Two friends suffering the grief of ones loss. Two women who have seen so much together. Two women who over time have grown as close as sisters.
Time for us dear reader is moving on as the hour of the funeral approaches. When we next come back to the Villa Fatiscente this house will be filled with the ones who loved a man who died too young. The yard will hum to the voices of the people who miss him. But there will be others here. For there are some who will not mourn his passing, for there are those within our story who are not unhappy to have seen Rodolfo die. Those who can only see what advantages that his death will bring for them.
We will meet them, you may not notice them at first, but they will be there, hiding there true feelings, skulking in corners, waiting for their moment.

Chapter Four

We will return now to the Plaza di Mille fiori. The daily market is now in full swing. The Housewives of Suoloduro are out in force on this hot summer’s morning. They are here to shop, to buy the daily provisions so important to family life. The fresh fruit and vegetables, the meats and the cheeses, they will prod and poke, haggle and barter, moving from one stall to the next looking for the ripest tomatoes, the choicest cuts of meat, the elusive bargain.
Most importantly they come to gossip. To swap stories, to catch up with the news. The market grapevine, if they do not know about it, it has not happened.
Just on the edge of the hubbub, keeping out of the crowds, away form the noise, the colours, the smells and jostling, sits a young man, on the steps of the cathedral. He is doing his best to stay in the shade. This is Giacomo Fabbroni, youngest of the surviving Fabbroni brothers.
His dark wavy hair is greased back. He is dressed to emulate his film heroes. The Made Men of the American gangster movie. Black leather boxed jacket, white T-shirt, tight black trousers, white socks and Gucci loafers. Heavy gold chains adorn his neck and wrists, large gold rings encircle his fingers and a pair of mirrored Aviator sunglasses sits perched atop his head.
His frame is thin and wiry and his drawn face, the ashen pallor of those who prefer the hours of darkness to the harsh glare of the sun.
Let us join him.
Giacomo spoke animatedly into his small silver mobile phone. His free arm curved eccentric patterns in the air as he gestured his feelings to the unseen person on the other end of the call. He rocked backwards and forwards as he sat on the steps as if riding an invisible bronco. His brow furrowed, his eyes filled with panic, he spoke quickly pausing briefly as he listened to the voice on the other end of the phone.
Then he stopped. The arm stopped waving, the body stopped rocking, the face fell blank. After a moment he took the phone from his ear, snapped it shut and slipped it into an inside pocket. He sat for a moment, elbows on knees, head cupped into his hands. Then quite suddenly, as though the decision had been made for him, he stood up, slipped his sun glasses back down on to his nose and began to make his way through the market.
When Giacomo had an idea, he had an idea, and what he needed now was an idea. He needed to think, and to think he needed a drink, and to buy a drink he needed some money, or some one foolish enough to buy the drink for him. He knew just the man.
He pushed he was through the crowded market, avoiding the gaze of those who wanted to offer there condolences. He was in no mood for their pity and their sorrow. They only did it to feel better about themselves. If they wanted to impress God they should go and light a candle. That way they would be happy, God would be happy and he would be left alone.
He had almost reached the edge of the square when a hand gripped him by the arm. He span quickly around, fist raised, ready to strike his assailant. He stopped himself just in time, “Sorry Father, I didn’t realise it was you.”
“I didn’t mean to startle you Giacomo,” said Father Jonathan, “were you expecting some one else?”
“Err… no Father; it’s just that, well…” Giacomo looked down at the floor, “with my jewellery and such like… you know… a man can’t be too careful. Some of the lads round here… you know… they get jealous like”
“Perhaps then, it is not so wise to display your wealth and success so openly.” Father Jonathan looked at the young man before him dressed in fake designer labels and market stall jewellery, “Pride is a sin,” he continued, and then added under his breath, “I think.”
“Yes Father. But so is envy.”
“Yes, yes. You could be right about that. I thought envy was one of the Ten Commandments, but you’re probably right about it being a sin as well.”
Giacomo glanced up at Father Jonathan, “Sorry Father I have to, err…” he pointed vaguely in the direction of the Villa Fatiscente.
“Yes sorry, you’re probably in a bit of a hurry. I understand. Today will not be an easy one, but with the Lord’s help you’ll get through.”
“Thank you Father.” Giacomo turned to go.
“Tell me Giacomo, how is you mother coping?”
Giacomo stopped and turned back towards the priest, “She’s bearing up Father, she’s a veritable tower of strength to us all.”
“And your father, Adolfo? I don’t see at church as much as I would like. How is he doing?”
“He’s fine Father. He has his sheep. He keeps himself occupied.” Giacomo made to leave again.
“And Monica and the children… err…?”
“Tina and Little Peppe,” Giacomo turned back and took several steps towards Father Jonathan, so that the two men were only centimetres apart, “Monica has not got out of bed for two weeks, she refuses to eat and says that God has deserted her. The children are confused and miss their father, but they’re children and they bounce back quicker than the grown ups. Little Peppe did get in to a fight at school the other day, some nonsense and teasing from the other kids saying that his dad wouldn’t go to heaven because God wouldn’t want a man who smelt of shit.” He spat out the last word and a fleck of spit landed on the cheek of the startled priest. “Now, if you don’t mind Father, I have to be going.”
“Yes, of course, well I’ll see you at the service. Erm… goodbye and God Bless you my son.” The last few words were accompanied by a half hearted sign of the cross. He left the flustered priest wiping spit off his face, and headed off down one of the many little streets that fed into the Plaza di Mille Fiori. He knew the man he needed and he knew exactly where to find him.
Giacomo left the noise and bustle of the market far behind him, he pressed on in to the warren of streets that made up Il Prato dell’Acqua which, despite its idyllic sounding name, was the poor quarter of Suoloduro. It was known to all as La Cucina dei Ladri and only its inhabitants, and the foolhardy, ventured in to its streets. Giacomo fell in to the latter group.
La Cucina dei Ladri was home to the flotsam and jetsam of Suoloduro society. The poor, the needy and the unwanted could all find a home here in its crowded apartments. The streets, barley wide enough to drive a car down, were hemmed in on both sides by the tall, four and five storey buildings. In the tiny, airless rooms survived those too poor, or too deviant, to go anywhere else. What little sun there was, that made it down to street level, was more often than not blocked out by the lines of brightly coloured washing strung across the street, between the buildings.
The streets were quiet, the inhabitants of La Cucina being occupied by other matters. The women were out cleaning the homes of the middle classes, or trying to a little extra money on the packing lines of the few remaining local factories. The men were sleeping off the excesses of the previous night. A narrow set of steps led up to the dingy entrance of each apartment block. As the day wore on these steps, and the pavements in front of them, would fill with the residents as they tried to escape the heat and claustrophobia of their tiny rooms. There they would sit, watching each others lives. The births and deaths, the affairs and the fights, the arguments and the vendettas, each a player in one another’s soap operas.
Giacomo walked quickly, not from fear but because time was of the essence. In a few short hours his brother’s body would take its place in the family vault in the cemetery at Treso. He rounded a corner and entered a once magnificent, in the mind of the designer, square. What little sunlight that could, fought its way between the closely packed buildings and glistened off the greying marble and green stagnant water of the fountain that stood in the middle.
He crossed the square to La Bara, a bar on the far side. As he had hoped, and on his long walked prayed, the man he sought was seated outside, at his usual table, arguing with a young man, who was standing next to him. Their voices carried across the silent square and echoed off the buildings. “But papa,” the young mans voice was imploring, “mama says that if I don’t take the job with Mr Cappella she will throw me out of the house.”
“Then take the job.” The man seated at the table took a swig of his beer and chomped at the stub of the fat cigar that seemed to be glued into the corner of his mouth.
“But I don’t want the job.”
“Then leave the house.”
“That’s not fair; you can’t ask me to make that choice.”
“I’m not asking you, your mother is telling you. Take the job or go. Personally I’d take the job.”
“But it’s in the abattoir, it’s… it’s…”
“It’s mopping up blood and carrying a few carcasses about. I’ve done worse things.”
“Why do I have to get a job?”
“Because you are the eldest,” he raised a great paw like hand in greeting as he saw Giacomo begin to cross the square, “look… will it make your mother happy?”
“Then do it… if your mother is happy, then I’m happy, and if I’m happy… you don’t get slapped into next Sabbath… now go… it looks as though I have business.”
“Yes papa…” the young man turned and started to go.
“And go straight to see Mr Cappella, tell him you’ll take the job.”
“Yes papa…” with that the young man turned the corner by the bar and disappeared.
Giacomo approached the table. The man looked at him, and smiling, held out both of his broad arms. “Como, my boy, sit…”
Giacomo sat and looked at the man opposite him. The man continued, “Tell me how are your family?” Mario Franchino, a large, balding man, lent forward and drained his glass. In his youth he had been a boxer. He was a good one by all accounts, but the lure of alcohol and the easy money to be made by using his skill for less noble causes, had turned his body flabby, but beneath there was still the frame of a prize fighter and the heart of a proud man.
“They are coping, what else can you do? Life goes on… but it is not easy.” Giacomo took off his sunglasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Of course not… They say Monica has taken it hard.”
“She has, I don’t know how she will cope, she loved my brother more than I thought it was possible for a woman to love a man.” He pulled a handkerchief from a pocket and began to dab at his eyes. He noisily blew his nose.
“We should have a drink,” Mario turned and looked back in to the dark recesses of the bar, he waved a hand at some unseen person, turning back he continued, “a man should not have to face his brothers funeral without a drink inside him.”
A young barman, in jeans and a stained white vest, appeared at the door to the bar, “Yes?”
“Two more of the same, for me and my young friend here”
“And who is paying?”
“Paying? Is that all you think about, money? This poor boy buries his eldest brother today and you ask about money. Fetch the drinks, show a little respect. Money, on a day like this.”
The barman disappeared back into the darkness. Mario turned back to Giacomo, “so my young friend, what brings you to La Cucina.”
“Nothing in particular… I just needed to walk, to clear my head. To… be alone…”
The barman reappeared and placed two beers and two brandies on the table. Mario nodded his thanks and waved him away. “Como, look at me, do I look stupid. Nobody, just goes for a walk, through here…”
“I… I wasn’t really looking where I was going…”
“A blind man with no sense of smell would know to steer clear of La Cucina.” He picked up his brandy, dunked the cigar in to it and then took a drink. He wedged the cigar back in to the corner of his mouth.
Giacomo picked up his glass and stared down into it as he swirled round the foul smelling brown liquid, “It’s nothing. It’s just that… Rodolfo’s death…”
“I know, it can be hard when you lose some one you are close to, especially some one as good as your brother.”
Giacomo knocked the brandy back in one, his knuckles white as he gripped the glass. “My brother was…” he glanced up and caught Mario’s eye, “…he was a good man, a family man. It’s just that…” his voice trailed off and he picked up his beer.
“Don’t worry, when you’re ready, you will talk, and I will be here. I’m always here, where else would a man want to be.” He laughed a short, sharp laugh. A laugh that echoed round the square like a pistol shot. He finished his brandy slammed the glass down, on to the metal table, with a clang and picked up his beer up. “A toast…”
“A toast?”
“Yes a toast to your brother,” Mario removed the cigar from the corner of his mouth, stood up and held his beer out in front of him. He looked down at the seated Giacomo and indicated that he too should stand. Giacomo dragged back his chair and stood, and after some more nodding and eyebrow raising from Mario, held out his beer in front of him.
Mario cleared his throat, “To a fine man; a good farmer, a great father and a hell of a truck driver, Rodolfo, God rest his soul.” He tipped his head back and drained the glass in one; Giacomo took a sip of his beer and sat back down.
Giacomo waited while Mario ordered two more beers, argued with the barman about the bill and finally sat down, “Are you coming to the funeral Mario?”
“The funeral? No disrespect to your brother, but… well… funerals…”
“I would be honoured if you came…”
“I would like to but… you know how it is…”
“That is a shame; my mother was up at dawn preparing the Agnello con Cicoria,” he watched as Mario’s eyes widened, “and of course, there are the Zeppole…”
“Who made them?”
“Liona, she arrived early this morning with four trays, piled high with them…” a faint smile appeared on Giacomo’s face as he saw Mario close his eyes and lick his lips.
“I would be honoured to come. As a friend of both you and your brother I feel it is my duty.”
“I am touched by your friendship and your kindness. I will meet you at the church?”
“Of course my boy, of course… which err… church are we talking about?”
“Saint Anthony of Padua, you know it of course?”
“Yes, I know it. My wife works for that English man, Father… Father…”
“Father Jonathan.”
“That’s the one. Why they had to send us an English priest I’ll never know. Are there not enough Italian boys wanting to join the church?”
“Probably not, what about your family, you have enough son’s, hasn’t one of them received the call?”
“If they have they’ve almost certainly slept through it.” Again his laugh echoed off the buildings.
Giacomo looked at his watch, “I’d better get going, I have to collect Dino. If we are late back there will be another two funerals to arrange.” He took a gulp of his beer.
“How is Dino?”
“Dino? Dino is Dino. I don’t think he’s even noticed that Rodolfo isn’t around.”
“Really, has he got that bad?”
“No… he’s just a bit…”
“He was always a bit… slow, no offence meant, but he always seemed a few cards short of a scopa.”
“No it’s not that that. He’s okay, up here.” Giacomo tapped his temple with a finger, “It’s just that he’s a bit of a dreamer.”
“Not the sort of guy you want running the farm then?”
“So who? You?”
“Me…? I have plans, unlike them I have ambition. I intend to get more from this life than calloused hands and a bent back.”
“Another dreamer…”
Giacomo shot him a look. Mario smiled and then said, “You’d better go. I don’t want your mother blaming me.”
Giacomo stood and took Mario’s hand, “Ciao Mario,” he lent forward and kissed him on both cheeks, “You will be at the service, won’t you?”
“Of course, when Mario gives his word he sticks by it. Your mothers Agnello con Cicoria…? of course I’ll be there. Now go find your brother. Ciao, my boy, ciao.”
The two men parted. Mario ordered another drink, his laugh following Giacomo for several streets as he retraced his steps back to the Plaza di Mille Fiori. Giacomo re-entered the square. The crowds had thin slightly now and he made his way easily across, to a side street were he had parked his car, a rusty white, late nineteen sixties Fiat Cinquecento. His elder brother Dino was waiting for him, he was leaning against the side of the car. His tall and skinny frame dwarfing the tiny vehicle. As Giacomo approached he looked up from the note book he was writing in, “Where have you been?”
“No where… just walking… get in the car, mama will kill us if we’re late.”
The two men climbed in to the vehicle, Dino almost folding himself in half in his attempt to fit in, the engine spluttered in to life and they headed out of the city and back to the Villa Fatiscente. They travelled silence, neither knowing what to say to other, two brothers separated by grief.
The hour of the funeral nears dear reader and we will leave these two brothers lost in their own thoughts, the next time we meet them they will be preparing to bury their brother.

Chapter Five

The villa Fatiscente Dear Reader, as I have tried to explain, has over the years grown, evolving to cope with the members of the Fabbroni family that inhabit it. It reflects the family themselves for theirs is a complicated history; too long and too complicated to explain in a few short paragraphs here. I hope it will become clear as our tale unfolds. What you do need to know, at this juncture, is that Prima Nonna Etta was Papa Peppe’s second wife.
Papa Peppe’s first wife, Assunta, bore him three children, two sons, Adolfo and Lorenzo and a daughter, Giuseppina. Assunta died shortly after the birth of Giuseppina. It was not the strain of children birth that caused her untimely demise, but a stray ball during an enthusiastic and heated game of Bocce. His second wife Giorgetta, now known to all as Prima Nonna Etta, bore him three sons, Tommaso, Ricardo and Arrigo. Adolfo we have already met, the others we will find along the way.
Come Dear Reader and join me as the Family, their friends, associates and the plain nosy, gather at the Villa Fatiscente.
Giacomo slowed the little car down as he and his brother approached the Villa along the dusty road. It looked as though half the province had turned out, vehicles of all ages, shapes and sizes were parked along the verge. Giacomo turned on to the olive tree lined dirt track that led down to the farm.
The court yard was packed with more cars, those of the family and close friends. He drove round to the back of the house and parked up. As they climbed out of the car their Zio Maso, Adolfo’s step brother Tommaso, walked over to greet them. He was a short, balding, well dressed, energetic man in his late fifties, who always had a smile on his face. Amongst the elder members of the family he was known a Masaccio, a nickname that had stuck since childhood.
“Ciao Ciao, my little ones”. He walked towards them, arms out stretched, a cigar in one hand, and a plastic cup of red wine in the other. Musso and Caesar were trotting along at his heels. The two brothers greeted him, kissing him on both cheeks.
“Ciao Zio Masso,” said Giacomo “you just got here?”
“About half an hour ago, we drove down from **** to **** yesterday”. Zio Masso lived in Switzerland but kept a small apartment in ****, His Wife’s family village a few kilometres away.
“Are your family here?”
“Yes, yes, we’re all here **** and the girls are helping in the kitchen, **** and **** are entertaining the kids. You two had better go and change, your mama has been looking for you”.
Giacomo and Dino made there way to the front of the villa, greeting family and friends alike, pausing briefly to catch up with those who they only saw at these occasions, the births, deaths and marriages.
They went up to their rooms to change, their mother scalding them for being late as they went. When they emerged, sometime later, it seemed the rest of the province had turned up, and so it continued for the next hour, the hugs, the handshakes, the cheek kissing. Condolences exchanged, gossip caught up on.
Some chatted in groups; others sat by themselves, jokes and memories exchanged. Liona and her daughters moved through the throng offering food, topping up drinks. Rita watched and conducted the proceedings, checking and re-checking making sure everything ran smoothly. No shame or dishonour would be brought upon the family by a simple mistake in the etiquette of Italian family life.
At the appointed hour a long black hearse, its consignment festooned with flowers drew up at the entrance to the farm.
After much crying and many raised voices the long procession of cars set down the mountain on the journey to the church. The sun was high in the sky and the cortège of hot packed cars drove slowly down the dusty track. Liona and her daughters stood in the courtyard and watched as they disappeared in the heat haze and then went inside to finish the preparation for the meal that would greet the mourner’s on their return.
The cortège passed swiftly along the dual carriageway, passing by the outskirts of the town and then turning off at the southern exit. It drove through the twisting quiet streets that led to a small square and the church of saint Anthony of Padua
Father Jonathan stood on the steps and as the cortège pulled up he walked down to greet it. Signore De Cesso, the undertaker, stepped out of the hearse and greeted the priest, “Good morning fatha.”   Signore De Cesso was an anathema amongst his fellow undertakers. A large jolly round man with rosy cheeks, his personality was as big as his stomach. It seemed that at any moment his tightly fitting morning suit would give up under the strain and explode at the seams.
“Congratulations Signore De Cesso, only twenty minutes late.” Said Father Jonathan pointedly looking at his watch.
“You know how it is fatha; ya can’t rush the dearly departed.”
“True, but you could chivvy along the living.”
The two men parted and set about their duties. Father Jonathan approached the second car. The driver opened the rear door and he was greeted by a wall of tears and sobbing. An argument was in full swing as the elder family members tried to decide the best methods to extricate Prima Nonna Etta from the vehicle, honour dictated that Prima Nonna should be the first out but this was impossible as she needed at least two people to steadier her, help her from the vehicle and to her feet.
Father Jonathan stood and listened to the raised voices. He had come to learn, after living for so many years in Italy, that to interfere in a family quarrel was to put ones life on the line, for as much as they argued amongst themselves any outsider was seen as a common enemy and they would unite against their new foe as quickly as they had first split.
He had also come to realise that everybody had the perfect solution to any problem, but that their solutions or ideas always differed. If more than two people were involved in a task there would be at least three ways of completing it. Currently the six members of the Fabbroni family wedged into the back of the car had come up with nine different ways of removing Prima Nonna Etta. The driver of the vehicle appeared to be quite content to let this situation continue. He had made himself comfortable and was leaning against the boot of the car, rolling a cigarette.
The mourners in the flowing vehicles, unsure about the etiquette in this situation had rolled down their windows and had begun to argue amongst themselves, a few of the drivers from the vehicles, now stuck in the increasing traffic jam in the side streets, had left their cars and were stood in the entrance to the square loudly discussing the cause of the problem and possible solutions. Father Jonathan glanced at his watch again, the service should have started half an hour ago and there was still no sign of anyone emerging from the lead car.
Then the solution presented itself in the shape of Zio Ricardo’s wife, Maria. At first Father Jonathan had been unaware of her presence; she seemed to arrive suddenly, like a Tasmanian devil, from the row of cars parked around the square. She moved quickly, her short legs a blur under the black dress, pushing Father Jonathan aside, she lent into the open door of the car. She quickly summed up the situation and with a few swift well chosen words silenced the vehicles passengers.
She prodded the driver, who was now fiddling with a small MP3 player and nodding rhythmically to some unheard dance track. He was sent to find her husband Ricardo and his elder brother Tommaso. After some moments they were found and the task of extracting Prima Nonna Etta from the car got underway.
The two brothers, under the sole guidance of Maria, carefully lifted their mother from the car and placed her in the wheel chair, which had been fetched from the boot. Finally the real purpose of the day, the public display of grief, could begin.
The rest of the family steeped out of the vehicle. Adolfo, stoical and silent, Rita, supported by Giacomo and Dino and finally the grieving widow, Monica, at her side Tina and Little Peppe. She held them close, pulling them in towards her, her hands on their shoulders.
She was a tall slender woman, her body taught and muscular, her skin a deep olive brown. Today her body looked frail, her skin looked pale, and her usually long dark brown hair was pulled back tight in a bun and her normally smiling eyes, now full of fear and sadness, where hidden behind a black veil.
The men of the cortège gathered in groups, smoked, chatted and passed around small flasks of grappa. The women gathered around the small family group and began to fuss and ****. They displayed their sorrow openly, each trying to outdo the other of shows of grief. Tears gave way to sobbing which were lost in the sea of wailing.
Giacomo’s coffin was removed from the back of the hearse and placed on a wheeled bier. Father Jonathan stifled a gasp and then dug his thumb nail in to the palm of his hand to in an attempt to subdue the giggle that was in danger of exploding from his lips. He thought that he had seen everything in his many years in this parish, but the sight before him surprised even him.
To call the casket ornate would have been kind. It was made of larch wood and stained a deep rich red to bring out the fine grain. Its shape followed the traditional raised lid style but that is where style abandoned the scene and bad taste took over. It was not the inscribed brass plaque with its scrolls and fancy twists. It was not the richly carved and cast brass lion head handles. It was the casket itself.
Father Jonathan was quite use to seeing coffins with carved panels. Normally on the lid and on the sides of the casket there would panels with carved boarders, perhaps with a religious symbol in the centre. This particular coffin had taken the idea to the extreme.
On the left and right hand sides of the coffin were large central panels, their boarders edged with fine carvings. It was these panels that caused Father Jonathan to stare in amazement and were the source of his amusement. They were decorated with a carving depicting Da Vinci’s Last Supper in basso rilievo.
Signore De Cesso stood beside Father Jonathan, he smiled and said, “It’s a work of art is it not Fatha?”
“It’s definitely different.” Father Jonathan replied, biting his bottom lip.
“We had to send to Roma for it.”
“Really, well it was worth it. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
One of the undertaker’s assistants stepped forward and a football shirt in the colours of Inter Milano, Rodolfo’s favourite team, was neatly folded and placed on top. Adolfo stepped forward and placed a small wooden cross, which he had carved from a branch of the olive tree he leant against every day, on top of the shirt. Then Monica, her two children by her side, was lead forward and she lay a single white rose across.
Those mourners, who could, mainly close family and friends, crowded into the small church. When he was sure all was ready Father Jonathan, who was standing by the main door nodded to an unseen organist and the wheezy strains of Ave Maria stunned the congregation into silence.
Father Jonathan flinched as the off key chords squealed there way down form the organ loft. It was always Ave Maria; whatever the occasion he could guarantee that that dreadful dirge would make an appearance. He winced as Signore Rottodita, the aged organist, reached a particularly difficult passage. The notes stumbled and faltered, tumbling over each other as they escaped from the pipes.
Father Jonathan could not hide his disgust, he closed his eyes. Signore Rottodita had been playing that piece at least twice a week for the past forty years and still he could not get the fingering of that section right.
At the bottom of the steps the pall bearers moved in to position. The group of six consisted of Giacomo, Dino, Tommaso, Ricardo and two of Rodolfo’s closet workmates **** and ****. There was some discussion over the best position for each man. There was etiquette and tradition to consider and the disparity in the men’s heights. Eventually they found an arrangement that satisfied all parties even though it meant that the coffin did slope forward and to the left slightly.
Slowly, and with as much dignity as they could muster, the men started the walk up the steps and down the central aisle of the church. The little procession was led by Father Jonathan intoning De Profundis.
“De profúndis clamávi ad te, Dómine: Dómine, exáudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuae intendéntes: in vocem deprecationes meae. Si iniquitátes observaveris, Dómine: Dómine, quis sustinébit. Quia apud te propitiátio est: et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Dómine. Sustinuit ánima mea in verbo ejus: sperávit ánima mea in Dómino. A custodia matutina usque ad noctem: specret Israel in Dómino. Quia apud Dóminum misericordia: et copiósa apud eum redémptio. Et ipse redimet Israel, ex ómnibus iniquitátibus ejus.”
A young boy in robes swung the incense burner that filled the already stifling atmosphere with a thick sickly sweet smoke. They were followed by the remaining members of the family to a position just outside the Sanctuary in front of the Alter, were a set of trestles was awaiting the arrival of the coffin. There Rodolfo’s body was placed, his feet, as was traditional, facing the Alter. At last, and well behind schedule, the service began.
The service followed the traditional pattern; it was at these times that Father Jonathan was in his element. Now he was in charge and he led the congregation through the rituals of the Requiem Mass. The prayers, the readings, the granting of absolution; he was a conductor and these people were his orchestra.
As the first prayers got under way Giacomo quietly slipped out of the pew and quietly made his way outside. There was something about the heat in the church, the smell of the incense, the readings, the pleas for absolution and the prayers for deliverance from hell that made him feel uncomfortable. He should stay, ask for forgiveness, confess his sins, but he could not. He stepped out in to the bright sunlight and breathed in the fresh air.
He scanned the faces of the people present looking for a familiar face, then he spotted him, leaning against the bonnet of a large black car. He lit a cigarette and crossed over the square and joined the small group that had gathered large man, “Pleased to see you made it Mario.”
“Of course I made it; I told my word is my bond. Have you seen my wife?”
“I think she’s inside.”
“Oh yes, she loves a god funeral. Says they’re better than a marriage. She’ll be in there waiting for the eulogy.”
“Oh yes, she reckons you can learn more about a family from a eulogy than you could by living with for a month. Here” He offered Giacomo a small bottle of grappa. Giacomo took it, had a swig and passed it back. Mario took a swig and then continued, “There were to fellas looking for you a little while ago.”
“Did you tell them where I was?”
“Didn’t have to, the spotted you carrying the coffin in to the church.”
“Where did they go?”
“No idea, they just wandered off, said they’d be back later. You look worried.”
“No, no its nothing, they’re probably just friends, you know what its like on a day like this, people want to offer their condolences, to show they care.”
“They didn’t look like mourners and they didn’t look like the sort of guys who care.”
Giacomo dropped his cigarette to the floor and looked around the square. Mario placed a large hand on his shoulder, “Come with me, lets find somewhere quiet for a chat.” He led Giacomo over to a small group of trees and they sat in the shade on the wall outside Father Jonathan’s house. He took out the grappa and took a drink, “What’s going on Como?”
“Nothing Mario.”
“Nothing. Nothing he says. You sit there shaking like a like a dog expecting a thrashing.”
“Those men…” Giacomo lit another cigarette.
“I recognised one of them. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others. It was Big Paolo.”
“Oh indeed. Last I heard he was working for Pancrazio Sicario. Why would two goons who work for that bastard be looking for you?”
“He wanted to pass on his commiseration?”
“Bollocks, the man never says sorry even when he’s chopping your fingers off. How much do you owe him?”
Giacomo took a last drag on the cigarette and flicked the stub across the pavement, “Who says I owe him anything?”
“You do. Look at you, that’s why you wanted to make sure I would come today, to have a little muscle around in case anything happened?”
“No, I thought as an old family friend, as a friend of Rodolfo…”
“Rodolfo hadn’t spoken to me since last year when that truck of sheep his was driving disappeared.”
“That was you though, wasn’t it?”
“No. For once I was telling the truth. Stop changing the subject. How much?”
Giacomo took the grappa from Mario and took a large drink, “Ten thousand Euros.”
“Ten thousand? Jesus wept boy.” He crossed himself without thinking; it was a reflex action from years of living with Signora Franchino. “Cards?”
“Some of it, then I borrowed some money to invest in a business idea, thinking I could use the profit to pay off the gambling debts and the loan.”
“Oh, Como my boy,” Mario grabbed him round the shoulder and pulled him in close to him, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be. I should know, I’ve spent too many years persuading people like you, to pay back the money they owe to people like Sicario.”
Giacomo pulled away from the big man he hated it when Mario treated him like a child, “I’m going to pay it back. I just need a little time to raise the cash.”
“If I had a Euro for every time I’ve heard that line…?”
“Don’t take the piss. I told you because I thought you might have some Ideas.”
“You could ask for more time, but that’ll just mean you’ll have more to pay. You could beg for mercy, but in my experience that just makes their job more fun. You could run, but then they’ll just go after your family.”
“Shit… this is such a mess.” Giacomo began to pace up and down.
“Sit down. Walking never solved anything and if they come back you’ll be too knackered to run.” Mario’s pistol shot laugh echoed round the square and reverberated off the front of the church. Giacomo stopped pacing and glared at the large laughing figure. Mario stopped and said, “How long you got?”
“Two weeks.”
“Two weeks? Then why are you worrying, in my experience that’s a life time.” He stood up and pulled a fat cigar from his top pocket, “Today we will mourn the loss of your fine brother and tomorrow we will sort out your problems.”
“But nothing… come on, the service will soon be over and they’ll be one short carrying the coffin if you don’t go back in.”
The two men walked back across the square and made their way up the steps and in to the church. As they did so a figure stepped out from behind the small group of trees, and smiled. A tall, thin, harsh faced young man, he carefully zipped up his flies and climbed back over Father Jonathan’s wall. He smiled to himself, smoothed back his dark well greased hair and then he too headed off towards the church to join his family on this sad day.
So Dear Reader, we will, for the moment, leave the Family Fabbroni. We will allow them to grieve in private for a little, but we will return in time for the interment in the family crypt.
Our attention is required elsewhere, many, many miles from this town, in fact, many, many miles away from the heat of an Italian summer.
Follow me.

Chapter Six

Come with me Dear Reader, far from the heat, dust and dry air of the town of Suoloduro. For we must travel some fifteen hundred kilometres north west, for the next part of our tale takes place in England. We will head for the city of Leicester in the East Midlands where we will find the next character in our tale. Follow me there to the busy road just off the high street. Follow me from the heat of Italy to where the British summer is doing its best.
She had walked the full length of the street three times before she had spotted it. A small brass plaque screwed to the wall next to a dingy doorway. She checked the address in the letter again, ‘Foster, Allen and Partners’. Despite the appearance this was definitely the place. The wind gusted again and turned her umbrella inside out, the driving rain lashed against he face. She stepped quickly across the pavement and in to the doorway trying to find some shelter. She pushed the glass door with her shoulder and attempted to close her umbrella. The door did not open, it appeared to be locked. She struggled to keep her umbrella under control and looked at her watch, she was a few minutes late but the letter had definitely said ten o’clock.
She stood for a moment, the wind and rain lashing at her, she step back hard against the door, trying to flatten herself as much as she could, to get out of the rain. She looked around trying to decide whether to ring the number in the letter from her mobile or to go back to her office and ring from there. It was then that she saw the buzzer; she had been leaning against it and had not noticed it before. She pressed the black button and the speaker made a fuzzy squelching sound. After a moment a moment a distorted female voice crackled out the small speaker, “Yes?”
She lent forward and spoke into the speaker. “I have an appointment with Mr Foster, my name is…”
“Push the door when you hear the buzzer.”
Behind her the door made a vibrating squeaky sound, she leaned back and she felt the door open. Turning round she pushed the door and step in to the small dark hallway. The air was damp and musty and the walls looked as they could do with a good wash. Cautiously she moved to the foot of the stairs, they rose for about fifteen feet and then turned back in themselves. Slowly she started to climb, unsure of where she was going or what to expect.
The banister was sticky to the touch and the carpet stained and threadbare; she decided it was probably safer to walk up the centre of the narrow staircase than risk the danger of touching anything. The walls and woodwork were painted a dirty magnolia colour; the whole place had an abandoned feel to it. She reached the first small landing and found two doors, both of which appeared to locked.
On the wall, by the bottom of the next flight of stairs, was taped a piece of A4 paper, written on it in thick black marker pen was the message ‘Foster, Allen and Partners Top Floor’. She started to climb again, the stairs got darker, the only light coming from a yellow bulb which hung from the ceiling on the small landing at the point where the stairs doubled back on themselves. She began to wish that she had told some one at work where she was going. She passed another pair of doors and found another hand written sign ‘Foster, Allen and Partners keep going’.
She started to climb again and realised she could hear a faint noise coming from the floor above, even though she did not generally believe in such rubbish she crossed her fingers and climbed the next flight quickly, hoping that it would be the last. At the top of the last flight of stairs there was yet another landing, again with two doors. One of the doors was slightly open and appeared to be small and very dirty toilet. The other had yet another hand written sign, ‘Foster, Allen and Partners’.
She moved forward and tapped on the door, a female voice, the same one as on the entry phone she assumed, said some thing that she took to be enter or come in. She turned the handle and pushed open the door. The sight which greeted her was partly what she had expected after the climb up the stair case but it still came as a shock.
She stepped in to a small, dim, airless office. The only source of light came from a window which was set in the sloping roof above a desk that was placed near the back wall. The room was full of filing cabinets and yet every available surface was piled high with stacks of buff folders and manila files. Seated behind the desk, just visible behind the ancient computer monitor and piles of paper work, there sat a blonde haired young woman. She was talking animatedly in to a phone, which she had tucked hard between ear and shoulder, her hands flew backwards and forwards, sometimes attacking the computer keyboard and at others grabbing files, flicking through them and returning to the precarious piles that surrounded her.
The young woman looked up and smiled as she entered the room and then pointed in the direction of a wooden dining room chair that was wedged between two of the filing cabinets. Taking that as a signal that she should take a seat and wait she crossed to the chair and sat.
The office smelt of stale coffee and even staler cigarette smoke. She looked around in the hope that she might find some clue as to why she had been called here. The young woman but down the phone, looked across, smiled and said, “Mr Allen will see you now.”
“Oh, sorry I’m her to see Mr Foster, my name is…”
“No dear, Mr Foster is dead, has been for several years, but as he’s the senior partner all appointments are arranged through his diary and it is then decided which of the partners will deal with your case.”
“Oh…” she assumed there must be some logic in there somewhere.
“Just knock and enter.” The young woman pointed at a door on the far side of the room, partly concealed by yet another filing cabinet.
She nodded her thanks to the young girl, crossed the room, tapped on the door and pushed it open.
The scene that greeted her was only slightly better than the room she had just left. It was lighter, due to the large window that ran down the furthest wall. It could have been lighter still if the net curtains that hung across them had been clean and not a dirty, light blocking, nicotine yellow. There were fewer piles of paper on the desk and the computer monitor was a flat screen rather than the box that the young woman had sitting on her desk. The man behind the desk was not what she had expected either. He looked as though he was in his late twenties, his straight, mousey brown hair was long and shaggy and he was wearing a combat green t-shirt with the iconic Che Guevara image, beloved by students across the world, printed on the front.
As she entered he looked up from the file in front of him, he stood and offered his hand, “Do come in, take a seat, Cup of tea or coffee?”
She lent forward and shook his outstretched hand, “No, thank you.” She picked up the small pile of manila folders from the seat, handed them to him and sat down.
“Right, okay… down to business,” He placed the files she had just given him on top of a large pile of paperwork on the floor next to him. “First, the formalities, I take it you’ve brought the forms of identification, as requested in the letter.”
“Yes I have, but I’d like to know what all this is about?”
“I’m sorry… legal stuff, I can’t tell you anything until you can prove who you are.”
“Why should I prove who I am, if you’re not willing to tell me what this is all about?”
“I know this all seems very odd, all very cloak and dagger, but unfortunately there are legal hoops we have to jump through before we can go any further. As Julie, my secretary, explained to you on the phone, it is information to your advantage.”
“You don’t look much like a solicitor. You seem a bit young.”
“I can assure you this is not some elaborate con. If I was going to do that I would have made sure I had much better offices. The original Allen of Foster, Allen and Partners, is my uncle but he retired last year, I’d just graduated and decided to try and keep the firm going.
Bit of a one man band at the moment but business is steady and I’m building up a regular client base. Mainly pro bono work at the moment, you know the sort of stuff, legal hassles with dodgy landlords, sorting out issues with loan sharks etc. I ask people to make a donation to the running of the practice, if they can. Occasionally some thing like this comes along,” he tapped the file in front of him, “a bit of paying work that helps to pay the phone bill.”
She had been watching him closely while he spoke and her years of experience told her he was telling the truth, she reached in to her bag and handed over a small pile of documents. He began to go through them, “Good they all seem to check out,” he began to tick things off on a little list which he had on top of the file, “passport, birth certificate, driving license. Excellent, excellent.” He looked up at her, his face now more serious, “and now just a couple of questions, formalities really but we have to go through them. You are Carla Josephine Finchley of…” he opened the file and read the top sheet, “…of Colney Hatch Lane, Muswell Hill, London, N10?”
“Yes… Now what…?”
He held up a finger to silence her, “and your parents are David Peter and Margaret Anne Finchley?”
“They were, they both died in a dolphin swimming accident on holiday last year…”
“Oh I’m so sorry…”
“But they weren’t my biological parents, I was adopted.”
“Oh good.”
“I mean, oh good, you know you were adopted, not, oh good they weren’t your real parents. I don’t mean that…”
She silenced him with a look. He cleared his throat, shuffled some papers and then continued, “What I was trying to say is that I’m pleased you know you were adopted. I’ve been worrying all week about how to break that piece news to you if you didn’t know.”
“Okay, we’ve established I am who you think I am, now can you tell me what all this is about?”
He closed the file in front of him and sat back in his chair, “How much do you know about your biological mother?”
“Absolutely nothing.”
“You never had any urge to track her down, find out who your real family are?”
“My parents are…” she stopped herself, she still found it hard to think of them in the past tense, “were my real family. My biological mother didn’t want me, why go chasing after someone who gave you away. You’re not going to tell me that after all these years she wants to see me?”
“No, I’m afraid not. There is not nice way of putting this,” he lent forward and rested his arms on the desk, he was doing his best to look warm, open and sympathetic just like they had showed him in the workshops, “she died six months ago. I, on behalf of the estate, have been trying to trace you since then.”
Carla sat for a moment unsure of how she felt; she had just lost her mother, again. But this was a mother she didn’t know. This was a mother she had only ever thought about as abandoning her. Now she really had abandoned her. There was no chance to ask why, no chance to find out what she had done so wrong, no chance for, she winced as she thought it, closure. She stared across the desk at the young Mr Allen, she could see he was has as much difficulty dealing with this situation as she was, “Her estate?”
He grabbed at the opportunity to get back to legal matters, “Yes, estate in the legal sense, not the landed gentry’ way,” he flicked through the folder “Though there is some land involved I believe. All the details are in here.” He handed across the manila file, “I think it’s probably best if you take that away and read through it, it pretty much explains everything. If I could just get you to sign here and here,” Carla lent forward and numbly signed her name where he had indicated, “I’m sure you’re bound to have lots of questions. Read through the file and then call back here at, shall we say three’ish, I’ll try and answer what I can and those that I can’t, I’ll set Julie the task of finding out for you.”
She did not remember leaving the office, or the walk down the flights of dark, dirty, narrow stairs. She could not remember stepping out in to the street and feeling the cold hard rain on her face, or the diesel fume filled air filling her lungs. She had no idea how far she had walked or even where, in this grey, sooty city, she was.
She did remember going in to the small tobacconists and buying a packet of cigarette and she did remember lighting the first one. She remembered feeling dizzy from its effect as the smoke filled her lungs for the first since she had stop smoking three years ago. Now she found herself seated on a mock Victorian bench, sheltering from the rain under the portico of, what appeared to be, the local museum and art gallery. She wondered, for a moment, whether she was still in the city centre. The museum was located on a long pedestrianised, tree lined walk and it was hard for her to believe that she was still in the middle of such a busy city. Then over the sound of the wind and rain she heard the familiar sound of traffic.
She lit another cigarette and inhaled, the dry, acrid smoke filled her lungs. She looked at the file which lay unopened on her lap. The name, type on to the white label stuck to the front, read ‘Giuseppina Assunta Fabbroni’.
Was that her? Was that who she really was? Or was that her mother’s name, her biological mother, her real mother. Her mouth filled with a strong metallic taste as the adrenaline coursed around her body. In her chest her heart fluttered and thumped and the acidic bile churning in her stomach made her feel sick.  She looked around and saw the A-frame sign with arrow indicating that there was a café inside the museum. Perhaps a strong coffee and a sandwich might make her feel better.
The museum was quiet, bright and warm. She followed the signs, through the various exhibitions, towards the café. She liked museums and art galleries. They reminded her of childhood, the hours spent on her own wandering through the rooms and galleries of the local museum. She was not a lonely child; she just preferred to be alone. This had carried on in to adulthood and now, with the death of her parents she thought she was alone. There was an aunt, her father’s sister, who lived up in Wakefield, but she rarely saw her.
Now, in this folder, there was possibly a whole new family. She had not really thought about her biological since she was a child. She did not in real sense exist for her, but the news of her death had made her real, had put flesh and bone back on to those ghostly childhood nightmares. Now, before she had a chance to get to grips with the fact that she did have a real mother she had yet again gone away, abandoned her.
She found the café, more by following the smell than the signs and bought a cup of strong coffee. She gave the food a wide berth, pre-packed sandwiches and muffins in cellophane wrappers was not what she was hoping for. London had spoilt her; freshly prepared food had obviously not reached the provinces. She found a quiet table in the corner of the brightly lit room and sat down, placing the still unopened file on the table in front of her.
She stared at the name again, ‘Giuseppina Assunta Fabbroni’. Yesterday afternoon she had known exactly who she was, she was Carla Josephine Finchley, the sign on the door of her office at The Home Office said so, her driving licence said so, her birth certificate and passport said so, and even her travel pass said so. She had left her home, in north London, yesterday afternoon and caught the train up here and when she had stepped off the train and booked in to the hotel she had been Carla Josephine Finchley. when she had gone down to breakfast, this morning, the waiter had called her Miss Finchley. When she had entered the offices of Foster, Allen and partners, she had been Carla Josephine Finchley. But now?
She added three packets of sugar to the coffee and stirred around the dark liquid, slowly. She looked around the café; it was surprisingly empty for a rainy day. There was a young man, in his early twenties Carla guessed, reading a large, glossy, hardback book and making notes on a small pad. Over by the window there was a elderly couple, drinking tea and sharing a large piece of chocolate cake, they spoke in hushed tones and would laugh occasionally and try to feed each other spoonfuls of the cake. How could life carry on as normal when her world was falling apart? She knew how, she was a psychologist; this was all a matter of perspective.
She took a quick mental stock of here life. She had been alone, and then the Finchley’s had adopted her. They had died and she was alone again. Now her real mum, this unknown mum had died and she may not actually be alone. There may be a family out there. But where? The name looked Spanish? Italian? South American. She took a drink of the coffee and wished that she had decided to do this in a pub instead, a large whisky would have been helpful right now, even though she could not stand the stuff her dad had always made her have a whisky in times of stress or shock.
She ran her hand over the front of the file and the quickly, as though she was ripping a plaster off a particularly hairy piece of skin, she pulled it open.
The top piece of paper was a letter from the Office of the Crown giving instructions to Messer’s Foster, Allen and Partners to proceed with a search for any living relatives who may have a claim on the estate of ‘Giuseppina Assunta Fabbroni’. It detailed her last known address and the contact address’s of her executors.
Carla breathed a sigh of relief and took another drink of coffee, she was not this ‘Giuseppina’, that was her mother. That did not answer the question of who she was and why she had been put up for adoption. She began to read.
The story contained in the file was, in its own way, a sad tale, of a young girl sent many miles from her home in Italy, to earn money to send back to her family. Who had found herself alone in England in the early sixties and who, in nineteen sixty seven, had given birth to a girl. Alone, and catholic, she had put the child up for adoption rather than face the scorn and shame it would bring upon her family name.
As sad as it was, Carla could not forgive the woman who had abandoned her. Who had forced her to spend the first four years of her life in a catholic orphanage until she was adopted by a couple, a couple considered to old to adopt a baby, but who could have a toddler. A woman who had allowed her to live for over thirty years thinking she one thing and then had appeared from nowhere, from the grave, to tell she was some one else.
She read and re-read the file, hoping that it would suddenly make sense. But it did not. She had started the day as Carla Josephine Finchley and was ending it as Carlotta Giuseppina Fabbroni. Did she feel any different? She was not sure. She was still thirty seven years old, she still lived in Muswell Hill, she still worked for the Home Office, and she was still unmarried. But now it appeared she was Italian and that somewhere out there, there was a family. A family that may or may not know that she existed and who, given the circumstances may not want to know her.
She leafed through the sheaves of papers; there was talk of bank accounts and life insurance policies and mention of land, something to do with a family farm. She needed to think and she needed another cigarette. She looked out through the far window, the rain had stopped and it looked as though the sun was trying to break through. She gathered up the papers, closed the file and shoved it in to her bag.
Outside the air was cool and fresh, the wind had dropped and so she slipped off her heavy rain coat and draped it over her arm. Perhaps this was a good sign, a omen. She lit a cigarette and began to walk along the tree lined avenue. The buildings, like the museum, were mainly Victorian houses and she guessed that at one time it had been a quite residential area just off the city centre. Most of the buildings had now been converted to offices and looking through the windows she played her usual game of people watching, trying to decide what the firm inside did and who the people were just from the brief glance she got as she walked by.
She had no idea in which direction the city centre was and so she just started walking, in the hope that she would find a main road and possibly a sign. After a few hundred yards she saw her second omen of the day. This was not good, she hated being superstitious. There, in front of her, stood a large and imposing church, its fine stone work dulled and dirtied by the years of pollution it had had to endure. She knew instinctively, without even looking at the sign, that it was a catholic church.
She had been raised in the catholic faith by her parents. As a child they had attended mass every Sunday. She had been confirmed at the age of twelve; she still had, on the mantle piece at home, the photograph of herself in the long white dress and veil, her parents standing proudly by her side. As was the way with teenagers, she had drifted away from the church, and her relationship to it now could be described as cold at best.
She surprised herself when she realised she was walking up the wide stone steps and entering the vestibule. She almost went in to shock when, on entering the nave, she spotted the cross above the Alter, genuflected and made the sign of the cross. Then she saw what she knew had drawn her here. She walked down the side aisle to a small chapel, just to the right of the Alter, and lit a candle. She stood for a moment watching the flame flicker and dance and then unconsciously she lit a second candle. She turned and started to walk back up the side aisle, then she stopped and sat in a pew, four rows back from the front. She pulled the file from her bag and held it on here lap.
She had no idea how long she had been sitting there, or even what she had been thinking about. Here mind had raced form one thing to the next. Ideas and images crossed over, mixed together, separated and found new thoughts to join.
She became aware that some one had sat next to her. She glanced furtively to the right, not sure if she wanted this person to know she was aware of their presence. She was surprised to find herself looking at a young monk. He himself seemed to be in deep contemplation, staring straight ahead at the crucified figure of Christ above the Alter. Without taking his eyes of the cross he leaned slightly towards her and said out of the corner of his mouth, “Worry can be a terrible thing, especially when you keep it bottled up.” His voice was soft and well educated.
Carla turned her head to face him, “What makes you think I am worrying about some thing.”
He turned in the pew to face her, “The fact that you’ve been sat there for half an hour, staring straight ahead. I wouldn’t have troubled you usually, we like people to come and talk to us when they’re ready, but I was worried.”
“Why, do I have the look of a suicide victim or something.” She regretted saying it as soon as the words left her mouth, they were harsh and sarcastic.
“No. It’s just that if there is anything important in that folder, it’s not going to be readable in a moment.”
Carla looked down at her lap. The file was slowly concertinaing in her grip.  She always thought that she was a logically minded, rational person, who could control her emotions and yet despite her efforts her body always gave her away. Her assistant, at work, said that he could tell whether she was in bad mood even when she had her back to him.
The young monk slide along the pew, closer to her, “Is it bad new?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not plucked up the courage to read it yet, then?”
“No I’ve read it, several times. I’m just not sure if it’s good or bad news.” She smoothed the folder out, “What’s your name Father?”
“It’s Brother, Brother Dominic.”
“Dominic?” She turned back to face him, “Were you christened Dominic?”
“No, it is the name I chose when I entered the order.”
“You get to choose your name.”
“Well, yes. You have to choose it from a list, but yes you get to choose.”
“How important do you think a name is?”
“To us, quite important. It symbolises the start of our new life. Many of us choose a name that reflects the characteristics that we feel are important. Some choose on the basis of who influenced them.”
“A new life, I don’t know if I want a new life, I’m quite happy with the old one.”
“When is the Wedding?”
“Wedding? Oh good grief no. This is… This is… I’m not who I thought I was.”
“Who did you think you where?”
“I thought I was Carla Josephine Finchley, but it turns out that I’m Carlotta Giuseppina Fabbroni.”
“A rose by any other name… What makes you, you?”
She thought for a moment, this was the type of question she usually asked, it felt odd to be on the receiving end, “Well, my work, my beliefs, my friends…”
“Your family…?”
“That’s the problem. This morning I woke up with no family, my parents died last year and apart from an old aunt there is no one else, but now,” she held up the file as though the very act of waving it about would explain everything.
“You’ve been tracing your family tree?”
“Oh god no, sorry Father… Brother. It’s complicated.”
“Try me; I’m a surprisingly good listener.”
She told him the tale, the abandonment, the adoption, the death of her parents, the coming to terms with being alone in the world. Then she explained about the arrival of the solicitor’s letter, the discovery this morning that her real mother had also died and that far from being alone, there was probably a large family out there.
“And you can’t decide whether this is good or bad news?” he said as her story came to an end.
“Over the past year I have come to accept that there was just me, Carla Finchley, but now… but now I find there is this other woman, this other me, this Carlotta Fabbroni who has grandparents, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, cousins and a farm somewhere in Italy.”
“Why does that thought scare you so much?”
“It doesn’t scare me,” she began to smooth the file on her lap again; “I’m just a bit shocked. You have to admit it’s a bit confusing.”
He watched as she pummelled the file in front her in to submission, “And scary, what if they don’t want to know Carla Fabbroni? What if they don’t like Carla Finchley? What if they abandon you as well?”
The tears exploded suddenly. She had felt them building since she had left the solicitors, but she had manage to hold them back, to control them. She hated crying, it was weak, when you cried you made yourself vulnerable to attack. It was something that could be used against you. Brother Dominic reached under his scapular and produced a small packet of tissues he handed them to her, “This is an opportunity, a marvellous opportunity. God has given you a chance to meet a family you never knew existed, to become part of that family, remember, ‘In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future’.”
She wiped at her eyes and blew her nose, “Corinthians?”
“No, Alex Haley.”
“The guy who wrote Roots?”
“Yes, I’m reading his biography, I couldn’t think of anything appropriate from the Bible.”
Carla smiled and wiped her nose again, “So the Bible doesn’t have the answer to everything then?”
“Oh it does, I just couldn’t think of one off the top of my head. Give me ten minutes and I’ll find you one if you want me to.”
“No, your okay,” she smiled and laughed quietly, “I’ll stick with the Alex Haley.”
“Look at it this way. If you don’t contact these people you’ll never know how they feel about you, but that’s the easy option and you don’t strike me as someone who likes to take the easy option.”
“No. if there’s an easy way and a hard way, I’ll take the hard way every time. Nothing easy is ever worth achieving.”
“Would you like me to sit and pray with you for a while?”
“No, I don’t, err… well… I don’t really know why I came in here, I’m not…”
“You were looking for guidance. For some one to confirm that you had made the right choice. You knew what your answer would be even before you asked the question.”
Carla looked back down at the file, she noticed the time on her watch, “How far away from the centre of town, am I?”
“You’re in it, just walk back up that way,” he pointed behind him, “and you’ll find yourself back on the main road.”
“Thanks Father… Brother Dominic.” She stood up started to leave, “Thanks again.”
“I’ll say a prayer for you.”
“If you feel you must.”
Outside the summer had plucked up the courage to put in an appearance and she walk back to the office of Foster, Allen and partners with a plan of action in her head and a good feeling deep down in her heart.
On the train, back down to London that evening, she once again read through the file. There had been an address in Southend-on-Sea and she had left instructions with Mr Allen to make contact with the Ricardo Fabbroni named in the documents. She did know whether he was an uncle, a cousin or even a brother, but at least it was a start and at least, she hope, he would speak English.
So Dear Reader, we will leave Carla Finchley or Carlotta Fabbroni, travelling back to her home in Muswell Hill. A woman orphaned twice in the space of one year. Tomorrow will bring a new day and perhaps the start of a new chapter in her life.

Chapter Seven

Now, Dear Reader, we must return to the Villa Fatiscente. It is early evening; the sun has nearly completed its slow journey across the sky. The heat of the day is fading in to the cool of the night. The food has been eaten, wine has been drunk. The family have broken bread with their friends. Most of the mourners have left; the farm is quiet once more. Those that remain are close family, the women fuss in the kitchen and moan about the men. The men sit out in the yard, putting the world to right. They are gathered around one end of a long wooden table. Plans need to discussed, choices and options put forward, decisions must be made.
As they talk, loudly and animatedly, they drink homemade red wine from large raffia wrapped demijohns, they eat homemade bread, cheeses, dried and cured meats, pickles and olives. They argue and laugh, they eat and drink; they are a family. Let us join them.
Adolfo sat back down at the head of the table. He placed the demijohn on the table, pulled the stopper out and poured himself another glass of wine, “Don’t worry about the tractor, there’s a good few years in it yet.”
Lorenzo lent forward and pulled the large, raffia wrapped jug towards him, “You say that now, what will you do if it breaks down again?”
“Dino knows enough to fix most problems.” The men all turned as one and looked at Dino, who was seated towards the opposite end of the table, writing in a small note book.
He Looked up and put his pen down, the sudden silence had caught his attention, “What?”
Tommaso took a swig of his wine, “Your father says you can fix the tractor.”
“Why, what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing is wrong with it, at the moment, if it broke down, do you think you could fix it?”
“Yes, I mean… yes of course I could; if I had to.”
Adolfo took his knife and cut off a chunk of the hard, creamy white pecorino, “There, that’s settled then,” he popped a piece of the cheese in to mouth, “You see, we’ll cope.”
“We know you’ll cope,” said Lorenzo, “but that doesn’t stop me worrying about my elder brother.” He reached across and touched Adolfo’s hand.
“There’s still a good few years in me.”
Ricardo, the youngest of the brothers around the table, smiled at his elder half brother, “Are you going to let Dino fix you as well?”
The men around the table laughed as one, as only men who have spent much time together can. As only a family can. They sat in silence for a moment, there was no need to fill the gap, with family there are no uncomfortable silences.
Lorenzo poured himself some more wine and topped up Adolfo’s glass, he looked across to Tommaso and Ricardo, “Have you spoken to Arrigo?”
Tommaso, carefully peeling the skin off a piece of dried sausage, said, “He rang me from Australia this morning; he sends his love and condolences.” He cut a thin slice off the sausage and placed it carefully on a piece of bread, “He says he’s sorry he can’t be here, but that he and Rosetta are going to go to Mass tomorrow morning, they’ve asked for a special prayer.”
“That’s nice, did you see the flowers he sent. Lovely, very tasteful, I bet Rosetta chose them.” Lorenzo laughed at his own joke and took another swallow of wine.
Giacomo appeared from the house and walked over to join the group, he placed a tall, thin bottle of clear yellowy green liquid, on the table in front of Adolfo, “Mama thought you might want this.” It was Sortilegio, the famous, locally produced, liqueur.
“Why would I want that mass produced crap when we have this.” Adolfo reached under the table and produced a dusty wine bottle filled with a clear liquid.
The men around the table cheered and banged their glasses, knives, fists and any other object close to hand, on the table in a round of noisy applause.
Adolfo motioned for them to quieten down, “Do you want the women folk out here?” As one the men fell silent and looked over at the main entrance to the house, “Pass me those plastic cups, this is one of the last bottles me and Rodolfo made together, it’s nearly a year old.”
He poured a little of the clear thick liquid in to each of the plastic cups and passed them round. He stood up and looked at his brothers and sons seated before him, “A toast, to a fine son, brother, husband, father and man, Rodolfo.” The five men seated before him stood, raised their cups and chorused as one, “Rodolfo.” They each knocked back the grappa in one and stood for a moment as the thick, fiery liquid burnt its way down their throats.
Ricardo coughed and said, “Good god Adolfo, if the tractor does break down at least you’ll have something to clean the pistons with.”
Laughing, the men sat back down and once again set about the food laid before them. Lorenzo started to carve thin slices of the home cured Bresaola and pass them around, “What did the doctor say?”
“About Monica?” Said Adolfo, not looking up from the jar of pickled wild asparagus he was struggling to open.
“The usual,” He passed the jar in to Ricardo’s out stretched hand, “time will heal, she needs to rest, make sure she eats, then he gives her another handful of sedatives and goes home.”
“He’s not a patch on his father.”
“Or his grandfather,” Adolfo took the now open jar from Ricardo and began to fork pickled asparagus onto a chunk of bread, “His grandfather rode on his motorbike, through that storm, the night Rodolfo was born.”
“I can’t see that new one doing that, he gets upset if your illness clashes with his golf.”
“No one cares nowadays. It always seems too much trouble for them.”
“What about that Priest,” said Ricardo, taking the jar from Adolfo, “He seemed a bit odd.”
“Well what do you expect,” said Lorenzo, winking at Tommaso, “He’s from your neck of the woods.”
“My neck of the woods?” said Ricardo, chopping at a large loaf of bread.
“Yes, he’s an Englishman like you.”
The men around the table roared with laughter. Ricardo did his best hurt look, “Very funny… very funny… you old bastard…”
Lorenzo sat back in his chair and laughed. His whole body shock. His laughter filled the courtyard and rolled off down the mountain. A pair of car headlights turned in to the drive, swept across the courtyard and briefly lit up the faces of the men sat around the table. An open topped sports coupe, loud dance music pumping from its stereo, pulled up at the side of the villa.
The men at the table did not turn round, they knew who it was. The music stopped and a harsh faced young man climbed out. He smoothed down his greased back hair and approached the table, “Greetings family.”
Ricardo held up a hand in greeting, “Ciao Guido.”
Guido Fuchs, born and raised in Switzerland, the son of a German father and an Italian mother, was the son-in-law of Tommaso. He lived in Zurich in a small apartment with his wife Fiorella, Tommaso’s eldest daughter, and their new baby daughter, Tommaso’s first grandchild. He plonked himself down in the chair at the far end of the table and poured himself a glass of wine.
“New car Guido?” Said Ricardo, glancing over to where the shiny red sports car sat parked.
“Yes,” he took a drink of his wine, “I took delivery of it last week.”
“Looks like it cost a pretty penny.”
“Beauty does not come cheap.”
“What’s it like to drive?”
“Fast and she handles like a dream.”
“Not very practical, for a man with a new family.”
“Practicality doesn’t come in to it. In the property business, image is more important.”
Guido worked for a small letting agency, renting out flats and apartments in the poorer areas of Zurich and the surrounding towns. He lent bank in his chair and took another drink of his wine. “Whose is this? It’s good.” He said after swilling the wine around his mouth and swallowing.
“Your father-in-laws,” said Lorenzo smiling, “a tip from an old married man to a young one, if you want to keep on the right side of the in-laws, learn what the family wine tastes like.”
Guido gave a lipless grin and reached for a piece of bread.
Lorenzo turned back to Adolfo, “There are still things to discuss.”
“What’s to discuss?” said Adolfo, “Everything is settled. Everything will be fine.”
“For the moment,” said Tommaso, “but you can’t go on for ever.”
“Maybe not, but I’ve run this place for years and I reckon I can go on for a good few years more.”
“True, very true brother,” said Lorenzo patting Adolfo’s arm, “but you yourself have admitted that Rodolfo did more than his fair share.”
“Someone has got to help you,” said Tommaso, “and the question remains of who will take over when, well, in the future.”
Adolfo looked at Tommaso, “It will pass to Little Peppe. It is his by rights.”
“Yes, yes, but he is still a child. What you need is help now, especially with the business side.”
“Dino will do what he can.”
“I’m sure he will, but he has his job with Mr Cappella to worry about.”
“And what ever he is scribbling in that little book.” Said Lorenzo. The elder men at the table laughed, whether Dino had heard them they could not tell, he did not look up from his little book.
“What about the boy, Giacomo?” said Ricardo, jerking a thumb towards the end of the table.
Adolfo poured himself another plastic cup of grappa, “He needs to find himself a proper job first. He needs to learn some responsibility.”
Giacomo stabbed at a piece of cheese with a small fruit knife and then looked at his father, “I have a job.”
“What, selling watches from a suitcase on the market and running errands for the likes of Sicario.” Adolfo shook his head and took a drink of the grappa.
“I don’t hear you complaining when I bring my share to the table.”
“Your mother worries about you. These people you mix with, they are not good people.”
“You men they’re not old men and farmers.”
The table fell silent; Adolfo and Giacomo stared at one another.
“You need to learn some respect for your father.” Said Lorenzo, leaning forward in his chair.
“He needs to realise I have ambition. I don’t intend to end my days on this farm bent double and half blind.”
Adolfo laughed, “Ambition? What, to end up in prison or dead in some alley?”
“Even that would be better than this life. You’re an anachronism, a throwback to another time. Scratching away at the hard soil, hardly growing enough to feed the family. The world’s moved on and your sort has been left behind.
You sit there with your sheep and your chickens and you pretend every thing is alright, there’s food on the table and wine in your belly. Well some of us want more out of this life than to share a bedroom with a brother who spends his time off with the fairies and to have to think themselves grateful for being able to drive around in a car that’s a joke.”
Adolfo stood suddenly, knocking his chair over as he did so, grabbing at the buckle on his belt. “I may be an old man but, God help me, I can still teach you the meaning of respect.”
Giacomo stabbed the little knife in to the block of cheese and stood up. Tommaso laid his hand on Adolfo’s arm. Giacomo and his father stared at each other the young buck and the old stag. Giacomo snatched up his glass, drained it, slammed it down on the table and then turned and walked away towards the path that led around the side of the house and up to the pasture.
Tommaso held on to Adolfo’s, “Let him go brother.” Adolfo watched until Giacomo was out of sight, then he began to re-buckle his belt and sat down. Tommaso continued, “It has been a hard day for us all. We all react differently to things.”
Guido stood and picked up a bottle wine and two plastic cups, “I’ll go and talk to him, see if I can get him to calm down.” He left the table and set off up the path.
Lorenzo poured Adolfo another glass of wine, “He’s young brother, perhaps you should let him spread his wings a little. Let him see that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
“That’s not a bad Idea,” said Tommaso cutting at a piece of sausage, “You could send him to England,” he patted Ricardo on the shoulder, “I’m sure Ricci here would look after him, find him a job.”
Ricardo held up his hands, “No, no, no, I have two lazy sons of my own, and a daughter who thinks she doesn’t have to try at school ‘cause she’s going to be a pop star. I love Giacomo as if he was my own son, but I already have enough problems.
The other brothers laughed, more wine was poured, more food was eaten and the tension eased. They returned to discussing the important things in life; food, wine and football.

Guido followed the path around the side of the house and then made his way up the trail that led to the pasture. The sky had begun to darken and ahead of him the first of the night’s stars had begun to appear in the blue black sky. To his left, along the ridge of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley, the sky had turned fire red as streaks of yellow danced on the low, wispy clouds.
He crested the brow and spotted Giacomo sitting beneath the old olive trees the red glow of a cigarette lit up his face as he inhaled. Guido had seen an old photo of Adolfo sat beneath the same tree. The photo was black and white and hand tinted as was the fashion many years ago. Guido was struck by the resemblance between the two men. He had never noticed it before but now, as Giacomo sat beneath the same tree, he realised that father and son were a lot more alike then either would be prepared to admit. Giacomo did not look over as he approached but sat staring at the setting son and the lights of Suoloduro far below.
Guido poured some wine in to the two cups and held one out to Giacomo, “Here.”
Giacomo did not reply and so Guido sat down beside him and placed the bottle of wine and two cups between them, he reached in to an inside pocket, took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one.
“I thought you’d given up.” Said Giacomo, still staring dead ahead.
“Really, Fiorella was saying you’d stopped for the baby.”
“No, Ella decided I was stopping for the baby, but I decided I wasn’t.”
“I bet she’s not happy about that?”
“What Ella doesn’t know, doesn’t upset her.”
“She’ll kill you when she finds out.”
“I do a lot of things that she would kill me for if she found out, but she’s not going to find out.” He picked up one of the cups of wine and took a drink, “It’s not bad; you should try it.”
Giacomo picked up the other cup and sniffed at the wine, “Zio Lorenzo.” He said and took a drink.
“You have to remember,” said Guido taking a drag of his cigarette, “they’re old men, this is all they know.”
“But why does it have to be all I know. They’ve had their time; they’ve lived their lives the way wanted.”
“Have they?”
“Yes, papa got the farm, and the others, well, they left here, they’ve got their own lives and families.”
“They may have left here, but they’re still tied to this farm. They still send money for Prima Nonna Etta.”
“I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want to die like Rodolfo having achieved nothing and remembered as nothing more than a nice bloke. When I die I want people to remember me for a bit more than having drowned in a sewage pit.”
 “Then you have to do something, only you can make it happen. Look at me, yes at the moment I’m working for some two-bit property company, but I don’t intend to stay there. I have a plan; within two years I will have my own company, within four I will be a millionaire.”
“I have plans…” said Giacomo indignantly.
“You have little schemes; you’re like the old men down there. You still think small.”
“I do not. I have ambition.” Giacomo took a last drag on his cigarette and flicked the butt in front of him, a shower of sparks exploded on the ground in front of them and briefly illuminated the grass and then died on the ground damp with evening dew, “I may be selling watches out of a suitcase now, but one day…”
“But one day what? You’ll have a market stall, perhaps a little shop in town.” Guido finished his wine, stood up and pointed down in to the valley, “The trouble with you people is that you don’t think any bigger than this valley.”
“I’m not like them…”
“Yes you are. What are twenty three, twenty four?”
“Twenty four.”
“And last year, for the first time, you left Italy. You came all the way to Switzerland for Donatella’s wedding. By the time I was your age I had been to America and Australia.”
“It’s not easy.” Giacomo poured himself another cup of wine.
“Getting what you want isn’t easy. You have to fight for it. If anybody gets in your way you have to go straight through them, even loved ones.” He turned back to face Giacomo, “If you really want success and money and then you are the only one who can make it happen, and you can’t let them down there on that little farm hold you back.”
“If I could, I’d leave tomorrow.”
“You wouldn’t get far. While this farm is still here, you’d still be here. Not down there in the fields scratching a living from the soil, but in here.” He jabbed a finger at Giacomo’s chest. He sat back down next to Giacomo and poured them both some more wine, “The problem is of course, they don’t realise what they’ve got.”
“What they’ve got is memories of better times, a few acres of hard, almost baron soil and a villa that’s like a fairground fun house.”
“You’re thinking like them again. Look, look around you.”
Giacomo stared in to the evening, down towards the farm, on towards the town and across the valley. Then he looked blankly at Guido.
“Good god boy,” said Guido standing and walking forward, he stopped suddenly and threw his arms out wide, “they have one of the best views in the whole fucking valley.” He turned back to face Giacomo, his arms still outstretched. “You don’t get it do you?”
“Well… I…”
“In Zurich I can rent a three bedroom apartment and get about Five hundred Euros a month,” he took at a cigarette, lit it and then squatted down in front of Giacomo, “but I can rent out a one bedroom apartment and get nine hundred and fifty euros a month, why?”
“The rooms are bigger?”
“The facilities are better.”
“I don’t know; it’s better decorated?”
“No… not even close. It’s the view.”
“The view?”
 “Yes, the view. The three bedroom apartment is over looking Hurgen strasse, a main road with factories all down one side; the one bedroom apartment over looks Flugell Park, a beautiful expanse of woods and lakes. People will live in a shoe box if they can look out on to something beautiful.”
“Then those people are stupid.” Said Giacomo, taking a drink of his wine.
“Maybe? But they are also willing to pay, what ever the cost, for there own little piece of Italy.”
“Nobody in their right mind would pay for this little piece of Italy.”
“Yes they would cousin, believe me they would.”
“Why? There’s nothing here but rock and hard earth.”
“That’s what you see, because you’re on the inside looking in. What I see is potential and what they’d see is a little piece of Mother Italy. They see a connection with their roots, a return to simpler times; they want to live like their grand parents did; albeit with on-suite shower rooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a supermarket less than a ten minute drive away.”
“Why, why?” Guido turned round on his heels to face the valley and spread his arms wide again, “Because it’s a dream, an ideal. Trapped in their over crowded apartments they dream of retiring to a little villa they can call their own, with enough ground around it to grow a few fruit and veg, with grape vines up the front and a few chickens out the back. They can be peasant farmers ‘just like Nonna was’, they can moan about the youngsters not valuing the old ways and then tune in the satellite and crank up the heating.”
“People would really pay good money to live here?”
“Of course,” Guido turned back and faced Giacomo, “do you know what Masso is doing at the moment?”
“Probably drinking more grappa and singing an old folk tune.” Said Giacomo, laughing.
“No, not right at this moment; I mean… He is buying a plot of land in Wifesvillage, and do you know what he’s going to do it with it?”
“Build a villa on it?”
“Yes, he retires in two years time and so he’s buying a plot of land and building a villa.”
“But he has a nice apartment in Swisstown.”
“yes he does, but that is not Mother Italy, that is not the land of his birth.”
“Then why doesn’t he come back here and live on the farm.”
“You still don’t get this do you? He, like everybody else, wants the dream, not the harsh reality.”
Giacomo stood up and walk to the edge of the pasture. Down below he could see the lights of the Villa and hear the distorted echoing voices of the men in the courtyard.
Guido walked over to join him and handed him a small flask of grappa, “We all have dreams cousin. Some people spend their whole life chasing those dreams, others grab them at the earliest opportunity and don’t let go until they’ve achieved their goal.”
“And some of us have dreams that keep being squashed by the nightmares.” Giacomo took a drink of the grappa.
“Look at it Como,” Guido took the flask back and pointed down at the villa, “As it is, that place is not even worth the materials it’s built out of, but the right man with the right ideas could turn these few bare hectares in to a gold mine. And anybody who help him would be a very rich man, they’d never have to worry about being in debt ever again.” He slapped Giacomo on the back, “Come on, let’s go and join the old men before they drink all the good wine.”
“Go ahead; I’ll join you in a bit I just need to…”
“I know, don’t worry, I’ll save you a glass or two.”
As Guido made his way back down the path he turned and waved to Giacomo, who was sitting on a small rocky out crop staring down at the villa, the feint glow of a cigarette giving away his position. Guido took a large swig from the flask of grappa, did a little jig and said under his breath, “You’re a fucking genius Guido, a fucking A1 genius.”
There, Dear Reader, we will leave the Villa Fatiscente and its inhabitants. A family united by grief and divided by age. It is time to move our story on, so let us move.

Chapter Eight

So, Dear Reader, time has moved on. Night has moved in to day. The Villa Fatiscente and its inhabitants are returning to their lives, for life must go on even in the midst of death. Adolfo has taken the sheep up to the pasture, Rita has packed her grandchildren off to school and has even manage to persuade Monica to get up and help with the laundry. Dino is back at Signore Cappella’s showing young lad called Franchino the ropes and Giacomo is down on the market, trying to convince the ladies of the town that the perfume he on sale today is as good as if not better than the original. All is right with the world. Well almost.
Father Jonathan revved the engine of his little car and slammed it in to second gear. The engine screamed in protest and the front wheels spun, kicking up clouds of dust as the tyres tried to find some purchase on the steep gravel track. The car lurched forward a few metres and then slid sideways, Father Jonathan fought with the steering wheel and tried to get the car back on course, the tyres dug in and the car began to crawl forward. “Thank you.” Said Father Jonathan to no-one in particular, no sooner had the words left his lips than the car began to slide backwards down the track, loosing him what little progress he had made, he instinctively grabbed the hand brake and pulled it on as hard as he could. The engine stuttered, juddered and then stalled. The car ground to a halt at an angle across the narrow track.
Father Jonathan sat for a moment, his hands on the steering wheel, his eyes closed. Then calmly and carefully he opened the car door and climbed out. The dust had begun to settle and he walked around the little car, summing up the situation.
After a moment he stopped, lifted his cassock slightly and ran at the back of the car, “Impudens est leno,” he screamed as he took a swinging kick at the rear bumper, “es mundus excrementi,” he kicked again, “es stercus,” another kick, “canis filius,” and another, “cunnus.” This last one seemed to do the trick, not for the car, but for Father Jonathan. He stepped back and brushed off what dust he could from his cassock; then he went round to the side of the car and climbed back in to the driver’s seat. Releasing the handbrake he let the car roll back down the slope and reversed it in to a small pull in about half way down the slope. He stepped out of the car, locked the doors, put his sunglasses and biretta and set off on foot up the track.
 It was a hot morning and he was not dressed for strenuous exercise, not that he ever dressed for exercise, not that he ever exercised. After about ten minutes, which seemed more like half an hour to the overweight, red faced and panting Father Jonathan, he sighted his goal, a white washed farm house with red terracotta tiled roof, on the brow of the hill. He glanced at his watch, it was just after half past eleven hopefully the occupant with be up.
He entered the court yard and a few chickens scattered in his path, clucking as they went. The yard was littered with odds and ends, a rusting car, its doors hanging open; a pile of junk that consisted of old bicycles, steel and copper pipes and tangles of wire. Against the front wall of the house were stacked various boxes and crates filled with empty bottles.
He walked across the yard to the front door and tried the handle, the door as he expected it would, opened and he stepped in to the cool interior of the kitchen.
The sight that greeted him did not surprise him, he had seen it many times before, but it still made him shiver. The room was a mess; it had actually gone beyond mess and seemed to be heading for tip via clutter, chaos, confusion and disarray. Every available surface was covered in empty pizza boxes, dirty plates, used mugs and glasses. Those that were not covered in the general detritus of daily life were covered with equipment, artist’s materials.
Half finished canvases, some no more than daubs and splashes of colour, lent against the cupboards. Jars and pots filled with drying, hardening brushes stood amongst the crockery. Wooden palettes and a few of the plates were smeared with patches and blotches of colour, some blobs were raw and straight from the tube, others were mixed together.
Father Jonathan picked his way carefully through the shambles; he winced and shuddered as his foot stuck to a particularly nasty patch of something on the floor. He avoided looking too closely at what ever was growing in one of the mugs on the kitchen table. He eventually reached the bottom of a narrow set of stairs that led up to the first floor; he stopped and called up the stairs, “Dan, Dan…?” He stepped up on to the bottom step and tried again, “Dan, Daniel?”
“Yes Father Jonathan?” the voice came from behind him and Father Jonathan nearly fell off the step as he spun round.
“I thought you would still be in bed.” Father Jonathan steadied himself against the wall and then stepped back down in to the kitchen.
“No Father, I was up at the crack of dawn, well about an hour ago anyway.” Daniel Wakefield stepped out of the doorway and in to the kitchen, he spotted a gap on the table and plonked a dirty enamel bowl in to it, “I was just sorting out the goats.”
Daniel made his way round to the sink, picked out two of the least dirty glasses and began to rinse them under the tap. Father Jonathan watched him closely; Daniel was in his early forties and might have been classed as handsome if he tidied himself up. His longish, curly hair, was almost grey, and his and his unshaven face, deeply lined. He stood by the sink in a paint splattered t-shirt, cut off jeans and a pair of seaside flip-flops, “And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company this morning Father?”
“Signora Marcello.” Said Father Jonathan, he pulled out a dining chair, looked at the seat, and thinking better of it, pushed the chair back under the table.
“Ah, the good Signora Marcello.”
“Yes, the good Signora Marcello.”
“What is the old cow moaning about now?”
“The old… Signora Marcello is rather upset; it would appear that yesterday you… fired her.”
“Did I?” he looked around the kitchen and then spotted what he was looking for. He began to cross the room.
“Yes, apparently she called here yesterday afternoon to collect your laundry and you err… told her to leave and never come back.”
Daniel uncorked the bottle he had spotted and poured some of the red wine in to the two glasses, “Oh I’m sure I didn’t.”
“I’m sure you did.”
Daniel passed one of the glasses to Father Jonathan, pulled out a chair, shoved the pile of drawings on to the floor and indicated to Father Jonathan that he should sit, “No, I would never say that, I would never tell her to leave and never come.” He pulled out another chair and sat down himself.
“Well, no, you didn’t. I believe your exact words were, and I quote Signora Marcello here, ‘fuck off you old witch, fuck off, fuck off. Get your dried up, maggot ridden womb off my fucking land and don’t bother fucking coming fucking back, you fucking old hag.’ I may have missed a fucking or two out there, but I think that was the general gist.”
“That sounds more like me.” Daniel had finished his wine and was pouring himself another glass, “more wine Father.”
“No, thank you.”
“Suit yourself, it’s not bad. Go ahead, try it.”
Father Jonathan took a sip, “Mmm… not bad, where did you get it?”
“I made it; I know I was surprised as well. Claudio helped, showed me what to do, I brought a load of grapes whole sale, but he reckons I should plant some vines, grow my own…”
“Dan, if we could get back to the matter of Signora Marcello?”
“Ah, yes. Look if she says I said that, then chances are I did, but in my defence, the old cow probably deserved it.”
Father Jonathan shifted a couple of the things on the table and put his glass down, “Daniel…”
“If you’re going to go all priestly on me you can fuck off as well. I’ll call you Father, but that’s because I respect you as a friend, not as a representative of god.”
“I’m not going to go all priestly on you; I have more sense than to try that mumbo-jumbo on you. I’m talking to you as a friend.”
“Oh fuck, that’s even worse, your not going to organise an intervention are you?”
“Good god no. If you want to drink yourself in to an early grave, then that is your choice, but you have to remember that you live in my parish and your actions affect my parishioners and if they’re upset they come to me, ‘go sort out your mad Englishman or my husband and sons will.’ So, for my sake, will you stop insulting and firing the women I send over to help you out?”
“Well then, you shouldn’t send over nosey old fucking witches then.”
“I’m afraid that appears to be one of the job qualifications, it goes as they say, with the job.”
“But why do they have to be so old?” Daniel picked up the wine bottle and seemed to be surprised to find it empty.
“Again it goes with the territory and in your case they are the only ones who are willing to take the job, especially with your reputation and on the wages you can afford to pay.”
Daniel had stood up and was trying to pull a crate of bottles from under the table, “There was that one young girl, something Franchino?”
“Ah yes Signorina Maria Franchino, what an interesting little episode that was. That is the only time I have actually feared for my lie.”
“Why?” Daniel uncorked another bottle and began to fill his glass, “You hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“I had in the eyes of her parents. I had left their daughter, their only daughter, their virginal only daughter, in the hands of the mad Englishman.”
“I don’t see what all the fuss was.”
“That’s the problem Daniel, you never see the problem. You leave other people to do that for you.”
Daniel took a drink of his wine, “I did nothing wrong.”
“Nothing wrong, nothing wrong, you asked a sixteen year old catholic girl if she would take her clothes off.”
“I only wanted to paint her, good god I’m in the country that virtually invented the nude.”
“Yes, but the nudes in question are always someone else’s daughter. Not the good daughters of my parishioners.”
“Okay, I’ll admit that might have been an error of judgement, but god she was beautiful.”
“Yes, I know, it’s quite surprising when you consider her parents.”
The two men looked at each other and shared a smile. Daniel hunted around in his pockets and on the table and eventually found his pipe and tobacco. He knocked the pipe bowl on the side of the table and a small pile of ash fell to the floor.
Father Jonathan watched and then said, “Look at the way you live Dan.” He gestured with his arm to indicate the state of the kitchen. Daniel looked around and feigned surprise. Father Jonathan continued, “It’s no laughing matter Dan. Look at this place; you need someone to help keep this place tidy. It’s a wonder you haven’t caught some nasty disease, you’d be safer living on the council tip.”
“Don’t worry yourself Father, the alcohol kills the germs.” He drained the glass and refilled it, “Come on Father, drink up.”
Father Jonathan held his hand over his glass, “As your parish priest I have to show concern for your welfare, as you friend I am truly worried.”
“Well don’t be, I’ve lived this long and I don’t intend shuffling off this mortal coil and joining the choir invisibule just yet.” He lit the pipe he had been filling and the air filled with the foul stench of cheap tobacco.
Father Jonathan’s eyes began to water and he tried to waft the smoke away with his hand, “When the last time you ate, and I mean properly?”
“Err… I think I had a pizza the other day, or it could have been the day before.”
“Right,” said Father Jonathan, standing up, “you’re coming with me. Signora Franchino will have lunch ready soon; we can eat and slag off England and its narrow minded middle class hypocrites.”
“Do I get to call Tony Blair a cunt?”
“If you feel you must.”
“Good, I’m in.” he rubbed his hands together, “I’ll bring the wine.”
“Bring your washing as well; I may be able to persuade Signora Franchino to bung it in the machine for you.”
The two men left the house and walked across the yard, Father Jonathan carrying two black bin bags of dirty clothing and Daniel carrying a wooden crate containing six bottles of his home brewed red wine. Daniel stopped and looked around the yard, “Where’s your car?”
“It’s down at the bottom of the hill.”
“Why didn’t you drive up here?”
“I tried; you really have to do something about that track leading up here. How anyone gets up here is beyond me.”
“That’s one of the reasons why I bought this place. It’s privacy.”
“Well there’s privacy and then there is inaccessibility,”
“Well it certainly stops any unwanted visitors.”
“I imagine it stops a few of the wanted ones as well.”
“Probably, but as you’ve proved, on more than one occasion, if people want to see me they find a way.”
The two men set off down the steep track, the midday sun was hot and the two men walked in the silence borne of a long friendship. On reaching the small car the two men stowed their burdens in the boot. Daniel took one of the wine bottles out of the crate, “This one travels with me.” He reached in to his pocket and pulled out a waiter’s friend, he removed the cork and took a swig from the bottle, “Come on then Father, let’s go and find out what Signora Franchino has prepared for you.”
They climbed in to the car and after some Latin curses Father Jonathan managed to turn the car round and they set back off in to town. They journey did not take long, the roads were quiet. Only mad dogs and two Englishmen would venture out in the midday sun. Soon they were pulling in to the little square and parking in the shade of the group of trees outside Father Jonathan’s house. As they approached the front door, weighed down by their loads, they were greeted by the heady aromas of cooking. They breathed in deeply and let the scents fill their nostrils.
“It smells good.” Said Daniel.
“Dan, will you promise me one thing.”
“I’ll make no guarantees, but I’ll try my best.”
“Don’t upset Signora Franchino.”
“Why would I do that.” Daniel said, raising an eyebrow.
“She still hasn’t forgiven you for the business with her daughter.”
“Perhaps if I offered to paint her?”
“That’s exactly the sort of comment that will cause trouble.”
“Okay, I’ll be a good boy; I’ll be on my best behaviour.”
“Thank you. You won’t have to do it for long; she normally serves lunch and then goes home to feed her own family.”
They entered the house and headed towards the kitchen, they were met in the hallway by Signora Franchino coming out of Father Jonathan’s study. She stopped and looked at the two men. Before Father Jonathan could say anything she spoke, waving a tomato sauce covered ladle at Daniel and addressing all her comments to Father Jonathan, “Why, may all the saints preserve us, is that man in this house?”
“Because Signora Franchino, ‘that man’ is a parishioner and a friend and I, as his priest have invited him to dine with me; and would you do me the honour of calling him Signore Wakefield.”
“The devil has no need of a priest.” She made a big show of crossing herself.
“Signora please, Signore Wakefield is to be treated with respect. He has apologised for the misunderstanding with your daughter, and I would hope that you, as a good catholic, would find it in your heart to forgive him as would our Lord Jesus.”
Signora Franchino crossed herself again, “forgive me Fatha,” She turned to Daniel, “Signore forgive, some times I speak without thinking.”
“It is I who should be seeking forgiveness,” said Daniel stepping forward, “I deeply regret the incident with your daughter, but she has such beauty that I, as a painter, could not pass up the chance to capture her likeness on canvass so that all may have a chance to see it,”
Signora Franchino stood for a moment, hands on hips, and considered Daniels words, “Well, she is a fine looking lass, I’ll give you that. But you had no right to ask her pose… well… like you did.”
“As I said, I’m sorry for that, but I can see from whom she inherited her looks.” Daniel placed the crate on the floor and stepped forward; he reached out, took Signora Franchino’s hand and kissed it. Father Jonathan thought he saw her blush.
“Yes, well…” Signora Franchino said, “Lunch will be ready in a moment.” She turned and started towards the kitchen.
Daniel reached over and took the black bin bags from Father Jonathan, “Signora, if you would be so kind.” He held the bags out towards her.
She stopped and looked at him, “Your laundry I suppose, Signora Marcello had enough of you has she?”
“Something like that.” He replied his best boyish grin on his face.
“Put them in the ‘Utility’ room I’ll sort them out latter.” She turned to Father Jonathan, “Where would you like to eat fatha?”
“In the garden please Signora Franchino.” Father Jonathan was still not sure about what he had just witnessed. Had Signora Franchino allowed herself to be soft soaped by Daniel?
And there Dear Reader, for the moment we shall leave them, because quite frankly I am bored to death of them. They are nice chaps but they really having nothing else to say. I need to try and get back to some sort of plot.
Chapter Nine
So Dear reader here we are desperately trying to kick start the plot. I do not hold out much hope. But at least I have an idea about what should happen in this chapter and hopefully, I say hopefully, my characters will behave themselves long enough for them to actually move the story on somewhat. Okay, here we go, deep breath and action.
The sun had not been up for long and even though the sky was a bright clear blue, the air was chill. Giacomo blew into his hands to try and warm them, it helped for a moment but the effects did not last long. He opened the small boot at the front of the car and pulled out two large battered brown suitcases. He didn’t like mornings, he was not a morning person but he had to start earning some money if he was to have any chance of paying (gangster) back.
He locked the car and carried the two suitcases across to the market. The regular stall holders were beginning to set out their wares and Giacomo looked around until he spotted small officious looking gentlemen in a grey suit, which had seen better days. The man was consulting his clip board, tutting and mumbling and pointing around the market with his black fountain pen. A few long strands of hair were combed over the top of his head. Over his shoulder and across his chest was a tricolour sash of red, white and green to which was pinned an elaborate medal.
Giacomo approached him, waited whilst the man finished arguing with a stallholder over the position of three boxes of melons, then put down his suitcase and spoke, “Good Morning Signore (Marshall).”
Signore (Marshall) was a council official, he considered himself the counsel official, it was his job to uphold the smooth and efficient running of the market. He loved his job, he loved the by laws, he loved enforcing them. Tucked under his arm was a stick, not just any stick, it was his stick, made of ebony and tipped on either end with a silver cap it was exactly one metre long, sliver bands around it indicated the ten centimetre marks, thinner brass bands indicated the five centimetre marks in between.
It was a symbol of his office and was used to settle the various disputes between the traders, and any infringement of the by-laws. Every day he would make his rounds, measuring the size of each of the pitches, checking the space between the stalls, enforcing the width of the walk ways and the overhang of the awnings. Mussolini made sure the trains ran on time, Signore (Marshall) made sure the market conformed to the rules and regulations as laid out in the small paperback booklet he had in his inside pocket.
Signore (Marshall) finished making a few notes on his clipboard and then looked up at Giacomo. “Good morning Signore Fabbroni, and what can I do for you at this hour?” He looked at his watch and made another note on his clipboard.
“I was wandering Signore (Marshall) if there was a stall available this morning?”
Signore (Marshall) looked at Giacomo and the two suitcases by his side. “Do you have your licence?”
“Of course Signore” Giacomo reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “I would not trouble such a busy and important man as yourself without having the correct documentation.” The words almost shocked Giacomo but he knew that flattery in the case of Signore (Marshall) did get you somewhere.
Signore (Marshall) looked over the piece of paper checking the date and the official stamps, even holding it up to the light t check on the watermark. Giacomo wondered if there was a big market in counterfeit street trading licences. Signore (Marshall) flicked through the papers on his clipboard, he liked to keep people waiting, and eventually he spoke, “What’s in the suitcases?”
“My stock Signore”
Signore (Marshall) looked at Giacomo and raised and eyebrow.
“Sorry Signore” Said Giacomo, “I mean watches, jewellery, and perfume”
“Signore, you insult me, I have never dealt in stolen goods”
“Counterfeit then?”
“No Signore, I will admit that some of my goods may bear a physical resemblance to the more well known brands, but they are all clearly marked and only a fool would think they were the real thing”
“Very well” Again Signore (Marshall) checked his clipboard, “Number 32D, over there.” He pointed with his pen “Fourth row along, the stall on the far end”
Giacomo began to protest, “But that’s…”
Signore (Marshall) looked up form his clipboard
Giacomo smiled and then continued, “That’s fine Signore (Marshall) I thank you for this great favour”
“Perhaps if you attended a little more regularly I could find you a better slot”
“I will have to try getting up in the mornings”
Signore (Marshall) looked past Giacomo, “I must go now Signore Fabbroni.”
Giacomo turned to see what Signore (Marshall) was looking at. Two of the fruit sellers were arguing animatedly. Signore (Marshall) tucked his pen into his top pocket and his clipboard under his arm with his cane and strode off in their direction.
The stall Giacomo had been allocated was down the far end of the market, it was an overflow area almost not in the market itself but on a small paved area by the entrance to one of the side streets. It was usually only used at the weekends and this morning Giacomo was the only person setting up. The other stalls around him stood empty he was either going to have to work very hard or be very lucky to make any money today.
He placed the two suitcases under the stall and headed back to his car to fetch the rest of his stock. It took him three more journeys before he had fetched everything from the small vehicle and he was ready to start laying out his stall.
He unfolded and spread out a large white cotton sheet and had taken out form the linen box that morning and knew that hen his mama found out she would bend his ear, but it was worth the risk. He moved round to the front of the stall and looked at it. It looked flat, it was flat. He took a few of the empty smaller boxes and placed them under the sheet at the back, he smoothed out the sheet and moved around to the front again, pleased with the effect he began to lay out the goods.
He arranged the perfumes and aftershaves along the make shift shelves at the back, moving and adjusting the arrangement until he was happy with their layout.
In front of this he set out the watches, ladies boxed on the side, gentlemen’s boxed on the other, he looked at them and then shuffled them to form two gentle arcs, and in the gap in the middle he placed the unboxed watches.
At the front he laid out the jewellery. Necklaces, bangles and bracelets, trays of rings and earrings, finally he took some small pieces of cards and began to make up the prices of some of the items. Not all of them, just some of them, enough to raise a bit of interest, to let people know they were going to get a bargain but not enough for them not to have to ask as soon as they asked he had them, the haggling and the salesmanship started. That was the bit Giacomo loved, some people loved hunting, and some loved fishing Giacomo loved the battle of wills between buyer and seller. It was an art, a skill, something he was good at.
Within the first few words spoken Giacomo knew how much he was going to ask and how much he was going to get. He could tell whether he could start high and let then beat him down to a bargain or whether he should start within a few Euros of the eventual price and keep the transition simple.
He could spot the difference between a buyer and browser, a punter and a time waster before they had even opened their mouths. He stood back and admired his handy work, for he moment he had done all he could, he checked his watch, the market would start to come alive soon, then the hard work would begin.
He moved back round to the rear of his stall, at least for the moment he was in the sun and the air had begun to warm slightly, he could feel a little of the warmth radiating from the grimy white stone wall behind him. He looked around and noticed that a few of the stalls around him had also been taken. He was pleases to see he had no direct competition.
There was a toy stall, mainly second hand by the looks of it. An elderly couple selling kitchen and household goods who had filled two stalls to the point of collapse with their wares and were now putting boxes on the floor, Giacomo was surprised that so much stuff could be fitted into such a small Citroen van.
The only other stall to be taken was being set up by a man that Giacomo knew as ‘the mad English man’. he had a few oil paintings on stands, none of them recognisable as being of anything in particular, they were just dabs and splashes of colour, he had also set out some small ‘sculptures’, bits of piping, wire and old bicycle parts welded together. Giacomo smiled to himself, no competition there then.
The main body of the market had begun to fill and Giacomo looked across hoping to catch someone’s eye. He took one of his suitcases, moved round to the front of the stall, up ended the suitcase and sat down, at the near corner where he could loo down the walkway and see the approach of any likely customers.
Two elderly women looked his way; he stood and raised a hand in greeting, “Ciao Ladies” he called, “And what a fine morning it is.” The women started at him, he continued, “You ladies look like you know a bargain when you see it.” They began to move off.
“Don’t go without even having a look. How do you know I haven’t something you need, if you don’t even bother to take a look?”
The elderly couple still setting out their stall stopped and looked at the young man opposite then, shouting at customers across the stalls, then they turned and looked at the two old women who had begun to make their way towards his stall.
Giacomo stepped to one side and held out a hand, like a magician presenting a particularly spectacular effect, “I’m sure I have something here of interest to two lovely ladies such as yourselves”
The two women gave his stall a cursory glance, and then the elder one spoke, “You’re Rita Fabbroni’s youngest, Giacomo?”
“I am indeed Signora; now let us see what I can find for you.” Time wasters thought Giacomo.
“Terrible business with your brother.”
“Yes, it was a sad loss to us all, let’s see, I bet you have some birthdays coming up.”
“Your mother must be heart broken”
Giacomo saw his opening, “She is, but we are doing our best for her. Rodolfo was the main bread winner, but you know how it is a family must try to carry on, to suffer the burden of such great a loss, each of us is doing our best to fill the void left by our brother.” He looked at the women, the women looked at him and then back at the stall, they were beginning to weaken.
The younger one began to inspect the earrings at the front of the stall. “It’s my daughter-in-laws birthday next month”
“Then” Said Giacomo reaching to the back of the stall, “I have the thing,” he picked up a bottle of perfume, “All the rage in Roma at the moment, it looks dear enough to show you care but no, it’s not pricy enough to dent the house keeping”
She took the bottle from him, removed the lid and sniffed.
“They wear this in Roma?”
“Oh yes Signora”
“How much?”
“To you, ten Euros”
The old lady put the lid back on and started to hand the bottle back.
“I tell you what” Said Giacomo
“As you know my mother, to you, and don’t go spreading this about, Seven Euros fifty”
The old lady hesitated, looked at the bottle, then to Giacomo, “Okay.” She said after a few moments thought, “Does it come in a box?”
“Of course” Giacomo reached for a boxed bottle of the perfume, “Look at that she’ll think you made a special trip to Napoli to buy it.”
The two women looked at each other and smiled. “I take one for my niece, it’s her birthday soon.” The older woman said.
“A wise Choice Signora” Said Giacomo, he dropped the boxes in to two brown paper bags. The deal was struck, the monies paid and his first satisfied customers of the day set off to complete their shopping. “I’ll give your condolences to my mother” Said Giacomo, to the two elderly women as they left. He smiled to himself he had not considered the sympathy angle, but it worked. This was going to be a good day.
The woman on the stall opposite eyed Giacomo suspiciously. Giacomo smiled and tucked the first of the day’s takings in to a small leather bag tied around his waist. He fetched two more of the little perfume boxes from the suitcase behind the stall, rearranged the selection on the back row and then sat back down.
The mad Englishman had set up a folding chair by the side of the stall, he had found an empty crate and was sitting with his legs stretched out and resting on the crate. He settled down, an open bottle of wine and a glass by his side on the stall. He produced a newspaper and began to read.
The next couple of hours passed slowly. Most people only ventured as far as the far end of the little row of stalls, looked at the three stalls from a distance and then moved on. Giacomo tried his best to tempt them in, but despite his earlier success his takings remained low. By nine o’clock he had only sold three pair of earrings, a child’s watch and a cheap bottle of men’s aftershave. He worked out that at the currant rate he would take barely enough to cover his pitch fee and petrol money. Guido was right, he thought too small, he would end his days, not bent double on the farm, but like the old couple opposite. Rising at the crack of dawn to supplement a meagre state pension with what they could make working all hours on a market.
The main body of the market was full now and Giacomo could hear the cries of the traders and the haggling of the buyers, but back where Giacomo was, in the little backwater for life’s losers, all was quiet. The couple opposite looked to Giacomo as though they had accepted the hand that fate had dealt them. They appeared to be quite happy to sit there, nibbling at the bread and cheeses they had bought with them for breakfast and drinking the coffee the woman had prepared on the small gas ring.
The Mad Englishman appeared to be asleep, his eyes were closed, his head had flopped back and his mouth gaped open. The newspaper lay across his chest, his left arm over it as though he were protecting it from theft. His right arm dangled limply by his side. Giacomo watched the Mad Englishman carefully, he could not see if he was breathing or whether he was dead. After a few minutes curiosity got the better of Giacomo and he stood up and approached the inert figure. The old man at the kitchen stall had also noticed the apparent corpse and pantomimed to Giacomo that he should give the body of the Mad Englishman a poke. Giacomo looked around then shrugged his shoulders, the old man pointed to a stack of long, garden canes at the end of his stall. Giacomo smiled, took one of the canes and edged slowly forward.
When he was about two and a half metres away he reached forward with the cane and gave the hand of the Mad Englishman a gentle prod. Nothing happened. Giacomo prodded again, a little harder this time, the limp, dangling arm swung slightly, but there was still no sign of life. Giacomo looked at the old man, the old man signalled that Giacomo should give the hand a hard tap.
Giacomo edged forward again and when he judged himself to be close enough he flicked the cane, as though he was fly fishing, against the back of the Mad Englishman’s hand. The hand shot out and tried to grab the unseen assailant. The Mad Englishman grunted and snorted as the hand groped around for a moment searching the air, then he fell silent, after a second or two he settled again and started to snore lightly.
Giacomo turned to the old man and the two smiled at each other. Giacomo started to replace the cane when a familiar voice spoke behind him, “Going fishing Giacomo?”
Giacomo did not have to turn round to know who was standing behind him. It was Little Paulo. The old man was looking past Giacomo and up to where Giacomo knew Little Paulo face would be. There are times when life presents you with two very clear choices, no ambiguity, no areas of grey, just black and white. This was one of those times. Giacomo’s choices, Should he turn and talk to Little Paulo, or should he run like a boar in the hunting season?
His legs made the decision for him. He moved forward and turned slightly to his left, as though he was about to replace the cane, then he quickly spun on his heel to the right and ran for the main body of the market. He glanced round on caught a glimpse of Little Paulo and tall guy, running after him.
The market was packed, but Giacomo work his way through the crowds quickly, moving left and right, dodging between stalls, customers and traders alike. He looked behind and could see Little Paulo pushing his way through the crowds, he was quite a way behind and Giacomo knew that once they were out in the open he would definitely be able to outpace the big, lumbering man.
Giacomo burst through the crowd and in to the relative peace at the edge of the square. It was then that he realised his mistake, he had been watching for Little Paulo and had not concerned himself with where the tall man was, he soon found out.
The tall man appeared as if from nowhere, he stood directly in Giacomo’s path, blocking his route to his car. Giacomo looked back and could see Little Paulo getting ever closer. He was back to those two choices again, stand and hopefully talk his way out of any situation or run, run like a rabbit in a field full of dogs. Again his legs made the decision for him.
Giacomo darted to his left and sprinted across the steps in front of the cathedral. He headed for one of the many narrow side streets that led off the square. Behind him he could hear the nearing footsteps of the tall man and the lumbering, thundering steps of Little Paulo. He turned in to the side street and nearly lost his balance on the wet slippery cobbles. The women of the apartments along the short narrow street had been out cleaning their front steps, a daily ritual, that allowed them to catch up on the local gossip and prove how much more house proud they where than the other women. This is beginning to make no sense but what the expletive deleted. Giacomo skidded and managed to steady himself against a dustbin. He glanced up and saw the tall man round the corner, he too nearly lost his footing but steadied himself and ran towards Giacomo.
Giacomo grabbed the bin and threw it in the tall mans path, the tall man neatly jumped the bin and carried on advancing towards him. Giacomo turned and started running again, he could here the soft long strides of the tall man getting ever closer. From a window, some where above, them a woman’s voice cried out, she cursed and swore, she screamed and shouted moaning about the noise and the bin on its side, its contents spread across the little street. Giacomo turned down another little street making his way deeper in to the thieves kitchen, at every step he could hear the tall man drawing closer. The streets where quiet, save for the occasional voice calling from a window above, shouts to be quiet, cries of encouragement to Giacomo, cries of encouragement to the tall man, cat calls and curses, laughter and jeers.
Giacomo could feel his heart pounding in his chest, he had considered himself quite fit, he played football in the Sunday league, he occasionally went to the gym, albeit to look at the women and try out new chat up lines, but now the years of smoking where beginning to show. His lungs screamed out in pain, his muscles begged for oxygen, his racing heart leapt up and tried to claw its way out of his throat, his mouth was dry and full of bitter tasting adrenaline. His body wanted to give up. To sit down where it was and recover. Every fibre, every sinew, every muscle, every cell was begging him to stop. But there was a bit of him screaming the loudest, urging his body on, and spurring on the tired muscles, asking the aching sinews for one last effort, the bit of his brain that dealt with fear.
The survival instinct is very strong and was, at that moment, proving exactly how strong it was, by driving Giacomo on when he should have sat down and collapsed. Without realising it his brain was doing its best to save him, from what it did not know, it just knew that if it allowed the body to stop it would be in danger. How great the danger was it had no idea, but any danger was enough to keep the legs moving, the muscles pulling, the heart pumping, the lungs dragging in air.
Giacomo turned down a small alley way and as he ran pulled over the bins and boxes, that lined one wall, in an attempt to block the path of the tall man. Somewhere, deep in his brain, he realised where he was heading, his brain was taking him to a place of safety, a place where it knew he could come to no harm. He turned in to the small square on the other side he could see the small bar and the rusting table and chair outside it on the pavement, he could see, he could see that the chair was empty.
His brain made its first mistake, it stopped to think. The legs stopped moving, the muscles noticed how tired they were and how much they ached, the lungs realised how much they burned and how little oxygen they were taking in. the body realised in how much pain it was and it let the brain know. The brain decided, without considering the outcome, to tell Giacomo.
It was the disappointment that hit him first, the fact that Mario was not where he should be, that he had been let down by someone he thought he could trust, someone he thought would be there for him. The pain followed a very close second; every tissue of his body screamed and cried out in agony. It was the tall man who hit him thirdly, a large, solid fist catching him on the side of the head.
It might have been the exhaustion, it might have been the heat, it might have been the blow to the side of the head, whatever it was the effect was the same, Giacomo crumpled and folded, he fell to the floor, hitting the pavement with a sickening thud and lay there like a heap of abandoned laundry.
So Dear Reader we will leave poor Giacomo unconscious on the pavement. There are now about thirteen hours to go and I need to move this story on and will therefore start a new chapter. It will be a big chapter, it will make no sense, it will wander and meander it will be a desperate attempt to reach the word count, a futile task I know, before midnight tonight.


Chapter Ten

So Dear reader, here we are, thirteen hours and thirteen and a half thousand words to go. Do able? I have no fucking idea, sorry for my language Dear Reader, but panic has now set in. right back to the story. Where were we? Ah yes, young Giacomo was spark out on the floor. Shall we wake him up? Shall we find out where he is? Okay, let’s go for it.
Giacomo felt the cold water hit his face. At first he had no idea what it was, when he had worked out that it was indeed water, he could not understand where it was coming from. Some where, through the ringing and fuzzy hum, buzzing through his ears he could voices, quiet voices, not whispering, but lowered, concerned, almost sympathetic.
Slowly he tried to open his eyes. At first it seemed as though he had forgotten how they worked, his brain kept sending them signals but the eyelids refused to obey. The voices spoke again, still fuzzy, still muffled, not so concerned, more urgent. He listened carefully trying to make out the words, occasionally he caught one, ‘alive’, ‘breathing’, ‘hit’, ‘hard’, and the brain tried to remember their meanings.
More water hit him in the face and he gagged and spluttered as it filled his nose and mouth, his eyes remembered what that where for and the lids decided that they could open after all.
Giacomo looked around, his brain searched for clues in they blurry shapes and the fuzzy colours that surrounded him. slowly, very slowly his brain took control of his eyes and started to work on focusing. Again he looked around, the brain trying to put the collection of objects that it could see in to some sort of order. Slowly it realised where it was. It was in the alley way, surrounded by the boxes and bins that Giacomo had thrown about earlier. How much earlier, seconds ago, minutes, hours, how long had he been unconscious, why had he been unconscious, why was he half lying half sitting against a wall in some rubbish strewn alley.
A large pink blob presented itself before him, the eye’s tried to make some sense from it, tried to find some point on which to focus, to find something recognisable in the mass of pinkness and shadows.
A voice spoke, “See, I told you he’d be okay.”
A dark hole appeared in the pink blob and another voice spoke, “I think it was more luck than judgement, I told you Signore Gangster did not want him hurt.”
The first voice again, “I only gave him a tap.”
The pink blob, “If that is your idea of a tap, god preserve us if you ever hit anyone properly.”
Giacomo’s brain suddenly and quite unexpectedly decide to join all the little clues together, pain, alley way, two voices, big pink blob. It remembered what had happened, it would have been a lot better for Giacomo if it had not. The brain decided, against the better judgement of the rest of the body, that there was danger again and that it needed to get Giacomo as far away from here as possible.
Surprisingly to Giacomo and the two men watching him, he leapt to his feet, grabbing at a wooden crate as he did so and swinging it at the pink fuzzy blob in front of him, he felt the crate make contact, heard the thud of wood on skin and bone and saw the pink blob disappear sideways. He turned and saw a tall dark shape moving towards him, Giacomo sprang forward and again swung the wooden crate. He heard the wooden crate make contact but this time the shape did not disappear side ways. It remained in his path and it seemed to have control of the wooden crate. The crate came swinging back towards him, it made contact on the side off his head, and he spun round and found himself face to face with the pink blob. His brain had begun now to make sense of the shapes and sounds and chose this moment to inform Giacomo what it had found out. The pink blob moved closer and Giacomo recognised it as the face of Little Paulo, Giacomo didn’t see the punch coming but he felt the blow hit his stomach making him double over forward, he felt the second one strike his jaw and send him reeling backwards towards the bins and boxes, he felt the kicks and blows raining down on him, he could hear Little Paulo’s voice repeating the same words over and over, “We were going to do this nicely, we only wanted a chat, Signore Gangster had an offer to make to you, he had a way for you to pay off your debt, he was going to offer you a job”
The blows and shouting stopped suddenly, Giacomo lay for a moment curled up in the foetal position, then something started happening, not to him, but around him. There was shouting and scuffling and the sound of blows being exchanged and then footsteps disappearing in to the distance. Giacomo lay for a moment, unsure of what to do, too scared to move, too scared not to, he braced himself, ready for the blows to start again, he flinched as he felt a hand on his shoulder and then he relaxed as he heard a familiar voice, “Como my boy, are you okay?”
Giacomo began to uncurl, he took his arms away from his head and uncovered his eyes, he was happy to see the concerned face of Mario kneeling beside him.
“Come on boy,” Mario continued, “let’s get you cleaned up.” Mario helped Giacomo to his feet and supported him as the two men made their way across the small square and to the bar.
He sat Giacomo on one of the rusting chairs and disappeared in to the blackness of the bar. Giacomo gingerly touched his face, he winced as he found a particularly tender spot just below his left eye, he drew his hand away and looked at it, the tips of his fingers were covered in blood. His brain, having done it’s best to protect him up to this point, decided to inform him about how the rest of his body felt. It felt bad. Muscles burned, joints ached, ribs cried out in pain, even the back of his eyeballs hurt.
Mario reappeared from the bar carrying a bowl of steaming water, some slightly grubby looking tea towels were draped over one arm. Behind him walked the young waiter carrying a tray containing two glasses and a large bottle of brandy. Mario indicated to the waiter to just leave the tray on the table and then he set about the task of cleaning Giacomo up.
Giacomo was surprised, Mario’s touch was soft, his movements and actions gentle. Giacomo looked at Mario and saw the concentration and concern in his eyes. After a few moments Mario spoke, “You won’t need any stitches, they’re not deep cuts, but you’re a skinny little runt and they’re right on the bone. I wish I had some tape, I could stop this bleeding in seconds if I had some tape, here, hold this.” Mario guided Giacomo’s hand up to his cheek, “Pinch the skin together here, don’t let go.”
Mario dipped the towel in to the water again and started to clean the cuts on Giacomo’s free hand, Giacomo watched as Mario worked, “This is not the first time you’ve done this?”
“No.” Mario said without looking up from his work.
“It’s a useful skill to have.” Giacomo said.
“Useful, necessary, there’s world of difference.”
“You were a boxer weren’t you?”
“That was a long time ago. It was in a different age, in a different world”
“Tell me about it,” Giacomo winced as Mario cleaned a graze on the palm of his hand, “Why did you give it up?”
“I’d rather not. It’s not something I like to talk about.”
“Please Mario; humour a young man who is in great pain.”
Mario stopped cleaning Giacomo’s wounds and looked at him, he sighed heavily, laid down the cloth and then sat down. He began to pour two glasses of brandy, “I don’t think I actually ever gave it up,” he said handing Giacomo a glassful of the dark heady liquid, “I think it gave me up.” He settled back in the rusty steel chair, took a fat cigar from his breast pocket and stuck, unlit, in to the corner of his mouth, and then he drained the glass of brandy in one and began to pour another.
“I was born at the arse end of World War Two,” Mario said, swirling the brandy around in his glass, “not far from here actually, a little apartment in the Via Di Compact Recorder.”
“Compact Recorder? That’s all factories.”
“It is now, they cleared the apartments in the early seventies, cockroach infested slums they were, rats the size of cats, but it was home and we loved it. I was the seventh of nine children, I don’t remember my youngest brother and sister, they died before I was four years old and so technically, like you, I was the youngest, the baby of the family.” He pulled out a Zippo lighter and lit the cigar, “I was always in trouble as a kid, as soon as I could walk I was in to every thing. The day I found out how the latch on the front door worked, my mother cried.
By the time I was seven every policeman in Suoloduro new my name and where I lived. My Nonna was convinced I was possessed by the devil, my zia’s suggested sending me to a children’s home and my Zio Frangipani suggested putting me in a sack and dropping me in the Vestavia River. By the time I was ten I was uncontrollable, my mother had given up on me and my papa, well my papa, somewhere in between the beatings I could tell he had not given up, I could see he still had hope, that he could see in me a spark, a spark of what I don’t know, but he saw something.”
Mario lent forward and poured them both some more brandy, “On my eleventh birthday he came home from work and said ‘son I have some thing for you, come with me’, well I tell you, I got ready to run. When ever my papa said he had something for me it usually meant a another beating.” He smiled to himself and took a long a drag on his cigar, “He took me by the hand and led me, down the dark narrow stairs, and out of the apartment block, I was quite scared, shit I thought, this is going to be such a beating he doesn’t want the rest of the block to hear it. Then I thought that perhaps he was going to give me away, I hadn’t noticed before, but I realised that he was carrying a brown paper parcel tied with string, I bet that contains my clothes, I remember thinking. It wasn’t a very big parcel, but then again I didn’t have very many clothes.
We came through here, passed right through this square, it seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid and of course in those days the fountain worked. It ran day and night with cool clear fresh water, channelled down here in pipes from the springs up in the mountains. The women of the area would come each day to fill buckets and pans, it was a time to gossip and catch up on the local news. We all had stand pipes at the back of our apartments but nobody trusted them, the water was pumped in from the river and we all knew what went into the river, mainly us kids from the bridge in the middle of town.” He laughed his pistol shot laugh and it echoed and reverberated of the buildings.
“Anyway,” Mario continued, “we walked down through here and made our way through the side streets and alley ways until we came out in another little square, another little square a fountain. He gripped my hand tighter as we made our way across and I thought, this is it, he’s going to give me away or put me in the children’s home. He stopped outside the church of St Anthony of Padua, you know, the little church we went to the other day?”
Giacomo nodded and sipped at his brandy, the liquid was warm and soothing but had a nasty habit of finding the cuts and sores in his bruised and swollen mouth.
Mario looked at Giacomo for a moment and then continued, “Anyway, there we were stood outside the little church, me, well by this point I’m thoroughly confused, I’m thinking to myself, is he going to beat me and we’ve come here so that he can ask forgiveness, is he going to give me to a family the priest has found, is he going to leave me here and let the priest take me to the orphanage, or is he going to put me into the church, perhaps they’re going to have me trained as a priest or a monk.
After a moment or two, Father Dominic appears at the main doors and makes his way down the steps, greeting my papa like an old friend, that’s it; I’m starting to cry now, great big, hot, fat, tears running down my face, and I start to plead with my papa, ‘don’t leave here papa, don’t send me way, I’ll be good papa, please papa, don’t let them take me away’. Big bubbles of snot are exploding from my nose and now I’m gripping my papa’s hand, holding on as tight as possible. If they want to take me away they are going to have to cut my hand off to get me away from my papa.
The priest is standing in front of us now and he shakes my papa’s hand and say’s ‘well Franco, is this the little fella?’ my papa looks down at me and I can see the tears in his eyes and he doesn’t say anything, he just nods. He kneels down and wipes the tears from his eyes and then starts to clean my face, wiping away the tears with his big white hanky that always smelt of engineering oil and making me blow my nose. He looks at me straight in the eyes and says the words I been dreading, ‘ciao Mario, I want you to be a big brave boy and go with Father Dominic.’ He kisses me on the cheeks and then on the forehead, stands up and passes my trembling hand to the Father.
Well, I thinks to myself, if that’s how it’s going to be, then that’s how it will be, if they no longer want me, I no longer want anything to do with them. I stood next to that priest like a soldier at attention; I drew my self up as tall as any eleven year old has ever been and even though inside I wanted to scream and cry and beg for one last chance, not a tremor or a tear appeared on my face. My father handed the parcel to the priest and said, ‘these are for the boy’, then he looked at me one last time, ruffled my hair with one of his big strong hands, turned and without ever looking back, walked off.”
Giacomo wiped a tear away from his eye and took a swig of his brandy, and then he cleared the lump in his throat and said, “Was that the last time you saw any of your family?”
Mario looked at him, “whose story is this?”
Giacomo looked down at his brandy.
Mario continued, “Then let me tell it at my own pace.” He topped up their glasses and took another puff at the big cigar, “The priest looks down at me and then kneels, so that we are looking at each other eye to eye, but I can’t take my eyes off that parcel, which the priest now has tucked under his arm, ‘Look at me Mario’, he says, I suddenly noticed how soft and quietly spoken he was, not something I’d heard in a priest before, the Christian Brothers who taught at my school were always shouting and screaming, I don’t think they could manage anything below a yell. So I looks at him, straight in his steel blue eyes and he says, ‘Your papa says you’re a bit of a tearaway, that he and your mama don’t know what to do for the best any more, they’re hoping that I might be able to set you on the right path, before it’s to late to save you. Come with me lad’. He stood up and, gripping my little hand, he led me off around to the side of the church.”
He lent back in his chair and stared in to the darkness of the bar, “Hey, Marco,” he called, “bring me and my young injured friend some snacks, all this talking is making me hungry.” Mario turned back to the table, “Down the side of the church was a wooden hut type affair, it’s not there any more, I think it fell down years ago, it was big, well it seemed big to a little lad like me, I guess it was about twenty, twenty five feet wide and about forty foot long (I know dear reader I been doing measurements in metres but I can’t be bothered to do the conversion at the moment that’s what second drafts are for) it had little windows high up all the way around and at the front a couple of concrete steps leading up to a set of wooden double doors, above the doors was a sign it read, ‘Saint Anthony of Padua Boys club’, that meant absolutely nothing to a kid like me, I just assumed it was the name for the children’s home, my little legs were shaking like a jerry built apartment in an earthquake, as we got to the bottom of the steps Father Dominic stops and sits down on the bottom step, he patted the space next to him, and relieved to get the weight off my little frightened legs I sat down. He placed the parcel on his knees and turned to me, ‘do you understand why your mama and papa have sent you to me?’ I looked down at my feet, I remember saying something like ‘They don’t want me no more, they want you to find me a new family’, I can remember his laugh to this very day, a gentle rolling laugh, like, like a spring stream at the height of the thaw bubbling and babbling over the rocks, I looked at him and remember thinking, what a bastard, laughing at me because my mama and papa don’t want me no more, he could obviously see the fear in my eyes cause he suddenly stopped laughing and looked at me all serious like, ‘did your papa not tell you what this place was?’ I shook my head, again he took my hand, tucked the parcel under his arm and pulled me to my feet, ‘come on lad, I think your going to like this’ he said as he dragged me up the couple of steps and through the doors.
In side that hut I found my second home, in there was what I had been searching for all my short life. ‘The saint Anthony of Padua Boys Club’ was a boxing club, for the next five years in that hut I learnt what it means to be a man, I learnt lessons that have stayed with me to this very day.
Father Dominic took me in to the room and showed me around. The Weight training equipment, the punch bags, the speed ball and finally the ring, a place I was to get to know very well. We stopped at the bottom of the steps and Father Dominic sat down again, he placed that brown parcel on his knees again and held it as though it was a small injured animal, ‘shall we see what’s in here then’, I nodded my head, not daring to take my eyes off the parcel, Father Dominic took out a small penknife and cut through the rough string that was holding it together, slowly, to me painfully slowly, he peeled the brown paper back, inside was perhaps the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A pair of dark rich brown boxing gloves, they weren’t new, but they were mine, not those of an elder brother, but mine, bought for me by my papa. I learnt later that he had been putting a couple of Lira away each week until he could buy them from Signore Lender the pawnbroker.
‘lets see if they fit’ said Father Dominic and I held out two trembling hands and he slipped them on an laced them up. I remember that feeling, they were tight, not nasty tight, but safe tight, comforting tight, as though they had been made for me, as though they were already part of me, ‘do you want to give them a go?’ I didn’t say anything, I don’t think I even nodded, I just stood and grinned, a big stupid grin, we climbed up the steps and I clambered through the rope and in to the ring.
It was the greatest thing I had ever seen, it was only four post with ropes strung between them and a wooden, sprung floor covered in a grubby, stained, canvas, but it looked and smelled as an arena should, of fear and bravery and hard battles fought and won. Father Dominic walked me to the centre of the ring and knelt down beside, ‘would you like to give it a go lad?’ this time I did speak, I spoke loud and clear, ‘oh yes Father.’ He called over another lad, I can’t remember his name, now there’s a shame, my first opponent and I can’t remember his name, father Dominic turns to me and says, ‘I hear your quite a scrapper lad, lets see how you do against young Giovanni here,’ Giovanni, of course Giovanni Calbresse, any way I looks at this lad, he was twelve, maybe thirteen years old, a couple of inches taller than me, but I thinks to myself, I’ve licked kids twice his size, this should be a piece of piss.
So father Dominic says ‘right Mario, your in the boxing ring now, not on the street, so you’re only allowed to use your fists, no grabbing, no biting and no kicking, do you think you can do that’ I nodded not taking my eyes of Giovanni, ‘okay he says, all you have to do is try and hit young Giovanni here, and he’s going to try and hit you, right lads, someone ring the bell.’
I learnt a very valuable lesson that night, never under estimate your opponent. That lad danced me all over the ring, I don’t think I laid a glove on him, by the time he’d finished with me I’d got a lose tooth, a black eye and a bloody nose. I was the proudest I had ever been, I knew what I wanted to be in life, I wanted to be a boxer, I wanted to be able to dance around that ring and control my opponent like Giovanni had.
My dad came to collect me three hours later and despite the aching muscles and the sore ribs I walk home feeling taller than I ever had. That night I fell asleep dreaming of being in that ring, I was as good as gold at school the next day, I was too busy thinking about boxing to think of trouble to cause and that afternoon, straight after school, instead of going in to town and finding trouble with my friends I ran all the way to that hut, I couldn’t wait to get back in that ring again, I even got there before father Dominic, I had to sit on the steps and wait.”
He smiled at Giacomo and drained the brandy glass, then wiping the tears from his eyes he said, “Damn cheap brandy, makes your eyes water.”


  1. Great writing skills! I like how descriptive you are and the names given to the characters.
    Keep it up!

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