I'm inordinately pleased to introduce you to Santa Lucia, a fictional town furrowed in the hills between Umbria and Le Marche. Santa Lucia is like most Italian small towns—everybody has a place, and everyone knows everyone else's place. It's a safe existence, except that modern life is encroaching on Santa Lucia. There's conflict between tradition and newness, between insiders and outsiders, between decorum and impropriety.
Santa Lucia is a serialized novel, meaning that it's told one short chapter at a time. I had originally planned to post stories from Santa Lucia here twice a week, but given the number of concurrent storylines I've realized that it will be hard to keep track of characters if you only read about them once every few weeks. So starting Monday, November 9th, there will be a new chapter posted every weekday. You can find it at 1 AM EST in the Santa Lucia section, and in this spot on the same day, but later (I can't schedule a home page). At the time of launch, I've written about a half of the final novel. What does this mean? Well, I may have boxed myself into a corner, and created a tight narrative spot that will take some creativity to maneuver. But it's just that challenge that excites me about this project. That, and getting to share my work with you. Make sure you let me know what stories you like, where you're confused, and if I contradict myself! Here goes... Welcome to Santa Lucia.
Chapter Sixteen: Chiara in the Groves
“Buongiorno, Patrizia! Come stai?”
“I’m well thank you. Edo watching the bar?”
“Yes, but our walk shouldn’t be too long today, he looks pretty tired. I’d like to get back before the morning rush.”
“Sure, that’s no problem. I’d like to be back to do the shopping before this rain comes.”
Chiara looked up at the sky, squinting against the sun.
“I know, there’s not that many clouds. But the sunrise was pink, so.”
“Oh, Patrizia, you believe that?”
“Well, it works!” Patrizia retorted defensively. “It works at least as well as the news.”
“Which is to say, not at all,” Chiara clinched. She linked her arm through her friend’s. “I’m just teasing, cara. I’m sure you are right. Now, which path today?”
“Let’s do the one past the statue of St. Francis. It’s a little shorter, and also flatter. I walked up from the station in Piombino yesterday, and my legs are tired.”
“All that way? Why in the name of the Madonna would you do that?”
“Well, Giuseppe needed the car to pick up supplies for the macelleria.”
“He’s not carting pig carcasses in your FIAT again is he?”
Patrizia laughed, her snorting cackle bringing the twitch of a smile to Chiara’s lips. “No, no. He hasn’t done that in ten years. Since I threatened him with sleeping in that damned display case he’s so proud of.” Patrizia took a breath to slow her laughing, “No, he had to get eggs since Bea’s chickens aren’t laying so much with the cooler weather, and also a few crates of wine and a box of pasta. You know, the small stuff.”
“Okay, so Giuseppe had the car, but where did you have to go that couldn’t wait?”
“Ai, Chiara. I didn’t want to burden you with this.”
Chiara stopped along the path, and placed her hand on her friend’s arm. They stood, connected though this touch of a friendship that had carried them their whole lives, since they went to school together in pinafores. The olive trees surrounded them rolling like a quilt along the terracing above and below their path, glittering only dully now in a light that was growing progressively stonier as the clouds threatened to spill over the surrounding mountains.
“Patrizia? What is it?”
Patrizia’s blinked furiously and looked away, “I swore to myself I wouldn’t talk about this with you.”
“It’s… It’s Filamena.” Chiara’s hand on Patrizia’s hand gripped tighter. “Is she okay? Please tell me she’s okay.”
“Yes, she’s okay, well, physically. It’s just that she’s worried about Marco, and frankly, I am too.”
“He’s about three years old now? What’s happening?”
“Yes, four in January, you know, he was never really a normal baby, and we kept waiting for him to catch up… but he’s only falling farther behind. His teachers at the asilo, his pre-school, keep calling Filamena and they are saying…oh, Chiara, they are saying there is something wrong with him. He makes strange noises, and rocks while waving his hands in front of his face, and he runs on his tiptoes. And he doesn’t get along well with the other children, he hits them when they have something he wants, and then he doesn’t seem to understand why he’s in trouble, he just howls. It’s too much for Filamena, and to have my daughter that crushed, it’s just… oh, Chiara, I’m so sorry! That was thoughtless of me.”
“Patrizia, stop. The fact that I never had children is irrelevant here. I love Filamena like she’s mine, I’ve been part of her life since she was born. I’m her godmother, for heaven’s sake! And frankly, well, I’ve been worried about this, too. Marco has always been a difficult child. I feel like there’s a light in him somewhere, a piece of him that struggles to be a regular baby, but that part is buried under so much else.”
“Exactly. Filamena called me hysterical. Marco wouldn’t go to school, he couldn’t say why, well, you know he doesn’t have all that many words anyway. And Filamena’s husband is on another trip, I know he’d help, but really what can he do? So I had to go. Here let’s keep walking, those clouds are looking menacing.” Patrizia started moving along the path, Chiara beside her so they could walk side by side. Chiara continued to put a hand on her friend’s arm when she could.
“Marco had calmed down by the time I got there, of course. Once he knew he wouldn’t have to go to school, he settled right down. And there was this moment, Chiara, I don’t know how to explain it. But there was this moment where I just felt like he clicked. I had pricked my finger on the embroidery I was doing, and he brought me a washcloth, and then he kept coming over and checking my finger. Even one time, resting my finger against his cheek. And I thought, he’s in there! There’s a loving little boy lost in there.” Her words turned jagged, and she pulled a tissue out from her sleeve to wipe her eyes as she walked.
“Oh, Patrizia. Of course there is. How is Filamena?”
“She was glad I came, of course. Made a big deal of my bringing her mortadella from Giuseppe’s shop. I think she misses seeing us every day, but it did make sense for them to move to Rieti. So much closer to Rome for all Paolo’s work trips. But I worry about her, there with no family.”
“I wish she could come here when Paolo is traveling, have some help.”
“I know. Me too. But with Marco and school.”
“Did he go back today?”
“He did, actually. Like nothing ever happened. It’s a good school, they are just worried about him. I am too, but Filamena, well, I’m more worried about her. Who takes care of the mother, except her mother?”
Chiara laughed and then watched her footing over the spot where the stones were loose. “That’s true. I miss my mother every day.”
“So do I, Chiara. So do I.”
They paused in front of the statue of St. Francis.
Chiara sent up a prayer that this saint of small creatures would see his way towards easing Marco’s way.
A large drop of rain plopped onto Chiara’s nose, and her eyes flew open. She and Patrizia stared at each other, as the large drops began falling faster. The dusty path quickly polka-dotted with splatters of rain. Chiara and Patrizia held hands and tipped their heads back to feel the drops of water explode against their cheeks. And in their sudden joy, the years fell away from them, lightening their faces as they laughed like girls, grabbed hands, and ran back to Santa Lucia.
Il Bel Centro: The Book
Leaping into an unknown is never easy, but it's made all the more extraordinary when that leaping involves three children, two cats, a lack of ability to communicate, and a town unchanged by time.
More than you ever wanted to know about any writer, ever.
Il Bel Centro: The Blog
Selected Posts from the Blog, primarily for readers who turned the last page of Il Bel Centro and wondered, "What happened when you got home? Did the cats make it okay? Were you happy to be home? Did you have any reverse culture shock?"