by Linda Mitchelmore
Now it was safe, she could go to the place her father had made her promise to visit
The second the taxi pulled away, I heard the dove. A soft coo-coo of a sound; if that sound could be fabric it would be angora.
“Too steep,” the taxi driver – obviously used to Englishwomen of a certain age who spoke little Italian and if they did, they spoke it badly -had said in my own tongue. He steepled his tanned hands towards the hill, then placed them, palms not quite touching, in front of him. “Too narrow.”
Hi people carrier taxi was too wide for the steep, narrow road and I would have to walk.
Now he had gone and there was only the soft coo-coo of the dove for company. I began to haul myself up the hill that was Via dei Solitari. I rounded the bend into what a rusting blue tin sign told me was Vigolo del Sassogrossa.
it was then the heat came
“Vicolo del Sassogrossa.” I rolled the words around my tongue, tasting them, down in the square.
“Vicolo del Sassogrossa,” I said again, only lower this time, trying to remember the pitch of my father’s voice the first time he’d said the name when I was four or maybe five and I’d thought it sounded like water tumbling over smooth pebbles. But I told myself now I could remember.
I stopped. And it was then that the heat came. It leached up from the stone cobbles and I could feel my ankles begin to swell already from the warmth of it.
Of course. The time of siesta. Such a stupid time to arrive, when doors and shutters were tightly closed and people and animals slept, and shadows were narrow and knife-edged with the sun so high overhead.
promise you’ll go to Lucia
My breath rasped in my chest but I willed myself to walk on. How long I’d waited for this moment. I wasn’t going to let a steep climb and the heat beat me.
“You must go,” my father had said, “when I am gone – and also your mother, who never owuld have understood. Then it will be safe for you to visit Lucia. Promise you’ll go.”
“I promise,” I’d said. “One day I’ll go.”
When my father became ill and could no longer take his letters to Lucia to the post box at the end of the road, I posted them for him until he died. It was our secret – his and mine. And Lucia’s.
But now my mother too was in a place where it couldn’t hurt her if I opened up the past. So here I was.
The sweet marshmallow scent of pink laburnum-like blossom filled my nostrils, my throat, my lungs, propelling me onwards, just as my father had described it.
A big dog lay stretched out in a thin strip of shade by a high wall, twitching in sleep.
Nico? No, it couldn’t possibly be the dog my father had told me about -but one like him. A descendant perhaps?
I liked to think so, and I was tempted to reach down and touch the top of the sleeping dog’s head, but then I remembered the travel advice – rabies. The dog might be wild and rabid. It probably was – why else would it be out of doors in the midday heat?
someone was calling me
I thought I heard voices then and looked towards the direction I thought I’d heard them, but there was no-one there, only a door, its paint peeling, shut fast in its frame against the world.
How low they are, the doors of the houses here.
I walked on… a foreigner, and yet not quite a stranger.
Rosa? Only my father had ever shortened my name – Rosalind – to Rosa. But now someone was calling me.
And there in a doorway was Lucia, my half-sister – love-child of my father’s wartime romance, who had been like the long shadow of evening hovering over his mind all his life.
She smiled and held her arms out to me, inviting me in.
I began to run towards her. .. we had so much catching up to do.