Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli, chapters 1-2

Chapter 1.
            A Baptism.

“Where is that cardinal?” said an auburn-haired woman, full figured with sharp green eyes.
 She stood impatiently, eyeing the baptismal font before her filled with crystal-clear water. Despite summer heat, they kept cool, shielded by ancient stone and tinted stained glass. Another, younger woman, more hesitantly, stepped forth. She had curly, brown hair and more peaceful, green eyes. She waited, disregarding bustling city noises outside the cathedral and fading sunlight. Cradled in her hands, wrapped in gauzy, white lace, a small child wriggled and squeaked.
Finally, a figure appeared, clad in scarlet finery. He was young for a cardinal, only 34 years of age, and followed by a boy in white robes. He folded his hands solemnly, prayerfully and proceeded forth.
“Well, if it isn’t Cardinal Fratelli being late,” the auburn-haired woman huffed.
The young cardinal’s air of formality broke. He stuffed a few locks of his curly, dark, brown hair beneath his red skullcap and answered, “My apologies Francine, Gianni couldn’t fit into his regular robes, he’s been eating too much.”
The boy beside him frowned then awkwardly handed Cardinal Fratelli a thick book of prayers, marked of course, to the proper place. Fratelli traced a cross of blessing into the air and began praying when the child wrestled in its mother’s arms and yelled out. The cardinal briefly winced from this piercing sound then continued. The prayers were long, imploring God for protection and purification. Everyone wondered if the little one could stay still the entire time.
Finally, taking the baby into his hands, he stared at her bright, brown eyes. This was his niece, the daughter of his brother, Ernesto and of his childhood friend, Michele. One, only and precious. The baby wiggled in his hold and for a moment, he thought she would climb onto his shoulder! Fortunately, she settled back down. Smiling, Fratelli poured clean water over her head while saying quietly:
“Angelica Di Cosi, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
It was done! Fratelli’s niece was now a member of God’s family. Rejoicing and laughing, his family exited the cathedral. He and Gianni stood alone.
“I am not getting fat…” the boy protested.
His voice echoed flat. Fratelli walked elegantly down the church aisle, reached a side door and answered, “If we don’t work on your eating habits, you will be.”
Gianni grumbled something under his breath.
“What was that?” Fratelli asked.
“Nothing… Your Eminence.”

Returning to the cool interior of his villa, the cardinal handed Gianni over to Dina, the housekeeper. Two years ago, she had taken the boy in and adopted him. She hugged Gianni, patted his head and whisked him off to help in the kitchen. As for Fratelli, he rushed upstairs to prepare for dinner at Francine’s house. As his aunt and matriarch of the family, she invited him over and despite his many preoccupations, he couldn’t refuse.
Fumbling around the top of his cluttered dresser, Fratelli found his comb and straitened his hair. He figured all was well and retreated back downstairs into his private chapel to pray. The space was cool, dimly-lit and silent. Staring pensively towards the altar and golden tabernacle which contained the bread of Christ’s presence, Fratelli spoke:
            “You, O Lord, are the giver of all joy. I thank you for the graces you have outpoured upon my niece, little Angelica. May she be raised up in the family of God and grow to be a true daughter of the Church. I am so happy today…please don’t let my happiness fade now as I go visit my Aunt, Lord, for you know how difficult she can be sometimes…”
Fratelli left the chapel, walked through the hallway and opened the door to leave.
“Wait,” Dina said, suddenly approaching, “You can’t go alone, it’s after dark.”
The cardinal groaned, “Francine lives only a short distance, I’ll be fine.”
“Alright, Your Eminence, just this once- but please have your brother walk you back. He is after all, the city’s constable and will protect you well.”
With a nod, Fratelli opened the door and left.
Birds flitted and chirped overhead against the moonlight sky. Fratelli increased his pace, watching them fly from rooftop to rooftop, his mind filled with joyful thoughts. He rounded a corner and passed a small square lined with closed-up markets then headed down the road towards Francine’s house. The figure of a grown man immediately stood in his way. Fratelli felt fear lumping in his throat. He should have listened to Dina.
“Your Eminence. It’s me Alfred.”
“Oh dear, you frightened me so much!” Fratelli replied, clutching the golden cross that dangled from his chest, “Don’t do that again.”
“Sorry, sorry!” Alfred stuttered, “I just need to talk to you.”
“Go ahead,” Fratelli said.
Though he wanted to arrive at Francine’s house soon, he hid his impatience and listened while Alfred began,
“Please help me, I am very angry at my son, I don’t know how to express my anger besides yelling at him…”
Fratelli stayed a moment, gave Alfred some advice, blessed him and then said he must be on his way. Finally, Alfred let Fratelli go and he reached Francine’s house a half hour late.
The house was bright, warming and welcome as Fratelli stepped inside. A servant took his cloak and hat and he walked into the dining room where many voices conversed. He could hear Philomena, his youngest cousin, Ernesto, Michele and squeaking Angelica. Seeing him, they silenced- little Angelica too, as if sensing his presence. Francine stood from their midst and exclaimed:
“You’re late again Angelo!”
 “I apologize; I had to counsel a parishioner…” Fratelli said, trying to smile.
Francine almost smiled but she bent her lips back into a frown.
“Well, we are your family.”
“Yes I know, I know.”
He remained there awkwardly, folding his hands and toying with the big, golden ring on his right hand.
“Are you going to sit down?” Francine asked.
Nodding, Fratelli answered, “Yes, yes…”

            Chapter 2.
A Civic Ceremony.

Morning began nicely. Fratelli rose, dressed, said morning- prayer, celebrated Mass and ate a hearty breakfast.  Right after finishing his eggs, cheese and pastry smeared with pepper jelly, he met with a priest from a neighboring parish, Father Adreo and they discussed opening on orphanage in Lucca.
“A wonderful idea,” Fratelli said, leaning back, sipping a hot cup of tea.
Dina quickly poured Adreo a cup but the young priest politely refused.
“This is something very close to my heart,” he then said.
Fratelli answered, “I have not a single problem with it long as we can raise funds and can find a proper location within the city…maybe I’ll look into something.”
“Oh thank you, Your Eminence,” Father Adreo said standing up.
He took Fratelli’s hand, kissed his ring and hurriedly departed. Both of them had quite a bit of work to do before noon. Glad to have a moment of free time, Fratelli sat enjoying another cup of tea, watching bright, yellow afternoon sun spread through windows.  Soon, Dina approached.
“A fine gentleman is here to see you, about a blessing in the town square?”
“Oh yes, I forgot!” Fratelli said, “They want me to bless Lucca’s newest water-fountain.”
It was custom for the bishop of Lucca to bless new fountains, statues and fixtures, and it would be a glamorous ceremony indeed. Gianni soon scampered in. The boy certainly hadn’t forgotten about it.
            “Let’s go, let’s go!” he said, running in a circle.
“Please be calm Gianni,” Fratelli scolded, “I need you, after all, to the carry the train of my cappa- and to do so with dignity and grace.”
Hearing the word “cappa” made Gianni’s eyes light up even more. The long, bright scarlet cape was his favorite garment and he couldn’t wait for Fratelli to wear it. Fratelli however, could wait.
After meeting with the gentleman who then left, anxious to arrive at the ceremony, Fratelli slowly prepared and dressed for the occasion. Father Rodrigo approached with a younger deacon who worked in the parish. Lastly, Gianni came forth, sucking his stomach in to appear slimmer in his white server’s robes.  Much to Gianni’s anticipation, the two clerical assistants ahead of him wrapped the great, volumous cappa around Fratelli’s shoulders. Smiling proudly, Gianni held its train off the ground. Carefully, with help from Father Rodrigo, Gianni folded up the draping garment, making sure none of the fine cloth could snag or catch, as they neared an elaborate carriage. Together, they climbed aboard and headed to the town square. Now, the piazza was only a few blocks away, quite close to the cathedral, but they wouldn’t let the cardinal walk and risk dirtying his garb. It was important to make an entrance. Feeling a slight knot in his stomach, Fratelli could care less for entrances as he heard music playing in the distance.
People milled about the piazza, children ran to and fro, being reined in by their mothers, and several, dignified individuals waited in a line. These greeted Cardinal Fratelli as he stepped out of his carriage.  Crowds and music clamored as they exchanged salutations. In an elaborate but small procession, Fratelli walked around the piazza, mouthing silent prayers. Draping behind him, the cappa stretched like a thick ribbon of red taffy. Once nervous but now confident and regal, Fratelli smiled. He waved even more dramatically, inciting claps and cheers. The wind began picking up and his own excitement grew.
 Suddenly a strong gust blew and sent the great cape billowing, Gianni almost lost grip on the cloth but he grabbed it. Something then tugged back. The boy tugged again- and again, there was resistance. Annoyed by all the tugging, Fratelli looked over his shoulder to find an edge of the cappa snagged on a nearby shrub!
His cheeks blushed from sheer embarrassment, seeing the many onlookers. Some of them, mostly children, giggled while a few women gaped in horror. He wished sorely to hide his face yet saw Gianni trying to free the cape, hands digging into the cloth. He was going to tear it.
“Careful, careful!” Fratelli said, rushing towards the snag and gently loosing it.
 Finally, trying to forget the mishap, Fratelli walked onwards. He reached the water fountain; its newly-hewn, stone angels and decorative fish gleaming grey beneath bright sunlight. The assistant deacon handed Fratelli a silver container of holy water and the cardinal sprinkled it before him. Many eyes fell on him, eyes of every color as he began the blessing:
Lord Christ, thou art the fount of eternal life. You give us the water that lasts forever. Bless here, this fountain, I pray, assembled by human hands, for the good of this city and may it refresh our thirst and remind us of your gentle Providence, In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
Gianni would have readily mimicked Fratelli’s blessing gesture if his hands weren’t full of scarlet cloth. A band loudly played as people cheered. A few adolescent boys set off fire-crackers that sent smoke into the warm air. As Fratelli turned, one of the dignitaries stopped him, asking:
            “Your Eminence, won’t you stay for the music?”
“I apologize Signor, I have too much to do,” Fratelli answered.
The dignitary kissed Fratelli’s ring and bade farewell. Almost sadly, the cardinal took his leave. The whole way home, no one spoke. Even Gianni kept quiet. However, once they arrived back at the cardinal’s villa, his energy crept out. Grabbing the end of Fratelli’s cappa, Gianni tossed it around his shoulders, waved his arm in the air and said, “Bless you.”
“Stop it!” Fratelli hissed, snatching the cape back.
After a while, Fratelli changed from his elaborate dress into a regular, red cassock. Then, feeling exasperated, he sat in the parlor, sighed and began reading a document. Dina brought hot tea and he nodded thankfully. Rodrigo came into the room, saw Fratelli’s forlorn face and flushing cheeks, and he stopped, thinking a moment.
“What is it?” Fratelli asked, glancing up tiredly.
“Well,” the priest began, twiddling his stocky fingers, “Your Eminence, I think you may be in need of a vacation.”
Setting the document down, Fratelli spoke:
            “In all my 5 years of being a cardinal, I have never asked for nor was granted a vacation.”
“So, don’t you think that makes you even more in need of one?”
“I suppose you are right. I have been terribly overworked and tired lately…but where would I go?”
They both stared at eachother, pondering. At last, Fratelli stood, excitement flashing in his warm, amber eyes.
“I heard that Pisa is quite lovely this time of year. Glimmering seas, fine food, sunshine, palms swaying- altogether splendid.”
“Well then…you have your answer” Rodrigo answered.
Filled with youthful vigor, Fratelli dashed boyishly out of the room.
“A vacation!” he cried joyously, his voice echoing down the hall, “Just what I need. Indeed!”


  1. You commented on my blog
    and I really appreciated your comments. So in looking you up, I was very pleased to see you are a wonderful character in a book! So I ordered it just this morning! Once I've read it I will do a review! I'm always looking for new books, new authors and I love "funny" books! Looking forward to getting to know you better!
    Brenda from "Reflections from the Midwest"

    1. I appreciate this very much! Thank you. The whole series is very much about a personal relationship with God and it's very funny.