Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Cardinal's Family Matters, ch 3-4

 Chapter 3.
      A Day of Rest.

      Monday morning, Cardinal Fratelli met Gianni within the dimly-lit cathedral. Sunlight soon flooded in, causing marble floors and tiles to glow. The boy wore pristine white robes and squirmed nervously at his place before the high-altar.
      “You will kneel just like that to receive the host upon your tongue,” Fratelli told him.
      In jest, Gianni stuck out his tongue and made an odd noise. The cardinal was not amused. He continued instructing:
      “When you receive your Lord and Savior, always do well to thank him with a multitude of prayers. Keep your mind on the most holy sacrament- on his gifts…”
      Leaning over the altar-rail, Gianni then asked, “What if it tastes bad?”
      “It won’t taste bad.”
      “How do you know?”
      Feeling scolded, Gianni stood and slinked into a front pew where he crossed his arms, huffing. In some strange way, this reminded Fratelli very much of himself and he glanced aside at an ornate stained-glass window, slightly grinning. Wordlessly, he retreated down the aisle with Gianni distantly trailing after. When Fratelli prayerfully folded his hands together, the boy did so also- though more playful than prayerful.

      Entering the dining-room, Fratelli ate breakfast with Father Rodrigo, his secretary who pleasantly informed him about the events of this week. Holy Week, as it was called. Fratelli’s mind began to race and he grew quiet.
      “I wish for today to be a day of rest,” Fratelli finally stated.
      “That is fine, Your Eminence.”
      Rodrigo glanced out the window. Trees rustled audibly against the glass. Leaves swirled in wind. The entire earth was shedding its brown winter coat and donning the green splendor of spring.
      Taking the daily newspaper off a table in the hallway, Fratelli trekked upstairs. He drew back his bedroom curtains, letting golden sun pour in and scrambled through a top dresser-drawer. At last, his hands seized upon a small tin: his secret stash of Turkish delight!
      Fratelli sat in his comfortable chair, opened the tin, took one of the delicate, powdered candies and ate it. He smiled from the sweetness. Resting his feet on a plump pillow, he unfolded the paper then slowly began to read. So enjoyable, he mused…
      Suddenly, there was loud buzzing and a furious tickle as a fly dove right into his ear. Fratelli sat up rigidly. He slapped his ear. The fly flew out unharmed and circled above him. Watching it dance overhead, Fratelli folded the newspaper then swung! He missed.
      Very annoyed at being so blatantly disturbed, Fratelli didn’t give up. He followed that tiny fly around the room, swatting again and again. Finally, it landed on a statuette. Fratelli focused…he struck hard. The statue came crashing down but not the fly.
      “Lord, I know you have use for your creatures…and declared them all good- yet this one is despicable!” he hissed.
      The door opened and Dina came in. She eyed the broken ceramic statue. Then she saw the cardinal poised, warrior-like, with newspaper in hand.
      “Your Eminence! What is the matter with you?” she cried.
      “It’s a fly…” he answered, pointing to the dresser where a little black dot scurried.
      Dina approached, swiftly yanking the newspaper from his hand. Her expression displayed an inner temptation to whack him with it…but she only stuffed the paper in her dress-pocket and went to open the window. Patiently, she shooed the fly outside. Then she recovered a small broom and dust-pan that were leaning against the wall and swept the broken, glass pieces.
      She said, her voice flat:
      “Now, continue resting, Your Eminence…”
      “Thank you Dina,” he replied.
      “It was nothing at all…you men and your silly compulsion to hit things!”
      Fratelli sheepishly watched her go. He spent the afternoon’s remainder straitening up his room. Once everything was tidied, he went outside on the veranda to nap.

      Meanwhile inside, Dina was setting the table for dinner when she heard a knock at the door. Answering, she found Francine standing there, several bags under her arms, and Philomena’s slim figure waiting behind her.
      “Oh, come in,” Dina exclaimed, “His Eminence is sleeping. I will wake him and tell him you both are here.”
      “No Dina, allow me,” Francine replied.
      Wearing a mischievous smile, Francine quietly stepped on the veranda. Sunlight made her auburn hair flash a bright, reddish color. She plucked a leaf from the nearby palm and slowly touched it to Fratelli’s ear. Immediately, the cardinal snapped awake, smacked his ear and hollered. Francine suppressed laughter and plainly said:
      “That is what happens when you are slothful.”
      Fratelli’s amber eyes glared hotly. He removed his red cap and angrily squeezed it in one hand.
      “Good evening, Francine,” he growled.

Chapter 4.
      A New Resident.

      Still rather upset, Fratelli ignored Francine as he hurried inside to meet Philomena. The black-haired woman, his youngest cousin, weakly smiled and greeted him. He bent over to help carry her bags upstairs. She silently followed. They reached Dina’s old room, the one she lived in before moving to the house across the street which Fratelli had purchased for her two years ago. It was a gesture of appreciation she continued to enjoy. Dina indeed didn’t miss the small room and its one window that faced the city street. Philomena however, didn’t seem to mind.
      “Thank you Angelo, for letting me stay here. I am still so grieved over losing my grandfather.”
      “I know, I know…” Fratelli said sympathetically.
      Philomena moved back the bed’s sheets to lie down.
      “It’s comfortable!” she exclaimed, patting the soft mattress.
      “Yes, yes…” Fratelli mumbled then turned to leave.
      He wasn’t intentionally acting aloof. A lot swarmed in his mind. Preparations for this week ahead, Gianni’s first communion, Michele’s baby…
      “Angelo,” Philomena said.
      He gazed at her as she spoke:
      “Thank you.”
      “You are very welcome, my dear cousin,” he replied, smiling.

      Pale rays of dawn-light, woke Cardinal Fratelli. He dressed, recited morning-prayer and went downstairs to find Philomena munching on breakfast- in her night-gown.
      “Philomena!” he stammered, “You are in a house full of priests. Merciful goodness, go and dress properly!”
      She rolled her dark eyes and strode past him, back up the stairs. Fratelli sighed and sat down as Father Rodrigo came in. Silently, the priest seated, sipped tea and looked out the window. It was a beautiful spring day indeed.
      After breakfast, Dina summoned Fratelli, telling him, “Your Eminence, Carlo is here with the new wine for Easter.”
      “Splendid,” the cardinal replied, smiling.
      Exiting a side door, Fratelli met Carlo, the local vintner. A tall, black-eyed, black-haired man, he held one bottle in his hand.
      “Blush made from nothing but the purest grapes,” he said, “I bottled this myself for you to try, Your Eminence.”
      “Why, thank you,” Fratelli replied.
      Carlo also brought forth a case of bottles. Though the wine within was a pale pink, the tinted glass made it look red as blood. The cardinal smiled as he examined it but Dina poked his shoulder. He turned when she said:
      “Your Eminence, maybe you should go inside when Carlo gets the barrel out…you remember what happened two years ago.”
      Recalling how he got in the way and Carlo accidentally set a barrel down on his unfortunate toe, Fratelli grumbled and walked back indoors. He almost bumped into Philomena who now wore a pastel green dress, inlaid with small pearls. His cousin curiously peered past him towards Carlo. Fratelli closed the door. Then, she scowled at him and strode away, feeling rather closed in.
      Reaching the hallway, she turned and stated, “Angelo, I am going out this evening.”
      “Going out?” he asked, “What for? With whom?”
      “I can’t stay here cooped up in this dusty house,” she answered.
      “I think Dina does a fine job dusting,” he replied obliviously, scratching his right cheek.
      “I mean I want to be outside…and doing things,” she said, “That man, Carlo is the one taking me to dinner?”
      “Carlo? Dinner? When did this happen?”
      “Angelo, I met him on the way into town. Please don’t be nosy,” she retorted beginning to walk away.
      Fratelli reached out and snatched her arm, quickly but gently.
      “Hey, stop it,” she laughed, batting at him.
      “It’s my duty to make sure you are safe and enjoying the best welfare,” he declared, “You can go out with Carlo for dinner- but I’m coming with you.”
      She loudly groaned.

      ~ ~ ~
      Fratelli hurried to finish his reading and paper-work. After reciting evening-prayer, he immediately met Philomena in the parlor. She waited there, wearing the same dress as before but with silk gloves and a sparkling broche. Seeing him, she wiped her forehead in exasperation. Her face expressed dour protest. She wanted to cry out that she was a fully grown woman and could go wherever but knew Fratelli wouldn’t budge. His paternal sensibilities couldn’t allow it. As the cardinal’s cousin, she reluctantly had to cope. While Fratelli donned fine, red gloves and his saturno, a broad-rimmed, scarlet-colored hat, she paced back and forth. Of course, within minutes, he began feeling rather nervous himself!
      A knock sounded, Philomena jolted, making way towards the door. Dina already answered and had let Carlo in. The man stood tall, his head almost touching the ceiling, and bowed to both her and Fratelli. His dark green suit and blocky, black shoes contrasted the hallway’s surrounding, delicate décor. He then took the cardinal’s hand and kissed his ring. He tried to take Philomena’s delicate hand but one look from Fratelli stopped him. She rolled her eyes again. This was not going to be a very enjoyable night.
      Together they walked to a still carriage led by one of Carlo’s light-brown draft horses. As humans approached, he raised his majestic head and snorted. Philomena patted the horse and felt his wiry mane.
      “Good boy,” she whispered, “Let’s go real fast now and make Angelo regret he ever came along…”
      Indeed, Fratelli sat in the back, behind them, crossing his arms against chill night. It felt colder than he expected. Once boarded and sitting comfortable, Philomena offered to drive.
      “But…as the gentleman, I should drive…” Carlo insisted.
      She gazed at him, her shiny eyes pleading. He relented and handed her the long, coiled whip. Grinning, she snapped it in the air. At once, the horse took off with such speed that Fratelli’s hat flew from his head. Lunging desperately, he caught it and clumsily tumbled back into his seat. He had a feeling she did that on purpose.
      Carlo’s house sat on a quiet hillside. Its white, stucco walls crowned the ridge which was covered in green rows of carefully cultivated vines. Many servants and cooks greeted them, especially interested in the cardinal. They crowded into the foyer, lining up to greet him. Fratelli spoke with them shortly before escaping into the dining room. He then joined Carlo and his cousin at table. Their dinner was rather simple but hearty; thick bread, warm pasta and chicken stew. Fratelli was glad to see black olives and he admittedly hogged them.
      Throughout the night, Philomena excitedly talked. She told about her travel from the north to Lucca, her eventful first night at Angelo’s house and her plans for Easter. Listening silently, Carlo nodded again and again. Fratelli yawned, sensing the hours grow long.
      It was late when they returned. Softly, they came indoors and tread along the hallway. Irate that Fratelli had been following her during the whole night, Philomena spun and told him:
      “You can go anywhere you want, but I can’t. This is part of the reason I left the Church behind. They believe that women are to be restricted.”
      Startled, feeling encroaching upset, Fratelli shouted, “You are to be protected!”
      “Who says I need to be protected?”
      “Listen to me, Philomena,” Fratelli said more gently, “If I go out at night and an awful thing happens, they will just find someone to replace me but you- you are irreplaceable.”
      At those words, her eyes softened. Her lips almost quivered. Stuffing away anger, she mumbled some unintelligible word and left.

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