Monday, February 18, 2013

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli, ch. 13,14-15

Chapter 13.
                        A Restful Day.

Lazily, Cardinal Fratelli woke the next morning. He crawled out of bed, dressed and said morning-prayer out on the room’s small balcony. He was staring at bustling streets below when Gianni’s voice interrupted him.
                        “Let’s go swimming!”
                        “No,” Fratelli said quietly, “It is not proper for me.”
            Mario emerged into the room holding a plate of food as an anonymous servant carried in a teapot. He left, taking Gianni with him. After the boy’s scuffle, they wouldn’t leave him unattended. Fratelli sat down to breakfast and silently ate. He wished for a nice, quiet day. Suddenly, Gianni came back in.
                        “Can you come swimming with us, please?” he begged.
                        “No” was Fratelli’s final answer.
            After finishing his meal, Fratelli grabbed his broad saturno, walked downstairs and snuck outside. He knew Jan and Mario would be upset about this but he needed to get away. That, after all, was the point of having a vacation… He easily slipped between the crowds, happily unnoticed and crossed the street. The sun climbed higher, looming over him. Though Fratelli’s head stayed cool from the broad hat, his body felt warm and he loosened his buttons. Just when he decided to sit down in a shady area, Rodolfo, the archbishop, approached out of nowhere.
                        “Good morning, Your Eminence!” he cried.
                        “Good morning,” Fratelli replied, nodding respectfully.
            Fanning himself from the sun’s heat, Rodolfo fidgeted with his glittering cross and then spoke;
“It’s a hot one today! So glad to find you… Can you come with me to the cathedral?”
Fratelli nodded again. It wouldn’t be right to refuse; he concluded but followed very hesitantly. Rodolfo noticed, turned around and eagerly gestured with his hand for him to hurry. Fratelli groaned. Seeing Fratelli’s frown, Rodolfo figured to start up a conversation.
                        “Did you enjoy the dance last night?”
            Now smiling, Fratelli answered, “Yes I did. In fact, I dreamed that I was dancing…”
                        “With Lydia?” asked the archbishop, suppressing a grin.
                        “No, with Michele.”
                        “Who is Michele?”
                        “Oh, she is a friend of mine.”
                        “A pretty friend?”
            Fratelli nodded a third time then replied, “Yes, she is married now… thank the Lord.”
Both men smiled. The sunlight and sounds of the lively city were pleasant. Two large seagulls flew overhead squawking. Salty air wafted around them. When they reached the green bank around the cathedral, Fratelli looked towards the oddly leaning bell tower.
                        “Would you like to go up there?” Rodolfo asked.
                        “Why, yes I would,” said Fratelli.
            Rodolfo looked awkward, reaching beneath his purple robes to snatch a key-ring. It jingled as he searched for the right one and unlocked the tower’s door. He gestured for Fratelli to go in first. Inside, cool air relieved him and damp dark. He removed his hat as Rodolfo followed after. Fratelli glanced up with amazement at the wide, looming bells. Morning dew still dripped from the cold metal. One drop landed on his nose and he snorted. Slowly, Fratelli climbed the spiral staircase and stopped, looking out an arched window at the city square. Several carriages shuffled past, people milled about. Some, probably vacationers like himself, paused and pointed in their direction.
Resting his hands against the cold, stone wall, Fratelli sighed. He thanked God for this restful moment. It was perfect up here. Eventually, however, he stepped back down the stairs, slowly as he’d come, and emerged outside. Keeping thoughts inside, he simply smiled while they strolled to the cathedral.
When they reached the central aisle, a thin priest appeared with several white-robed choir boys in tow. Rodolfo wanted more help with them. Instead of frowning or groaning, Fratelli patiently sat down. Standing next to Rodolfo, the priest looked as his exact opposite, lean and gaunt while the archbishop was plump and rosy-faced. The boys squirmed and stared at Fratelli as he rose.
                        “Let us learn to properly chant today,” he began.
                        Their little eyes fixed on him.
            Delicately lifting one hand, Cardinal Fratelli opened his mouth and intoned a chant, “Kyrie Eleison…”
                        The boys haphazardly repeated it. The cardinal cringed then tried again:
                        “Kyriiie, Eleeison…”
            They responded better this time. Fratelli stood there and worked with them for about an hour. When the boys learned to properly chant the Kyrie, albeit rather roughly, he slumped down in a pew and sighed with relief. Rodolfo laughed, watching the weary boys leave then turned to the equally weary cardinal.
                        “A handful aren’t they?”
                        Fratelli wiped his forehead, expressing silent agreement.

In appreciation, Rodolfo took Fratelli for a lunch of baked bread, cheese risotto and roasted crab soup. Arriving back to the hotel alone, he saw Mario standing near the doorway, worried and frowning.
                        “I needed to be alone,” Fratelli explained.
            Though still upset, Mario decided not to speak. He escorted Fratelli back to his room where the cardinal laid down for a nap.

A nearby chime announced the hour of one ‘O’clock as Fratelli stirred and rose. He combed his messy hair then strolled downstairs. He spent most of the evening milling about the hotel’s small library. Most of the books there were fictional but either romantic or about war. He vaguely flipped through them then began straitening the shelves. Later, he joined the others at supper.
Gianni, who had just returned from swimming, continued bothering Fratelli to swim. At last, the cardinal walked away. Mario followed.
“No, please stay. I am just going to stroll by the seaside,” Fratelli said, “I will be back soon.”
                        They understood and let him go.
            Trekking over soft sand, Fratelli eyed the moon, which formed a perfect, white circle, almost floating atop the waves. Silver light hit his smiling face as he listened to murmuring waters. The beach was entirely deserted. Fratelli gazed around, looking for a sign of life. Nothing but the moon, sand and sea accompanied him. Sitting upon a smooth rock, he removed his socks and dipped one foot into the sea. Its coldness startled him yet soothed after such a warm day.
His mind turned to swimming. Could he? Maybe he would just wade a little? Once again, Fratelli gazed around and saw no one. Quickly, Fratelli removed his outer shirt and pants, folding them neatly and waded almost waist-deep into the water. An abrupt, swirling wave soon knocked him off balance. He fell completely in! Spitting and squinting, his head emerged, still looking very surprised. “Well, I suppose I’m swimming whether I like it or not,” he mused to himself. In playful fashion, Fratelli spread out his arms and paddled in a circle. Then he dove, touched the sandy sea floor and re-emerged. His laughter echoed into the night.
He came out of the water, sat on the rock to dry off and spoke a grateful prayer:
O Precious Lord, thank you for this day, for this restful day. I suppose swimming isn’t as bad as I first thought…this night was perfect for me. Truly, the sea is full of wonder, your creation full of wonder.”
Suddenly something sticky and rather cold touched his leg. Seeing a tiny octopus wandering onto his foot, he jumped, shouting and shaking it off.  He snatched a stick and warily prodded the gooey creature back into the water.  When Fratelli returned to the hotel, still slightly wet with his hair dripping, Jan rushed forth with a dry towel.
                        “Oh, Your Eminence,” he gasped, “Did you fall into the ocean?”
                        “Sort of…”

Chapter 14.
                        The Rush.

On Sunday, Cardinal Fratelli rose early to celebrate Mass at the cathedral. He tried to give Rodolfo’s breviary back but the archbishop told him” Please, keep it.” Morning sunlight poured into the hotel bedroom as he began packing for the trip home. Gianni watched him carefully fold his clothes, including his red cassock along with an assortment of stockings. Gianni had previously shoved all his wrinkled clothes in a suitcase. He was ready to leave this place with its taunting locals and impatiently waited for the cardinal.
                        “I’m missing a stocking,” Fratelli suddenly said.
            Gianni snickered but one look silenced him. Fratelli began searching around and finally dug a scarlet stocking from beneath the bed. He sighed and packed it with the others.
                        “Can we get some gelato before we leave?” Gianni then asked.
            Mario glanced at his timepiece and gestured to indicate they had to leave soon. Fratelli began speaking but Gianni interrupted, “Please, we’ll be really fast.”
The cardinal shrugged. He too yearned for one last taste of the cold, savory treat. Mario took their bags while Fratelli departed with Gianni in tow. They promised to be back very soon.
Jan appeared, holding a large handbag. He peeked into the room and asked, “Where is his Eminence? We must be going soon.”
“He went for one last cup of gelato,” Mario answered.
Jan set the bag down and groaned.

Reaching the gelato-stand, Fratelli quickly ordered one chocolate cup and one cherry.
“I’m sorry sir, we are out of cherry,” the vendor said.
Fratelli shrugged.
            “I suppose I can try something different… I’d like chocolate then.”
Squinting in the sunlight, Fratelli leaned against a wall and ate the creamy dessert. Gianni suddenly tugged at his sleeve.
“Your Eminence,” he said, now pointing at the clock tower, “It is time to go.”
“Don’t you remind me what time it is,” Fratelli snapped then started towards the hotel. Gianni darted ahead of him and they increased their pace to a steady run. Gianni arrived first just as Jan and Mario were exiting the hotel. Fratelli lagged behind panting.
“Come on, Your Eminence, we will miss the noon train,” Jan cautioned.
They boarded a carriage and Jan urged the driver to go fast. Fratelli had barely sat down when the carriage bustled forth at full speed. He fell over onto Mario who steadied him. Gianni laughed, his body being tossed about. It was fun for him! Fratelli on the other hand, clenched an armrest and frowned. Within a half hour, they reached the train station. Fratelli was last to step down as Jan pointed and cried out, “Look, the train is preparing to leave!”
Indeed, curls of white steam rose into the air as heavy, metallic pistons began to churn.
“Oh no!” Fratelli shouted, making a headlong dash.
The train hadn’t started moving yet, so they still might make it! Gianni outran him and quickly jumped aboard the train, signaling the conductor to stop. His voice lost amidst an increasing clatter, the conductor mouthed the words: “Hurry!”
Mario reached the train next and handed over Fratelli’s bags. Suddenly, there was a jolt. A loud screech rang out and the huge wheels came alive. The train was leaving! Jan’s feet scrambled for a lower step, Mario helped him aboard and Fratelli lastly approached, running frantically. He shouted in frustration, knowing the pavement was scraping his fine shoes, gathered strength and leapt up. Mario’s strong hand caught him. While Jan patted his back reassuringly, Fratelli went inside the cabin. He breathed heavily from exertion, wiped his sweaty forehead and smiled faintly.
“Thank you O Lord!” he gasped “but I do not want that to ever happen again!”
The conductor took their tickets and led them to a private compartment. It looked very much like the place they sat before, probably was the same place. Saying nothing, Fratelli sat down in a plump seat and sighed with great relief. He lifted up his shoes and saw deep, scuff marks in the polished, black leather.
“Oh, my shoes…” he moaned.
“It is okay, Your Eminence,” Jan said, handing him a steaming cup of tea, “here.”
“Why, thank you,” Fratelli replied, taking small sips. The hot beverage calmed his nerves and he rested, staring out the window as trees and buildings blurred by. Now, he opened the crinkled pages of Rodolfo’s breviary and recited noonday prayer. Yes, he was rather late but remained content and at ease. Lateness seemed to be the tone of the day…

Chapter 15.

The train rhythmically clattered over the tracks. Fratelli leaned his head on one hand and stared out the window. Then gently, he reached for one of his bags and checked inside to make sure Dina’s teapot that he’d bought was still in one piece. Peeling away paper padding, he saw it looked fine. He checked the other gifts, careful not to reveal the licorice tin, and saw they were also safe. Sitting back in his seat, he sighed contently.
 Gianni, growing restless, asked to explore and Mario escorted him from the compartment. Now, it was just Jan and the cardinal. They eyed eachother but said nothing. This continued for several moments until Jan spoke,
            “Thank you, Your Eminence.”
                        “For what?”
                        Jan answered, “For being so gracious to me.”
            Fratelli suppressed a groan at the flattering words but knew that Jan truly meant it. Four months ago, when they’d met, Jan was serving the arrogant Lamberto II, son of the Duke of Tuscany. He practically begged Fratelli to hire him instead and the cardinal obliged. Since then, things were well. Feeling idle, Jan stood up and offered to fetch more tea.
                        “I would like that,” Fratelli said.
            Jan returned followed by Mario and Gianni. The boy began prattling about train wheels and steam, obviously amazed at this mode of travel.
                        “I want to be a train conductor when I grow up,” Gianni said.
                        “I thought you wanted to be a cardinal?” Mario replied.
            Fratelli straitened in his seat, smiling, secretly delighted at hearing this. Gianni gave him an apologetic look then concluded, “I’ll be both!”
They ate a light, satisfying lunch. Fratelli took the bowl of olives and mixed them into his bowl of cold ham salad. The hours dragged by into evening and then into night when at last; Lucca’s walls and flickering lamplights became visible from the window.
                        “Oh, we are home!” Fratelli shouted excitedly.
            The train began slowing and Fratelli prematurely jumped up, ready to leave. Suddenly the train stopped and jolted him. He tumbled back into his seat.
                        “Oh, Your Eminence!” Jan cried, rushing to help him.
            Fratelli nudged him away, stood and dusted himself off. Then, assuming a dignified air, pretending nothing happened; he opened the compartment door and led them out. Lucca’s ornate station greeted them. Tiredly, Fratelli stepped down onto the platform and yawned. Jan grabbed his arm to steady him.
                        “I’m fine,” the cardinal mumbled.
            They bid Mario a farewell and began walking to a stagecoach that waited. Wordlessly and wearily, they boarded, even Gianni making no sound. When they arrived to Fratelli’s dimly lit villa, the hour already drew past midnight. Dina came outside, carrying a bright lamp as Fratelli stepped onto the grass.
                        “Oh, Your Eminence, we’ve missed you!” she said.
                        “I missed being home as well,” Fratelli answered.
            He followed her inside and the smell of stewing vegetables hit his nose. His sides started aching…he didn’t realize how hungry he was. Gianni, of course, darted into the dining room and helped himself to the warm pot. Fratelli whispered a short blessing as the boy scooped food onto his plate. Then, he also ate. Rodrigo came from upstairs, himself looking very tired and met them.
                        “Oh, am I glad to see you!” Fratelli cried, “And you too Dina!”
            “I am very glad to see you, Your Eminence, it’s been hard work running this place without you. Now I may be in need of a vacation,” Rodrigo replied.
They laughed together. Dina took Gianni and went home for the night. Fratelli secretly wondered how she would react once learning of Gianni’s scuffle and the ruined suit. The hour was getting too late for thinking. Sitting at the table, he stifled a yawn.
“I must retire,” he said.
“Go on, go on,” Rodrigo said, “Your bed is waiting.”
Cardinal Fratelli readily went upstairs, washed his face and then lay down. He fell asleep fully-dressed, not bothering to put covers on. The next morning he awoke along with the rising sun. Yellow light warmed his skin as he sat up and stretched. He felt relaxed, vivified and very content, ready to face a new day. He washed, dressed in his usual red cassock and then went downstairs.
Oh, a beautiful morning indeed!” Fratelli said to himself, “Thank you Lord for such a restful vacation! It has restored my strength and whatever this day holds I shall meet with anticipant vigor!”
             While excitedly rushing to breakfast, his feet slipped on the hall’s Oriental rug. Hearing a clatter and a thud in the hallway, Dina smiled. He was back.

       ~ The End.

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