Maria hurried through the Piazza Bellini and up the steps of St Maria dell’Ammiraglio. Three generations of cement and bricks held tradition together, and now it kept Maria from falling apart. Standing in the overgrown courtyard, hidden by the shadows of the trees, she drew hard on her cigarette and clenched her teeth together before dropping the remains of her lipstick-stained cigarette; she smothered the butt and her guilt with the toe of her red patent shoe, before slowly walking into the church.
The sound of her footsteps echoed through God’s house, she placed one knee on the hard floor and made the sign of the cross as she slid into a row of pews. The small windows on each side of the church allowed the sunlight to flood through their panes and across the floor. A single ray rested on Maria, highlighting the blue and green tones of her flesh. She buried her head into her chest, and began to call on a higher being: “Holy Father, I am lost…” The silent tears sparkled down her cheeks.She raised her head and stared into the eyes of a suffering face. A wooden cross held the image of Christ, frozen in a moment of agony.
The shadow of Father Bonvinn appeared across her body; he could see the pain she wore openly on her face. Maria turned her head towards the figure and looked into his compassionate eyes. Sitting amongst the divine she found reassurance, this old church had become her sanctuary away from a life that she had so naively chosen. “Father, I have married a monster.”Speaking in low sobs, Maria continued: “There are generations of girls and women obeying the code that their husbands live by. Pretending, ignoring what their husbands and fathers are…what their lives are.” Catching her breath, she could see the look of alarm in the old man’s face. She had gone too far, said too much. She had just broken the Cosa Nostra’s golden rule and as she tried to regain control of her emotions, her eyes turned to her swollen stomach. She wanted a better life for her baby, away from the violence and lies, but she was self-destructing and dragging her unborn child along for the ride.
Maria found herself without words. She couldn’t explain how she felt...nothingness was running through her veins. All she could do is stare at him, with pleading eyes; eyes that had witnessed the devil in action and with the knowledge that she could never escape that she had also played her part. Snap shot images flooded her head; her conscience would never be clear, was she even capable of loving someone without destroying them?
Maria’s still expression seemed to talk to him, it was almost as if he understood her silence. His old eyes rested on her distressed face; reaching for the clasp of his gold chain he began to tell her a story. His soft voice spoke to her with care and compassion:
“He will overshadow thee with his shoulders and under his wings thou shalt trust.” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Psalms 91:4). He started to smile, but could see Maria’s soul had been beaten to just a faint wisp. The words were those of a divine protection, one that he wanted Maria to have faith in.
Her lips trembled, if she opened her mouth now the air would be filled with her tormented sobs. If only God could wrap her up in a protective layer…and maybe faith was the best offer Maria had right now. It was probably more than she deserved, why should anyone rescue her; she too was one of those monsters.
Father Bonvinn had been struggling to unhook the clasp on the St Christopher that hung around his neck, but with it now free he pushed it into Maria’s palm, whispering: “Have faith Maria.” Maria smiled, not because the tiny gold pendant was a symbol of divine protection, there was no force strong enough to stop the Cosa Nostra, but because she knew she had scared the shit out of him and he was just a priest trying to offer an emotional parishioner some kind of comfort and now she needed to give him some kind of reassurance. His parish had become her sanctuary and that was far more than she deserved, and this personal gesture was definitely more than her rotting soul deserved.
As his figure disappeared between the wooden pews, she thought about her current situation. 10 years ago, if anyone had suggested that Maria would want to spend most of her days in Church, she would have laughed aloud and quickly assume that they knew nothing about her. Maria had always seen Churches as dusty old bricks; stuffed full of old beliefs that caused wars and conflict between neighbours, but that was then and this was now. This small Church with its bright windows offered her protection, even if it was for just a short while. It gave her a place to go to without suspicion, not even Antonio could stop her coming to visiting God’s house.
The sun rested its warmth on her cheek and as she drifted into solitude, she wished she could stay there forever, but most of all she wished that she could change the choices she had made…was she the war? She thought back to the moment it began, the eighteen candles that sealed her fate.
THE BEAST INSIDE
I was driving down the 101 when I spotted what looked like a woman trying to push her husband over the side of the barrier. Shit! What kind of crazy fuckers do they have out here? I pulled over nearly taking the railing out and pushing that old man right over the edge. Turns out he was just throwing up over the side and I nearly caused them both a heart attack. I decided that I was in no fit state to drive, plus the hire car was now in pretty bad shape, so I headed across the road to the only possible option, a bar, the only bar.
Noon and well, no other time better to start on the gin. Yep, make mine a double. Gin is a nasty drink that is usually found beside a roaring electric fire, in the hand of an old lady, but this was a nasty situation and it called for a drink that could match it.
I could see the look on the barman’s face (I stand just about 5ft tall). He had just seen me smash the hire car into the side of the road, but I’d come in for a drink and I couldn’t help thinking that if I was a man his reaction might have been different.
I repeated my order in case he didn’t hear me, when he seemed unable to respond, I served myself. I knew that this couldn’t last forever, as I was damn sure that no bar I knew of was self service, and most likely the bearded barman would be calling the police on me in about 10 minutes, so just enough time to get a few drinks down my neck.
I found myself a seat by the window, one that blocked out the wrecked car I had left behind, but my peace doesn’t last for long, as the bearded barman finds his voice.
“Listen here missy. I saw what happened out there. It’s not pretty… I know that you’re probably in shock, but you might need to…errm…report that to someone, maybe even see a doctor.”
I tell him I’m fine, but does he have a food menu? He begins to talk again and I try to block him out, but this guy seems to be fixed on the wreck outside. He is not going to give me any rest. I can hear him telling me to stay put as I pour my second glass of gin, God damn! I’m only going to get two drinks at this rate. He starts to tell his wife or girlfriend to call the police, but I’m already leaving the bar.
I go back to the car, but it’s a definite write-off, I sip my gin and continue on foot. This place is pretty, not just beautiful, but breath taking…still I don’t want to be walking in 80 degree heat for the rest of the day, there was no choice I needed a phone.
I decided to walk in the middle of the road that way if a car came in either direction it would have to stop. I was walking a while before a car finally came; my gin was now just old ice water. The driver and his wife looked horrified as they stared at me through the window screen of their family estate car. No point taking the glass, it seemed to alarm the couple. Ah what the hell, they might have refreshments inside.
“Are you ok honey?”
I explained that I needed a phone, car, and immediate refreshments. They were heading down the coast and were unsure about the refreshments and car, but would take me to the nearest pull-in that had a phone. Like all good citizens they tried to quiz me, find out if I was a run away. I told them that I was on a mission, top secret! The government would kill me and them if I leaked anymore information. I continued to speak in riddles, knowing that this would stop any further questioning, and confirm to them that I was unstable.