perfect against the brilliant sky
whispering beauty to the wind
the Temple stands
reflected by the sea
long ago I called your spirits
hiding behind Doric columns
fearful they might hear
and so awake them
from ancestral sleep
I will climb the narrow path
to the Temple on the mountain
not as I did once in childlike fear
I will wait for them to wake
The climb to the top was steep, the only access, a narrow winding
path. Ruts and dislodged stones from torrential winter storms, and an
occasional fallen tree branch made the ascent difficult.
The Mediterranean sun beat down without mercy on two small figures
moving slowly up the mountain, their slender young bodies bent over to steady
themselves against the strong wind. They made this climb many times before,
but never in August, when the dreaded sirocco blew across the island, its
fiery fingers reaching as far as Arles across the sea.
The sisters' fine leather sandals, not fit for climbing, gave little
protection against the rough terrain. Whenever Gina cried out in pain, Ariana
stopped to wipe away the tears and comfort her. Nonna Maria, reluctant
though she was about her grandchildren's frequent visits to Monte Erice,
would give permission only if an older cousin went with them. This Sunday
morning, amid the chaos, the tears, the cries of anguish, Gina and Ariana
hurried away without consent.
Ariana extended a dusty hand to her younger sister, helping her up the
last few steps to the plateau. The hot wind, slightly cooled by the sea
below, was now bearable. In a few minutes they would reach the Temple that
loomed in all its majesty before them. This is where Gina and Ariana, and
cousin Lola spent many hours away from the prying eyes of adults. When it
was too warm to play, cousin Lola recited stories about Venus, who rose from
the sea in her golden cockleshell chariot and her son Eryx, the giant.
Reaching the Temple, the two sisters sat in their favorite spot near the
altar that Venus built, their usual high spirits subdued by exhaustion and
Gina broke the quiet.
"Ariana... I'm thirsty."
Ariana got up and led the way to a shallow brook that would become a deep
river as it flowed down into the valley. In cupped hands they drank the
clear cool water, then splashed some on their flushed moist faces. They sat
down on the mossy bank, kicked off their dusty sandals, and stepped carefully
into the water. The sight of frightened minnows scattering in all directions
made them laugh, forgetting for the moment the fearful scene earlier.
The morning had started out happy and full of anticipation. They were
going to Palermo, to a Festa, in celebration of Santa Rosalia. Nonno Pepe had
prepared the painted cart with bells and ribbons, and harnessed Titina the
mule, for the short journey to Palermo. There, they would meet other family
members. The previous day, the sisters' uncle Vito, had gone hunting with his
best friend. They planned to cut the hunt short on this Holy Sunday, and join
in the celebration.
Gina and Ariana had finished a breakfast of bread and coffee. They were
busy helping nonna Maria pack lunch, when they heard zia Flora's shrill cry.
It was difficult at first to understand her. But as she came closer to the
house, her cries became clear and terribly familiar.
"Compare Vito is dead! They have killed him!"
Gina was still too young to comprehend. Ariana had heard those ominous
words before. Only a few months ago, Donna Caterina's son, Andrea, was found
dead, a cork forced into his mouth. He lay on his back on the cobblestone
piazza, blood oozing from the many lupari gunshots; eyes wide open, still
filled with terror of his own death.
"I want to go home. I'm hungry," complained Gina.
Ariana answered with adult patience.
"In a little while we'll go back."
"Are we going to the Festa?"
"It's too late."
"Ariana, I'm afraid. Are you afraid?"
Ariana's answer was slow and careful.
"Yes... a little.."
"I don't like Zia Flora. She made nonna Maria cry. Why did she
"I think it's because.... zio Vito is never coming back."
"Never, ever? Why?"
Gina's dark eyes opened wide in disbelief. Ariana had to tell her now.
"Gina....listen....some bad men killed zio Vito ... like they did
Gina choked back tears.
"That's not true! He'll come back. Zio Vito always comes back.
He promised to bring me green almonds."
"Gina ... Gina....zio Vito is dead. We will never see him again.
He's up in
heaven with Andrea."
"No....no! Don't say that! He's home...you'll see...and he
will come to the Festa. Please Ariana....let's hurry home."
Gina was hysterical now. Lenora's frantic calling was barely audible
over Gina's loud cries, as she appeared at the edge of the plateau. Gina
scrambled to her feet, and ran into her aunt's waiting arms. Ariana put on
her sandals and picked up her sister's pair.
"Zia Lenora, is...is...zio Vito still in the piazza?"
"No Ariana. He's home now."
"Do we have to go home? Do we have to see him?"
"No cara....you and Gina can stay with me for a while."
Ariana trembled. For the first time that day she cried. Lenora embraced
and kissed her. With Gina holding tight to her aunt's apron, they started
the long slow descent.
Copyright © 1998 Angela Contino Donshes. All Rights Reserved