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Authors: Nancy Barone Wythe

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BOOK: The Obsession and the Fury
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The young woman stared at the man, then at his wife and with a swift movement, spun on her heels and stalked out of the shop. On the threshold she stopped and picked up a large jar of sun dried tomatoes and flung it across the shop. Alex started and turned to see Don Antonio duck just in time as the mirror behind him cracked right in the center as if hit by a single bullet.


Puttana! Puttana!”
slut
, his wife yelled, her bony hand shooing her out. Her husband slowly resurfaced from under the counter, his few white hairs standing stark against his tanned scalp, his dark eyes huge.

“You saw that! E’ pazza!” the elderly woman screamed at the others who watched open-mouthed, crossing themselves.

The last thing Alex saw was the swirl of her flowered dress disappear out the door.

* * * *

That evening Alex changed into his good clothes and joined the men strolling in the piazza. He wanted to know who the girl was.

There, he bumped into the parish priest who welcomed him and introduced himself as Don Raffaele.

“I heard what happened in Don Antonio’s shop this morning,” the pious man said quietly.

Alex searched his face, wondering why he would bring it up with him of all people.

“The people here are good, charitable people, but some things they don’t tolerate.”

“Like what?”

“Rea, mostly. She’s an outcast. Since her shepherd left to go back to Girgenti she has been penniless and now Antonio refuses to give her business because of what she’s done and also because he knows the man’s not coming back. Rea doesn’t have anyone to support her, and rumor has it she now sells her body to survive, poor girl.”

“You said the people were charitable here, though.”

The priest regarded him as if he was an idiot. “The men she sleeps with are married to those women, Signor Ford.”

“Ah.”

“Don Antonio and Donna Vincenzina had taken her in when she was twelve. She had been abandoned on the island at night. Antonio found her sleeping in the sand, barefooted and afraid. No one knows where she came from.”

Alex found himself intrigued. It’s like one of those nineteenth-century novels by Giovanni Verga, he thought to himself.

“You said they won’t accept her money- what did she do exactly?”

The priest sighed benevolently. “They took her in to do the cleaning. For two years everything went well. They adored her and she adored them.”

“Then what happened?”

“Womanhood.”

“What?”

“Ah, my foreign friend, you laugh because you don’t live here. In a town where beauty is an unforgivable sin, Rea is the Anti-Christ.”

“Just because she’s beautiful?”

“No, not just because she’s beautiful. Because she has the fire of Satan inside her. Men that have had her say that she…she…” the priest blushed. Alex couldn’t believe an educated man could actually behave like that.

Don Raffaele cleared his throat. “It is the usual story. Rea seduced their son Paolo. The boy was so obsessed he wanted to marry her. He even threatened to go to the mainland and marry her there if they didn’t accept their union.”

“Then what happened?”

Don Raffaele shrugged. “Then came Calogero, a shepherd from Girgenti. He built the shack she lives in and took her there. The townspeople were glad she was out of the way.”

“So where is he now?”

“Who knows? He had come in hiding, he left in hiding. Calogero was always a bandito. And Rea was perfect for him. At night he would beat her and she would scream her head off. Once she even tried to kill him. ”

Jesus Christ! It seemed Rea was the devil in person in those parts. “Doesn’t it cross anyone’s mind that she may not be the devil she seems?”

“We do not judge her, Mr. Ford. God does.”

“Well, while God judges her, maybe someone should help her. She seems pretty ostracized to me. How’s the girl supposed to survive?”

“She goes fishing every morning. She eats what she catches.”

“What about everything else?”

“She has nothing else.”

“Can’t the Church do anything for her?”

“And alienate its people? No, Mr. Ford. Rea is a lost cause. Lost for good. And I strongly advise you to keep away from her. She is like the Sirens tempting Ulysses. She’ll trap you with her wiles, and you won’t know what hit you.”

CHAPTER FOUR

The next day Alex went back to Antonio’s shop. He regretted that it was the only one on the island. It gave the man power. A power Alex resented. He didn’t think much of the old hypocrite. His son might have wanted to marry Rea, but Alex had seen the look on the old man’s face when she had walked in. He had seen the lusty glint as his eyes undressed her at his leisure, like one would undress a prostitute, and not a woman he loved. He had been cruel and resolute.

Antonio greeted Alex this morning with exaggerated politeness, as if expecting him to endorse his version of the story the day before which had apparently become the event of the year. Women who had missed it were gasping and shaking their heads as he showed them the cracked mirror as one would a trophy.

Alex knew exactly what he needed today. Sugar, pasta, salt, meat, rice, fresh vegetables, fruit, home-made soap, candles and paraffin. And a pair of stockings. He noticed Rea was the only bare-legged woman on the island.

He was wondering how he was going to see her again when he spotted her, wearing a different dress but of the same kind of flowery print as the day before. His box of groceries on his shoulder, he slowly followed her away from the piazza, through narrow backstreet's that winded their way up the craggy hill.

Every now and then she turned to look at him over her shoulder, aware he was on her heels, and quickened her pace. Because she was afraid of him? Or because she wanted to get him home as soon as possible, in the privacy of her own house? Alex’s blood began to rush. Hell, he was after all a guy.

The naughty thought quickened his pulse, and the curve of her bottom became more and more enticing with every step she took. He noticed the slender calves and ankles, the narrow waist and straight shoulders. He wondered whether all they said about her was true. Did she sell her body, that marvelous siren’s body, for food?

The thought of other men atop her had somewhat cooled his spirits and he found he was lagging behind, as if almost repelled now by a possible encounter. With one last look, she stopped and glanced at him before turning around the last bend. They were now on the goat path leading past the shack and his house.

Alex blinked as she quickly pulled open and closed her front door shut in his face.

It was the shack he had passed with the fisherman. The shack where there was nothing but trouble.

Alex stood, stupefied as he took in the corrugated roof covered in loose pantiles. Don Raffaele was right about one thing. She was poor. He was certain that it rained in there and a good gust of wind would blow it down.

Taking a deep breath, Alex squared his shoulders and knocked on the door.

A moment later it opened a cinch, the sunlight knifing across her face.

He wasn’t prepared for her shotgun eyes and now he felt like an idiot standing before her like a peddler with a box full of wares. He cleared his throat and smiled.


Buongiorno, Signorina Rea
,” he said in his wobbly Italian. “My name is Alex Ford. Antonio said he’s very sorry and asked me to bring this to you.”

Rea watched him warily for a moment, and then opened the door wide to survey the box as Alex finally got a good close up. She
was
not only beautiful. She was young. Too young to live like a prostitute.

She took a step closer and saw the stockings, and suddenly let out a shrill scream, startling him as in one swift movement she flung the box out of his hands and into the dust at his feet.

He backed away, wide-eyed as she snatched the items up one by one and threw them at him and the juniper bushes behind him, each swing accompanied by a pained, animal-like scream.

Alex stared at her in shock, ducking as she lunged a bag of sugar at him.

“Ahhh!” he groaned, covering his nose, his eyes wide in astonishment.

She threatened him with another parcel when he said, “I’m going, I’m going!”

She stood panting, watching him go as large tears ran down her face.

CHAPTER FIVE

Alex wiped the blood from his caked nose with a cloth in the tin washbasin in the bedroom. She was a maniac! No wonder everybody hated her! She could have killed him! Her eyes alone conveyed her hatred, and the language was unbelievable. She seemed possessed by the devil, spewing out all sorts of obscenities, the chords in her neck sticking out. He had never seen anything like it. Back home the ladies were sweet and smiling. This one was a demon from hell. He was lucky he didn’t get close enough for her to scratch him, for he was sure she’d have gouged his eyes out.

Why had she reacted like that? All he wanted was to be nice. Give her a hand, show her not everyone on the island hated her. Now he knew why.

She had lost it when she saw the stockings. And then he understood his mistake. He had told her Antonio sent them. Judging by the way he looked at her, Antonio must have approached her for her favors. Was he a customer of hers? If so, why refuse her credit? And then he remembered Donna Vincenzina’s gnarled hands shooing her away. Of course. The wife was jealous and Antonio made sure he was above suspicion.

Alex had to set the record straight. He didn’t want to make things worse between Rea and her fellow islanders. God knew she was in enough trouble as it was. Here women didn’t work like back home, but depended on their husbands for survival. Rea had no husband, and apparently no friends. Even the priest seemed to enjoy telling Alex about Rea. She was totally alone, if not even a man of God was willing to give her a hand.

* * * *

When Rea opened the door he lifted the bouquet of flowers he had picked along the path, and the same odd feeling from the day before overwhelmed him.

Her eyes narrowed in confusion, then widened when she saw his nose.

“I’m sorry for yesterday,” he heard himself say in his best Italian. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It was not Antonio who sent you the groceries; they were from me.” And with that, he gave her the flowers and a bar of chocolate he had brought from the States, knowing there was no such thing in Sicily. Alex walked away down the dusty hill, wishing he had had an excuse to stay longer. She was extremely different, and befriending her was not going to be easy.

She watched him in silence, and then whistled. A short, curt whistle, as if calling her dog.

Alex turned in surprise. She stood on the threshold, stock still, and even from this distance, her eyes burned though him. She nodded imperceptibly and he found himself going back uphill.

The dirt- floored shack contained two chairs, a table and several large basins full of water lined up against the wall. Next to the largest was a stand that held a ceramic bowl containing a large gray clump that Alex recognized as home-made soap. Above it was a tarnished mirror and a threadbare linen towel. In the corner there was a fire burning and a large iron tripod with a black pot simmering on top. In the opposite corner was a makeshift bed with a straw-filled, lumpy mattress and a coarse wool blanket. By a tiny window at the back the black and blue flowered dress she had been wearing yesterday hung to dry. The shack was spotless. But Alex had never seen such poverty in his whole life.

Rea pulled out a chair for him and moved about the room as he watched. She dipped a small cloth into one of the basins and wrung it. She bent to him and placed the cool cloth on his nose. As she did so, a pendant swung out from between her breasts, dangling before his eyes. It was a gold cross. He had never thought of her as a Christian. She didn’t go to church, Don Raffaele had intimated. Why would she, just to get scoffed at by the women and leered at by the men?

He stood still as she dabbed at his nose as he looked up at her. Rea’s skin was flawless, fresh and elastic, with a tiny beauty mark above her lip. Her dark hair hung heavily down to her waist, and was tied back with a red ribbon. Her lashes were extremely long and thick, and her body smelled like the sea on a windy day. Alex swallowed, his throbbing nose forgotten.

She wet and wrung the cloth once more and left it on his nose for him to hold. She turned away and opened a tiny flap and extracted some onions, potatoes and tomatoes which she began to peel in silence, ignoring Alex completely.

When she lifted her gaze from the potatoes, he was once again mesmerized by the depths of her eyes that went beyond beauty, beyond intensity. They told a story of dejection and bitterness.

His eyes dropped to her slim hands and long fingers, then to her feet. She walked barefoot around the room. Her shoes, cast off and left neatly in the corner, were squeaky clean, but torn. Alex’s heart went out to her, and he became angry that a young girl should be left alone to live like this; without any chance of redemption. How could anyone abandon Rea to her own resources? And then again there was Don Raffaele’s sardonic answer. Womanhood. Rea’s beauty was beyond any other woman’s. Her natural elegance and stance were worthy of Hollywood actresses back home. If DeMille had lain his eyes on her he would have had the most beautiful Delilah in the world, and without warning he was flushed with anger, a sense of injustice that transcended the laws of nature. She was society’s scapegoat.

Rea laid out two bowls, a flask of red wine and half a loaf of bread. Before he knew it she was dishing up noodles in a thick vegetable soup. Where had she found this food? A man had provided it, surely? Alex’s stomach closed and he couldn’t eat a bite.


Mangia
,” she ordered, as if sensing his reluctance, and he lifted his eyes to her, but she avoided his gaze, busily tearing up bits of bread for her soup. Alex bent his head and began to spoon the food into his mouth. It was delicious. He glanced at her a few times, but she continued to ignore him, staring ahead of her as if she were on her own. As she always had been. Rea believed she needed no one. Perhaps she was right.

BOOK: The Obsession and the Fury
9.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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