Authors: Nancy Barone Wythe
“Giuseppe, you go back into town and pretend nothing has happened. If anybody asks you, just say that I found Rea and you left us.”
“But what are you going to do?”
“No one knows of this cave!” Rea whispered, almost afraid of being overheard. “Calogero will never be found!”
“Go, Giuseppe, hurry!”
Their friend gave them one last glance, and crawled through the slit in the wall.
“We can’t leave him here to rot, Rea,” Alex explained.
Alex drew Rea into his arms and she let go, sobs shaking her slim frame. He took her face in his hands.
“I’m not letting anyone arrest you.”
“You can’t protect me, Alex.”
“Of course I can. There’s no way I’m letting you go. We’ll run away.”
“What? And leave the shop, your house? You paid so much money!”
“We’ll run to the mainland. Messina. Catania. Ragusa. Anywhere you want to go, sweetheart, and we’ll start a new life together.”
Rea reached up to touch his unshaven cheek. “You really do love me, don’t you?”
A loud explosion shook the cave. Alex caught his footing, steadying Rea whose eyes widened in shock. There was only one explanation.
“The volcano!” Alex exclaimed as he grabbed her hand. That lopsided crater had kept its promise of spilling out the entrails of the entire island after all. No one had ever thought it would erupt in their time. And now the only chance of survival was to go to the other side, or take to sea.
“Let’s go!” he shouted, pushing her through the exit, and they were no longer up to their waist in seawater. The sea had swollen, and Rea spluttered, drinking in water, unprepared. A panic seized her, and she knew she was going to die. She had hardly any air in her lungs, and only God knew how far up the surface was.
But Alex grabbed her wrist and she felt her body rise, surrounded by air bubbles as she fought to hold her breath. Suddenly bubbles enveloped her head, and she knew that after all the air had left her lungs, water would take its place.
And then her lungs seemed to explode as they filled with air. She was barely aware of Alex holding her as air sawed in and out of their lungs once again.
“To the shore! Hurry! We must get out of the water now!”
They swam north and before they gained dry land Alex was already pulling her. “Up here, run!” He yanked her up the side of the island as the water chased them, like a sea titan, up the hill to as far as it could reach.
Once safe from the roaring sea, they were enveloped in the smoke and ash that were already obscuring the sun.
Rea was blinded by the elements and by fear. All she was conscious of was an intense heat threatening to burn her body, and the darkness that was slowly covering the island.
Within moments they reached one of the highest spots, where they stopped to breathe, but there was no air left, just a gray fog that was quickly turning black. Rea buried her face into Alex’ shoulder, but then he tugged and up they went again among bramble, rocks and loose earth, as high as they could go.
And suddenly they stopped, horrified as another loud explosion riveted them to their spot. From where they stood they watched as the main crater, followed by a large portion of the peak, disintegrated and tumbled into the sea, slowly, inexorably, like a giant loaf of bread being torn open.
The air was now mostly ash, thick and heavy, causing them to gag.
“I can’t see you, Alex!”
“Hang onto my hand!”
And suddenly they couldn’t breathe, nor swallow, not even to hurl the ash particles out of their system.
Alex tore at Rea’s hand and he dragged her up the last few yards to her hut and yanked the door behind him, but even there dust swirled in heaps. He took off his shirt and dunked it into the barrels she kept as water reserves and put it against their faces, then guided Rea to lie under her makeshift bed, throwing himself upon her onto the cold dirt floor.
The hut shook. Beneath him, Rea shook, instinctively. Several times he had to block her, push her right into the ground, for her instinct was to flee.
“It’ll be over soon,” Alex promised, fearing that the end of the world, or their world at least, was near. For a brief moment he thought that indeed they might die, and that he would never be able to look into her beautiful face, nor hold her ever again. His grasp on her tightened as he quietly said a prayer. He had never done that before in his life, not even during the war. But now he was afraid to lose her, the only part of his life that had ever mattered. More than Beverley, more than his writing career, more than anything or anyone he had ever known.
He kept his eyes closed as the deafening sound of the churning earth filled their tiny hut, and his lips searched for hers in the darkness, found them and reveled in the eagerness of her response, and the way her hands soon began to clutch him…
Then the earth became silent, but hours passed before they dared move. “Listen,” she hissed after a while. “What’s that sound?”
Alex lifted his head.
“Fire!” she cried, moving to get up. “The juniper bushes are on fire!”
But Alex pushed her back. “There is nothing you can do. All hell is unleashed out there. Let nature take its course. We’re safe here.”
And as he spoke, thunder cracked the skies, unable to permeate it with its bolts of lightning, and rain began to pelt the tin roof, the sound so deafening it exceeded the roaring of the earth.
Alex went to the tiny window and opened it a crack, but coughed as the ash and debris filled his nose and mouth. He slammed the window shut.
“We need to see if the others are alright!” Rea said, rising to her knees.
“It’s too soon. The minute we open the door the ash will invade the room and our lungs. Let’s wait it out a bit longer until the ash stops falling.”
“Margherita… I hope she and her family are okay!” Rea whimpered, and suddenly it was useless to try to keep her calm. She wept and wept. Alex held her in his arms, rocking her back and forth.
“I’m sure everyone made it to safety. Most people were already inside their homes at that hour anyway.”
“The sea! What about the fishermen?”
Alex searched her face in the dark room. No one had been kind to her for years and now she was worried about their safety. Rea cared about these people that would have let her starve and humiliate herself for survival. But he knew that in Rea’s eyes all that was in the past, and that she considered the townspeople her family.
“Tomorrow morning we’ll go down and take a look. We can’t do anything yet. Now close your eyes and try to sleep, my love.”
Rea opened her mouth to protest, but he found her lips in the dark and kissed her, sleep being the furthest thing on their minds.
“Wait,” she whispered, scrambling up to her feet and over, by what he could tell, to the table. She lit a candle and joined him. A soft orange glow threw shadows against the mud walls behind him, magnifying the intensity of their solitude. Outside was the end of the world, yet here, for them, it was only the beginning of their passion, something greater than the two of them.
Rea pushed him back, towards the makeshift bed, and crouched over him, straddling his body, her skin the color of fire in the dim light.
He lifted his eyes to hers and found that she was observing him in turn, her eyes languid, and he felt himself grow hard on the spot.
He reached out and tugged at her dirty camisole until her breasts popped free and he watched as they rose and fell with excitement, and he ducked his head to run his tongue over a pink, hard peak. He licked and sucked it raw as she moaned and he moved to the other, squeezing her breasts in his hands, watching them go red under his ministrations.
She pushed out her chest to give him better access, the stubble on his cheeks grazing her skin, and this excited her so much she began to tug at her own panties.
“No, not yet,” he growled under his breath, his teeth grazing her flesh until she couldn’t take it anymore. “I want to see how long you can resist.”
After what seemed like forever, he moved his attention to her inner folds. She writhed, her legs rising above him as he rubbed his knuckles against her and she pushed up against his hand and the pressure increased.
“Faster,” she panted, her mouth open.
She watched his head as it disappeared between her thighs and his tongue darted inside her. She groaned, feeling she would faint with wanting.
“Please,” she moaned. “I can’t wait any longer.” Finally, after long moments, he finally entered her as he kissed her open mouth.
The thrill of survival made their love even more sizzling, like the fire in the bushes. He wanted to swallow her whole, drive as deep as he could and bury himself into her, like the lava boiling at the center of the earth, like the island plunging into the sea. He brought her to orgasm after orgasm, and he felt his passion exploding and his hips snapping into her again and again, until they cried out together and collapsed in exhaustion.
A gray dawn met the lovers. Alex cautiously opened the door a crack as Rea stood behind him, peering anxiously over his shoulder.
They stepped outside and looked about. The bushes and trees were gone. The houses were covered in soot and debris, and further down below the sea, as thick as treacle, slugged around slowly, weighted down by its new contents.
Before Alex could stop her, Rea darted down the hill into what was left of the town. The sloping square was full of heaps of debris and ash that had been swept aside in massive pillars everywhere.
Rea ran about, looking for familiar faces, and wept with joy when she spotted Margherita and her family.
Soon they all conglomerated in the piazza, all white-faced, silenced by the tragedy that had hit them all.
Alex searched the crowd for Giuseppe’s face, but there was no sign of him. Had the fool gone back to the cave to bury Calogero’s body?
Rea was laughing and crying with Margherita’s mother and some other of their customers. The store! Alex bolted past the crowd and skid to a stop. If not for the dirty facade, it looked perfectly intact.
Rea reached his side, red-faced and smiling. “Everyone is safe. Everything is going to be okay.”
“Giuseppe’s gone,” he whispered, and she paled instantly.
“I’m going to look for him. You stay here and help.”
Rea’s old fear returned. “No! I’m not leaving you!”
Alex sighed and held out his hand, and slowly they descended the slope down to the dark, thick sea.
After a few yards Rea grabbed his arm, her other hand over her mouth.
On the beach, or what was left of it, lay the remains of Giuseppe, their sincerest friend.
Rea sobbed and dashed for him, but the young man’s eyes no longer saw.
Alex sunk to his knees and wept alongside Rea. Finally, after long moments, Alex hauled the man onto his shoulder and back up the hill toward the church.
* * * *
The funeral was a simple one among the debris in the Piazza as the church had not yet cleared of the dust hanging thick in the air. Everywhere faces reflected the tragedy of Giuseppe’s death. He had been the only victim. He would have been alive if he hadn’t gone back to bury Calogero.
“He died trying to save me from going to jail,” Rea sobbed softly, and Alex grabbed her elbow and lead her to one side.
No. He died to save
from going to jail.
She shook her head, and he grabbed her elbows.
“It’s too dangerous to stay here, Rea. Let’s move somewhere else.”
“We can move to the province of Ragusa. It’s beautiful.”
Rea stared up at him as if not seeing nor hearing him.
At dusk, a ship and a coach ride later, they reached the foot of Ragusa Ibla on the southern coast of Sicily. Alex helped her down and Rea gasped at her surroundings. It looked like a prince’s city, tinged with the golden light of the departing sun. Precious Baroque buildings and beautiful gardens sat atop small hillocks, and the air perfumed of jasmine and orange blossoms.
Here, they would start a new life together. Alex would finally finish his book and she would learn to enjoy life. Alex took her in his arms and they looked into each other’s eyes, but a veil of sadness clouded hers.
I didn’t foresee - Giuseppe’s death. I
Alex’ hand squeezed hers. “Then you’re healed, Rea. You’re finally free, sweetheart.”
And she was. Free from her superstitions, free from her fears, and from Calogero. She had lost the power to foresee death. But she had gained the much greater power of love.
In 1952 Rea gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Caterina. Their new friends in Ragusa Ibla flocked to see the love child, gifts in their arms, respect in their eyes. None of them knew that Rea, a little abandoned urchin found on the beach, had grown into a beautiful, loving woman and doting mother. All she had needed was a chance. And the love of the right man.