Time heals what reason cannot. ~Seneca
It didn’t feel like any old ordinary day in my garden that March 1960, as the Australian Raven flew up onto the power-line and barked its call. The power-line swayed a little, attached to a graffiti plagued power pole that was attached to a particular transformer that buzzed too much. The reason it wasn’t all that ordinary was because I was feeling rather dreamy and relaxed. Everything was slow and THAT wasn’t all that ordinary, especially with three year old grandchildren most weekends, two respected literature blogs to maintain, messy year 7 school assignments to mark and a husband who swears at me in Italian when the sink has only a few dirty dishes. Yet at that indulgent lazy moment, for no reason I could ascertain, the transformer seemed to amp its buzz, just a minor decibel or two. This I found was a little eerie, not to say rightfully curious, but on top of that it was right before, splash! Tock! The hose tip I was using to water the white Chrysanthemums launched itself head-first into the wooden fence. These curios events however were nothing compared to when all of a sudden, everything, including time, seemed to slow to a near pause and I was suddenly entranced by the flowing sounds and sights of the clear tube of water, how it flashed in crystallization in the straight spokes of the butter-autumn sunshine.
In a two world blink, I was suddenly back in a familiar dancing meadow, the forest outskirts of Grazzanise, Sicily, 1943. Back looking into the flowing brook waterfall near the foot of a large hill that towered like a sitting Buddha, looking out over the nearby seaside. Being there again, ahh, it just felt so vibrant with life force, as if everything glowed with little inner lights under the cellophane of existence. The wild rosemary, the honeysuckle, the daisy bushes, the geraniums, the spring! O the spring… Yet it was crossed with a fearful memory, no! They can’t come here…. No! That sound, it’s just a bee hive… Forget about it, I bet the silly Domarcos have been throwing rocks at them again. But where has the bird song gone? Why is it so dark all of a sudden? Was I so busy picking flowers that I missed the approaching darkness in those clouds? Then the shadows! O the unnatural shadows struck me. NO!!! Not here! The birds of hell have come! Demons in the sky!! I screamed at them from my heart “YOU AREN’T MEN!!” And then the town’s air raid sirens began to scream too. I leapt like a dear from a forest fire towards the house with my only two thoughts, where were the bomb shelter keys? And most of all, where were my children, all alone.
Two of the latter thoughts of fear rushed to quell me as I rounded the slate garden path, clinging to me as I tried to calm them with fearless words; “don’t worry, they won’t come here…” yet the truth remained, I was trembling as they lifted their heads from my dress towards the formation darkened sky. And where was Ariana? Where was my eldest? Why did she have to be so in love? Fungula! Calm yourself. They have a shelter too, family quarrels can wait, wait until it’s over. Find the keys quick, O by the grace of Christ! Let me find the keys. A second wave of P-38’s passed overhead, I had remembered their name from when Lorenzo listened to the news on the radio. Lorenzo thought the Allies would never bother with Sicily, we were much too small, and the Fascists would blow over the Parliament in time, nothing would really disturb our peace. Boom! The first root shaking blasts, a couple of km’s away, they were carpet bombing Civilians! The Criminals! The spectre servants of Lucifer! Where were the keys? Not in the kitchen cupboard spots, not in the lounge coffee table draws, where would he have put them? Was he so angry that he lost them? Why didn’t he tell me!
Boom! Another blast shook my memory, the night before he left to fight in Egypt he had been reading a book of mine, actually reading Dante! My heart leapt for joy as the ring tinkled on the shaft and fell into my hands. I ran out of the kitchen back door as I heard and then saw my hearts greatest fear, a low flying angel of death beginning an arcing swoop for my home, our life. Quickly as I could, I swooped my children into my arms and ran into the underground cellar in the back yard. But as I went to close the door, the door with a star on the handle, my soul almost pounded out of my body, “Mumma! Mumma! I’m coming Mumma!” But Ariana was too late, a world ended in a fiery boom, the words “mumma” echoing in my empty consciousness as it all went white.
“Mumma! Mumma! Wake up Mumma!” it was Jianna, her high cheek bones below anxious crystal blue eyes, but I didn’t recognise her at first, she was so grown up, “are you ok mumma?” she said. I was so confused, my head was aching “what? Where am I? ARIANA!” I rushed to find her, but getting up caused my head to explode with a giga-watt throbbing pain. They all looked at each other with concern, “Ariana?” I suddenly realised where I was and shook my head, I was safe, back in the new home, back in Doncaster. My husband was franticly talking on the phone, no doubt wasting time and other people’s money on an ambulance I didn’t think I’d need. “Lorenzo!” I commanded, “why are you bothering them Lorenzo, I’m ok there’s nothing to fear about a little day dream.” “But mumma” Adelle protested “you passed out mumma, little Joey came to find me mumma, o he was so worried, he said that you were standing there looking at the flowing hose for ages mumma, just standing there, then you fell over in the garden with a yell! We have not been able to wake you for…” But as the rapids of her concern flowed over me I couldn’t concentrate, all of a sudden the room started to spin, “look at mummas eye Vito” I felt lightheaded, a deep vertigo, I then remembered Dantes poem, the one where the bomb shelter key was hidden, Lorenzo looked at me, dark penetrating eyes from the phone, he put it down without saying good bye.
I felt the urge to speak to him, to recite, they were a poetry sensitive family and a calm hush fell over them as I spoke; “Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy, but now was turning my desire and will, even as a wheel that equally is moved, the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.” And as I spoke the last syllables, I looked out the window looking for the evening star, my daughter. Yet with no stars in the sky I felt the grief at losing my eldest hit me like a tsunami, an age old grief returning from the depth of my soul, I began to sob , crashing convulsions and heaving breathes and my family embraced me, heart and soul. “I’m not waiting” said Lorenzo, and Vito agreed, the girls put a grey woollen blanket around me and I was hustled into the car. I was feeling so delirious and beginning to think they were right to be so concerned. My head was full of throbbing pain and everything was so slow, dream-like and blurry.
We got out onto the freeway and the blurs increased their ghost streak on the world, everything, as if in a white rapid. All until a moment of clear-quartz clarity where the sky was filled with huge grey beast like clouds and a single silver-golden ray illuminated an old green farmers truck next to us. There in the passenger’s seat, a small girl was looking at me with a furrowed brow. I couldn’t handle her look, such fear and worry from such innocence, I averted her gaze. But looking back again she was suddenly my eldest, she smiled, “Ariana!” I yelled, but in a blink she turned back to the farmer’s daughter who, to my numb wonder, fogged the window with her breath and drew a six pointed star and then behind the star she then made the sign of the cross with her hand as tears streamed down my face.
My youngest Adelle embraced me “she’s in heaven mumma, she’s ok mumma, she’s with god”. Sobbing, I averted the girls penetrating gaze again. Yet a moment later, I understood and felt a kind of divine bliss at this strangers blessing, a bliss I had only known in my younger days in the church, in prayer with god. I then smiled back at her and looked down to the whirring wheel, the hub cap glinted just like the water from the garden, everything silenced, slowed to a near pause once more.
In a two world blink, I was suddenly sitting on hard wooden slats of a bumpy troop carrier, looking at the glinting hub capped wheel of the carrier next to us. Then I looked down, reached under the grey, drenched woollen uniform I was wearing, pulled out a necklace, kissed it and said a prayer to a god I did not know. A soldier to my right laughed and in Italian said “Giavani you mad man, which heathen God do you think is going to help us here? These are easy gates of hell my friend, you’ll only find the test of our strength and skill in this place…” I looked at him and smiled defiance. Yes I knew this stocky, dark chiselled man talking here, I would know that confident humorous undertone anywhere, it was my husband, we were about to approach the Egyptian front at Sidi Barrani, 1940.
Boom! A mortar shell hit the far side of the truck I was staring at, which screeched off and ditching head first into the grey muddy bank. Our driver swerved and hit the accelerator and I could hear the radio man going crazy. A few more mortar hits barely missed us, one making my ears ring as the bumps made the world utter chaos, but we had made it, we were lucky, we had a trench at the top of a hill, we had machine guns, thick sand bags and the safety of some of the best armoured vehicles Italy had ever made. “They say they’ve broken through to the south” I said, “ha! Let them come… I can shoot fifteen at a time from a place like this” boasted Lorenzo, I believed him too, the British were foolish in trying to take this city, we were expected to win easily when our reinforcements arrived and then storm through the rest of Egypt.
As we disembarked, another mortar shell hit close by, I started to wonder if these actually were mortars considering the size and intensity of the explosions. As I wondered about this my fears were quickly confirmed with the groaning whir of an enemy Bomber in the cloud. Luckily, a mobile anti aircraft truck pulled up beside us and started hammering flack shells into the air, shortly after, as we headed into the trench, a distant cloud alighted with a warm boom, illuminating the hearts of the troop in a great “hurrah!” “Still think we need God my friend?” said Lorenzo, I only smiled and ducked over the edge for a few shots at the enemy.
Then it was de’ja’ vu, I could hear another heart thumping whirr of an aircraft engine close by, on approach to our position. And then it appeared, like a phantom hell-bird out of the grey-beast cloud, a Hurricane fighter, machine guns aimed right at our trench. I thought; this pilot is a demon! This attack is surely suicide! Our anti-aircraft gun levelled, aimed and boomed, but it missed by a mere foot and ran out of ammunition. I nudged Lorenzo on his machine gun, who wheeled it around as we all rose our weapons skyward. But we were too slow, I heard the rattling of its weapons, the trench ground before me erupted in a shower of men, mud and blood and then with a white striking flash, a deafening thump, the world disappeared as my ringing ears took over.
Then I was looking up to the sun setting sky, the only sounds, my heart beat and a faint buzz. I heard distant shouts, as I saw the evening star, so bright in the clearing dusk-purple, the evening star where a dark figure appeared in slow motion. Turning into Lorenzo streaming with tears, I could tell with his noiseless lips that he was trying to say “hold on, don’t die, it was going to be ok, we got the bastard, they were going to get me to the medic…” But I, feeling the truth, put my hand up to my chest and felt the gaping bloody hole and felt the short frantic breaths from drowning lungs. I knew death at that moment and reached into my uniform, I looked him in the eye and pulled out my sons golden star necklace from my chest, held it out to him as I told him what was in my soul… “I’m sorry Lorenzo…” “I like you… but I feared the love of our children… forgive me… I know not the designs of our separate faiths, but tell my wife, love is life… please… do this for me… give this to…”
In a dark room with one dim glowing lamp in a silent sobbing part of the hospital, the great Lave Drago of Sicily, loved by many and brought through dream to stroke, had died in her coma. Yet as the tears flowed and the cries of ‘mumma’ filled the air, Lorenzo quietly leaned over to pick up the Bible, the Bible he had never touched since the death of his mother. And as he rose and began to speak from the chanced page, one of David’s psalms, each word was timeless familiar to the family, the centre of love in their meaning;
1 The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want.
2 He makes me down to lie
In pastures green: he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.
3 My soul he doth restore again;
and me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
ev'n for his own name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale,
yet will I fear none ill:
For thou art with me; and thy rod
and staff me comfort still.
5 My table thou hast furnished
in presence of my foes;
My head thou dost with oil anoint,and my cup overflows.
6 Goodness and mercy all my lifeshall surely follow me
And in God's house for evermoremy dwelling-place shall be.
And then it was that Georgio, cried out for Ariana’s love from his sleep on the other side of the
world, as the Drago family said amen, and sobbed again as the buzz from the hospital machine
faded. It was then that the ghosts of Lave and Ariana, leaning on Lorenzo’s last syllables, on his
shoulder and holding his hand across the void, were there, yet only for a moment…