This novel is about a woman's journey from Sicily to America after the eruption of Mt Etna
Across from Italy’s mainland sat the city of Messina like an indomitable fortress. Proud of its solid presence, Messina was the travelers first encounter with the island of Sicily. The earthy colors of the buildings and landscape signaled to the visitor or returning Sicilian that Messina and its people belonged to the island, not to any outside political force or cultural tradition. Visitors marveled out loud at the cathedrals and ancient art work throughout the city, but the locals walked and spoke softly, especially near the narrow slits between the buildings.
Visitors delighted in the snake-like movement of the streets. The streets seemed to lead directly to a famous church or street market but then would slowly veer off in a different direction. They seemed to be designed to intentionally confuse people. The city offered no help in arriving at a specific destination. The ancient buildings were so close together that air barely squeezed through. Residents believed that between the buildings old mysteries sat, holding the true essence of Messina. Whenever one of the townspeople walked closely to the openings there seemed to be a whisper, not a sound you could hear with your physical ears, but heard in the mind. The whisper seemed to convey a yearning that had been imprisoned for hundreds of years. When this happened people scurried past, heads down, attempting to get away from the whisper in their head. Messina was so congested with ancient energy it felt like the city could explode.
Small eruptions did occur. Whenever some of the dark energy needed release outbursts took place between the locals who were often surly with one another. Their interactions were always based on scarcity and not just in terms of money. If a resident didn’t show enough respect to a compatriot there would be a confrontation. If someone had more stylish clothes than another there would be jealousy on the part of the person who felt they lacked good quality clothes .If a citizen had more leisure time than the next person there would be gossip about how the person with more time for pleasure was lazy and didn’t deserve the extra time. Day dreaming was frowned upon. What was the point of day dreaming when it was just fantasy and would never come true.
The city’s poor was especially vulnerable to the local mafia and thieves. Many of the men met an early death at the hands of murderers, occupational accidents, and disease. Women were left to raise children who would most likely not transcend their childhood situation. The lack of light between the buildings prevented transcendence or change. This cycle repeated itself for hundreds of years. The dark energy was relentless in its hunger for the human spirit; feeding off people’s dreams it left them with doubt, fear, and misery. This shadowy energy prided itself on soul theft. Once the soul was stolen it would take an over-whelming amount of energy to retrieve it. There were few people in Sicily who were familiar with the practice of soul retrieval.
The neighborhoods were filled with children running, playing, singing, and giggling. Youth was not affected by the dark energy. They nourished each other with joy and playfulness; qualities that the malevolent force could not penetrate. The children breathed deep and dreamed blissful scenarios for their future, but when they returned to their homes a grim reality met their physical eyes; parents yelling, a blow or two to their mothers face or stomach from a drunken father. Imperceptibly, like a slow death from a chronic debilitating disease, the children played less and gave up their bliss and dreams to the heavy energy between the buildings.
So the cycle of poverty and abuse branched out through time like a spider unconsciously spinning its web. There was no police force to protect the women or the poor so the residents lived in fear of everything. Unconsciously, they feared the small spaces between the buildings. At times there was a glimmer of light that seeped into the locals’ fear. This usually took place in their conversation around sunset when they would gather in the town piazza.
There was talk of freedom and protection in America. The townspeople heard it was a country where anyone could become rich but more than that one could become happy. America equaled happiness. They didn’t know what happiness felt like since the dark energy took their joy, but they were sure they could find it again if only they could go to America. Few had hope of leaving Messina. The spark of light ignited by the conversation flickered and was extinguished at the last spoken work. It wasn’t that the townspeople couldn’t find a way to get to the new world, there just wasn’t enough determination or will. When the energy between the buildings took their will the residents were left with despair. Hopelessness was the disease that plagued the citizens of Messina during the early 20th century. The black plague of the Middle Ages was cured by an awareness of sanitation techniques. The towns’ hopelessness could be cured by cleansing the city of the dark heavy energy. This would require a belief that they could reclaim their stolen individuality comprised of their dreams and hopes. In the end, it was easier to cure the plague.
The shadowy energy became so thick at times that it took on form. It was a master shape-shifter who became stronger as it gathered human dreams. The residents would perceived a shape leaning against a building from the corner of their eye but when they looked directly at the form it would vanish. This energy frightened the residents into thinking that they had to stay in the city to remain safe.
In September of 1908 the earth made a decision that would change the lives of Messina’s inhabitants forever. The amount of pressure caused by the malevolent energy between the city’s buildings seeped under the earth and into the surrounding area. It nestled itself under Mt Etna, an active volcano. It was as if the earth released a scream that resounded through time, releasing a millennia of abuse and maltreatment. Human dreams and aspirations were sprinkled over the city as if baptized by an unseen hand. They landed at random healing the gaping wounds in the city. Dreams were now for the taking.
After the eruption the city moaned. After that , screams from the undead buried under debris echoed off skeletons of structural remains. Twenty four hours passed and a pristine hush settled over the city. One could imagine it to be the silence before God said “let there be light.” This pre-creation silence was a relief to a few residents who could finally begin again. This was especially true of thirteen year old Angela Lanza.
The dark energy never stole Angela’s dreams or her distinct presence. Her awareness never allowed it. Different from her contemporaries, as she entered adolescence, her ability to communicate with the unseen increased. She wasn’t afraid of the lurking mysterious force between the buildings. She had visions while she slept that instructed her on how to oppose this force. One night, during a dream, two beings appeared to her. Both had shoulder length wavy light hair with faces that glowed with a radiance that compelled her to look away at first. Angela realized she was dreaming and looked back at the faces of the beings. Her dream eyes could look into their faces and take in some of the light streaming toward her. These creatures explained that they were infusing her with light for protection against the dark power of the city. If she paid attention to their guidance she would live to manifest her dreams and aspirations and use her will to do it.
When she awoke she felt special. Whenever she felt sad, alone, or ridiculed she would think of her two friends from her dreamscape and know everything would be alright. Angela maintained the integrity of her internal space. She knew she could not be violated by the shadowy energy. Angela stayed away from certain buildings but she didn’t know why. At times her body seemed to be guided by an unseen gentle sensation or a distant voice inside her head. She also had the sense that her time in Messina would be short, that she wasn’t supposed to stay here. Angela no longer attended school which was typical of girls of her age. The oldest of three children, it was her responsibility to help her mother.
Angela returned home one day and learned that her father had left and would not return. . A few weeks later a man moved into their house. Her mother explained that he would help with the rent. After a few months Angela noticed that her mother’s belly protruded into her homemade faded smock. Angela pretended she didn’t notice. She thought of her dreamscape friends and felt less alone.
When the earth exploded Angela was walking on the edge of the city. She blacked out and started to drift. She was floating above the earth peering down into the city. She saw people running, buildings collapsing, and gaping holes in the earth. From that moment on, her experience of the earthquake would always feel like a dream.
Angela ran down the hot cobblestone street and fell; hurried to her feet and ran, then fell again. She threw herself on the street and screamed; a long scream that echoed off the ruins of the ancient churches. A timeless scream that would always and forever he heard.
She looked around. Her city, Messina, was one massive graveyard. She searched for her family; her parents, sister and brother. She yelled their names into the air; into demolished houses. She screamed at bodies that were impaled on beams that had fallen. Other bodies were caught between the open earth and the street. They were the souls in hell that she had seen in paintings, forever in agony, never at peace.
“Rosa, Rosa!” she shouted, pointing her face toward the sky so that her voice would ascend to heaven and God would hear her plea and have mercy. She lay still, her ear to the broiling ground; she thought she had heard the earth growl again, about to open and swallow her up. It was a human moan. Looking up she saw a man impaled on a beam, near one of the destroyed houses. He let out another moan. She slowly got up and walked over to him. Blood trickled from his mouth down his chin, his eyes were open and fixed.
“Signore, have you seen a small girl?” asked Angela in between gasps and tears. “She is only eight years old with dark hair and eyes?”
The man stared, unable to answer her question. He blinked and then his head fell to one side as if it were a brick that had been thrown. She felt warm fluid flow down her legs. It warmed her legs from the frigid air.
The earth began to tremble. The cobblestone street in front of the impaled man separated and bodies once buried and lost began to ascend to heaven. She saw her mother rise to the heavens in a long white dress, the dress she had been married in so many years ago.
“Mama don’t leave me! Mama! I’m scared!”
Angela heard her words echo distantly off the ruins. She opened her mouth again to call after her mother but no sound came. She could still hear her voice echoing off the ruins of the buildings. Every time she tried to yell no sound came out but the echoing voice became louder and louder..
She heard herself scream and woke up. Her legs were damp and stuck together with urine. She sat up in bed and squinted, trying to see the other beds in the large dormitory. Angela heard the rustling of night-clothes. A few of the girls stirred and rolled over.
She took a deep breath and dropped back in her bed. It had been three years since the eruption of Mt. Etna, yet she still had this recurring nightmare. The same man was always hanging from a beam, and her mother always ascended to heaven and, every time she asked for her sister.
After the earthquake a band of homeless children spent the following month roaming the city for loved-ones and food until the Americans came with relief. Angela smiled. The day the Americans came. How happy all the children were; they would at last have food and shelter and would have help in locating their families. Angela remembered the morning she was on deck of one of the American relief ships and saw two boys walking along the shore. As they came closer to the ship Angela recognized them as youths from her neighborhood. She shouted and waved her hands as she ran down the gang plank. Now she was certain she would find her sister and brother. If she was able to run into boys who had lived on her own street then God would surely unite her with her sister and brother.
“Gino, what happened where have you been?” She had asked that day.
“Roaming the hills . After the earthquake a group of us stayed together and hunted for food and shelter. I can’t find many people from our area of town.”
“Have you seen my family? My little sister is lost. She’ll be terrified.” Angela grabbed his arm.
“There’s no one left of our neighborhood. I’ve seen no one.”
“But you’re not sure if my sister is dead. You’re not sure. You didn’t see her.”
Angela kept shaking his arm as if it would trigger a memory about her family’s fate.
“No, I’m not sure. I don’t even know where my family is,” said Gino looking off
in to the distance. Angela realized he was as lost as she was.
Angela remembered how she put her arm around Gino and gave thanks to God
that He had sent her someone familiar. They boarded the ship and found a little girl crying as she hung over the side of the ship.
“What’s wrong?” asked Gino, “Is your family gone?”
“No…my sister and me lived, but a large stone fell on her legs and now she has no legs. The Doctor took them off,” cried the little girl.
“Where is your sister now?’ asked Angela.
“She’s in there,” said the little girl, pointing to a door opposite them, “That’s where they put all the sick people or all the people who will die.”
Angela thought that maybe her sister was beyond that door. Maybe she had been rescued after all. She turned and walked toward the door. She looked back at the girl. Gino and a friend consoled her.
There were rows of children lying in beds. Some cried quietly others stared silently at the ceiling. Angela walked along the foot of each bed and looked at the children, praying that one would be her sister. There was a Doctor and a nurse hovering over one particular child who was very sick. The Doctor said that they couldn’t stop the bleeding from the stumps. Angela came to the end of the row and looked down at her legs. She thought of the little girl without legs and what it must feel like not to have legs to walk on. There was one empty bed and she had wondered if the child in that bed had died.
A few weeks later it was decided that the children would be sent to Catholic Convents until families could be found. She was sent to a convent in Palermo. A few weeks after her arrival her younger brother, Antonio, was rescued and brought to the convent’s infirmary. He had a continuous harsh cough that medicine didn’t seem to cure. Angela was permitted to see Antonio twice a week. Each week there was less and less of her brother left., his energy moved further and further away. His presence slowly waned until one day the Doctor explained to Angela that her brother had pneumonia and that they could do little for him except make him comfortable. Angela continued to pray to God and all the saints for Antonio’s recovery. She asked her two unseen light beings to intercede for her. She implored them to explain to God that she was alone in the world apart from Antonio. When she could think of on one else to pray to she pretended she had the power to heal her brother. She imagined that she had a magic wand and would run it over Antonio’s body and he would jump up out of bed ready to take on their situation. She felt frightened about that fantasy, the church strictly forbid any practice of magic even if it was just in someone’s day-dreams. She knew time was running out and the inevitability of death was not far behind.
The last time she saw her brother he was unresponsive. His breathing was faint, his chest barely moved. He could no longer be there for her. That night, as Angela dreamed her recurring dream, her brother quietly slipped away. She now had to focus on the search for her sister. She would make it her lifetime quest .Whenever she began to brood or become despondent she would elevate her thoughts by focusing on her quest. Through this simple choice Angela learned the alchemy of thought.
As the sun streamed into the dormitory window Angela knew that she had to let go of her night time thoughts and start another day.
Angela sat on a bench in the court yard among the olive trees. It was one of her favorite places in the convent. She felt protected and happy among the olive trees. It was also a space where she felt comfortable thinking about her two unseen friends that appeared in her dreams. She was at peace with those thoughts in the court yard. If she thought of her light being friends inside the convent walls she was afraid someone would read her thoughts and there would be severe repercussions.
“Angela, Angela why are you sitting here?’ asked a young girl.
It was Patrizia Buttita accompanied by a young man. Patrizia was one of the girls who studied at the convent school but was not an orphan.
“I’m waiting for the dinner bell to ring.” said Angela. She actually sat in the garden to feel safe as she focused on connecting with her unseen friends.
“This is my brother, Ignazio. He’s come to visit.”
“Hello,” said Angela. She had remembered seeing Ignazio at a distance some time ago.
“Signorina, it is a pleasure to meet you. Patrizia has told me how well you sew,” said Ignazio.
“Ignazio is a poet,” said Patrizia as she clung to her brother. “He’s already quite famous.”
Angela had heard Patrizia brag about Ignazio. All the girls talked about how they disliked him because of his arrogance, but secretly she knew they all admired him.
Ignazio took a deep breath and filled his chest, then extended his hand to Angela. She was amazed at how blue his eyes were. Not at all common for a Sicilian. She could tell by the energy in his eyes that he kept secrets well. Angela could see into a person’s depth if they locked eyes for any length of time. She could uncover what was hidden.
“It’s unusual that you have such blue eyes,” said Angela nervously. She heard Patrizia try to stifle a giggle.
“Sorry. I guess that was stupid to say.”
“No, you’re absolutely right.” said Ignazio. “You’re a very observant girl Angela. That’s what poets are: observers, observers of character and detail.”
Angela touched Ignazio’s hand and felt the arrogance, sincerity and humor. She knew he wished her the best
“Someone so bright should not be alone in the world,” said the poet.
“But I am alone,” said Angela.” The earthquake took my family. There is no one left. I’ve made up my mind to become a nun.” She felt compelled to tell him about the disaster.
“The world has lost someone of value,” said Ignazio.
“We’ve got to catch our train to Palermo,” said Patrizia.
“We’ll see each other,” said Ignazio.
“We’ll see each other,” said Angela.
Angela sat back on the bench. She envied Patrizia and Ignazio. They seemed so close. It was true Ignazio was a little conceited but he made her feel part of the outer world. What difference would it make to anyone if she became a nun and never walked beyond the convent gates again.
Several months later Angela sat on the curb and waited for the Mother Superior and Filomina to come out of the cheese shop. With her peripheral vision Angela noticed a
young man across the street sitting in a café. She thought she saw him leaning against the city gates as she entered Palermo. “He’s a foreigner,” she thought. She noticed a gold watch on his left wrist and a red stoned ring on his finger. He seemed to be a stranger because Sicilian men still wore large pocket watches. But then there was something familiar about him. His clothing was Italian and his mustache was definitely European. And yet she sensed a foreign element. She felt that men in general were strange creatures anyway.
The Mother Superior and Filomina came out of the shop. The nun looked inside the shopping bag.
“Oh, I’ve forgotten something. Girls, wait here,” said the nun.
Angela felt the man across the street staring at them. She started to pace.
“What’s wrong with you,” asked Filomina, her red hair tied back in a bun. Filomina’s orange hair and blue eyes were the envy of all the girls at the convent. She
also liked to read modern day love stories about princes and princesses and castles.
Angela felt that reading those novels was a waste of time. Everyone knew that fairytales were false and those things never happened. She encouraged Filomina to read St.
“Are you ready girls?” asked the nun as she came out of the shop.
“Yes Mother,” said Angela.
“Please button your collar Angela,” said the nun.
“It was hot and I thought…” Angela quickly buttoned her top collar.
“I know what you thought, but you must never forget modesty,” said the nun as she lead the way back to the convent.
Angela opened the chest of drawers and pulled out a long white night gown. She took down her hair and unraveled her braid. Picking up a brush she stroked her dark hair from her forehead to her waist.
“Why did you two go with Mother Superior today?” asked one of the girls.
“Because Mother knows what hard workers we are,” said Filomina.
“We all work hard,” said another girl with pink cheeks. “It’s not fair for only two
to go on an outing.”
“It wasn’t an outing,” said Angela, “We had to accompany Mother to town because she needed help with packages.”
“What?’ She needed help with two packages,” said the first girl with her hand on her hip. “I saw you coming back with only two packages. She didn’t need any help.”
“So she wanted us for company an anyway it’s none of your business,” replied Filomina.
“Some company,” said the second girl, “a seamstress who thinks she’s an intellectual and a simpleton who only reads romance novels.”
The French doors swung opened and a nun appeared.
“Girls, girls,” she clapping her hands, her veil shielded half her face, “Everyone in bed, please.” She paused and searched the room until her eyes rested on Angela.
“Angela, Mother Superior would like to see you in her office before you go to
class tomorrow morning.”
All eyes turned toward Angela.
“About what sister?” Angela asked softly.
“I cannot speak for the Mother Superior,” said the nun. “Go to bed.”
She backed out of the room and closed the doors. Everyone knelt beside their beds for prayer.
Angela wondered what the Mother Superior wanted. Maybe they had found some
clue to her sister’s whereabouts. That must be it! The authorities have discovered someone who has seen her or maybe an article of her clothing. She looked around and saw that the girls were blessing themselves and getting into their beds. “Amen” said Angela loudly and got up to turn down her bed linen. As drifted off to sleep her sister’s likeness formed and dissolved in her minds eye. She tried to freeze one of the images to look deeper but the picture kept morphing. She could not longer hold the images as she drifted into sleep.
Angela tapped lightly on the Mother Superior’s door.
“Come in Angela,” said a woman’s voice.
Angela slowly opened the door and walked up to the heavy oak desk. She put her right foot in back of the left, grasped her skirt on either side and curtsied.
“You wanted to see me Mother,” said Angela, her head still bowed. She noticed that the nun had her veil pinned back so her face was exposed. Angela tried to survey the nun’s face without being obvious. She love the long hook nose and high cheek bones, it gave the nun an air of dignity and strength that Angela admired and wanted for her own life.
“Yes I have something very important to discuss with you,” said the nun as she stood up. “A young man has come from America and has taken a liking to you.”
Angela parted her lips to speak, but the nun held up her hand.
“Let me explain. Yesterday when Filomina we went into the city, it was not because I needed help but because this young man wanted to see two of the most eligible girls at the convent. He is Sicilian by birth, went to America when he was twelve years
old and would now like to marry.”
“But Mother ever since my family died in the earthquake I decided to become a nun,” said Angela.
“I realize that, but this will be a good test for you . I’d like you to meet this man. He comes from a good family. His cousins still live outside of Palermo. I think you should meet him.”
Angela raised her head and saw a definite seriousness in the nun’s eyes. She thought about a delivery boy who she had once felt an attraction for. She used to wait behind the garden wall for him to deliver milk and eggs to the convent. He would smile and nod at her when he came. Then she would be happy for the rest of the day.
“Mother I am sure I want to become a nun,” said Angela.
“Angela, you have to study hard to become a nun. You will have to take your Latin more seriously.”
“Yes Mother, I will study hard.”
“At any rate, Franco Bellini has traveled all the way from America. I am asking you to meet him. If you decide not to marry then you can stay with us and become a nun.”
Angela realized the Mother Superior really wanted to test her. If she should refuse this test then the nun would always wonder whether she had made the right choice in
admitting Angela to the order.
“I will see him Mother,” said Angela, “because you have gone to so much trouble.”
“I am glad,” said the nun, “this way you can make a better choice about your life.” The convent bell tolled. “It is time to go to the sewing room. I will make the necessary arrangements for you to meet him.”
“All right Mother,” said Angela. She curtsied and left the office. Angela wondered why the nun was so adamant about her meeting this man. Did the Mother Superior think that she was too weak to become a nun? Maybe she thought her inadequate in some way. Angela had no money or worldly possessions to give the convent. Angela
saw several wealthy women admitted to the convent who brought their beautiful possessions with them and donated their money to the convent. Maybe the Reverend
Mother would see her as a burden if she became part of the order and not as an asset.
The noise from the sewing machines seemed louder than usual. Angela looked up from the sewing table and stared at the statue of the Blessed Virgin overseeing the work they were doing. She wondered what the Virgin thought of her intended meeting with a strange man. Did she think her weak? After all she had promised herself to God. Angela prayed that she was still under the Virgin’s protection.
“So, what did Reverend Mother want to talk to you about?” whispered Filomina.
“I can’t say right now,” said Angela.
“Oh tell me now! I can’t wait!”
“Shhhh! Girls please maintain silence during work time.” said Sister Ramona, the sewing teacher.
Angela wondered about the future, not only about her own but about the other girls’. What would happen to them?
“Angela are you going to spend the afternoon daydreaming or sewing?” asked the
“She’s always daydreaming,” said the girl sitting across from Angela.
“I’m sorry if I have not been working. I will try to pay attention to the work at hand.”
Angela could feel everyone’s eyes on her. She knew what they were all thinking; Angela is the privileged one. Her embroidered linens were always chosen to be used on the altar where the priest offered mass. It was always the most beautiful and the most original because she made up her own designs. The other girls were always jealous of her good fortune. Angela decided that she would not say anything to a anyone, not even to
Filomina, until she met with Franco Bellini ~
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