The Nun and the Partisian by Pepe Nero

In 1939, on the outskirts of Eboli, a group of nuns were at their early spring task of preparing the ground around the convent for the yearly seeding of vegetables and herbs. They made a fine picture, a painter would have said, all bent over like cloned copies of each other in their black robes, all equally facing south digging and scrapping with their primitive tools, all silhouetted against the yellow-brown earth. Occasionally there was a hard plop of rock against rock, as one of them tossed still another nuisance pebble or stone towards the side of the dirt road nearby, where a small trail of them had accumulated over the years forming a long unintended border. The only other sounds were the scrapes of the tools against the hard earth.

In the near noon silence the many scrapes blended together and made a repetitious hypnotic rhythm that hinted an exotic, esoteric music.
Scrape, scrape, scrape, PLOP, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, PLOP, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, PLOP!

Sister Vinessa was tired. They were all tired having been at it since just after breakfast.

She would rise like the others, from time to time, to stretch and relieve her tormented, aching, almost arched in place, back.

They were always tired. There was no season without its work.

To help pass the time she counted out the minutes. She had been counting all morning.

From her count she knew it was only an hour till the midday serving of food and a welcomed break from the heat and toil.

One thousand, two thousand, three thousand and so on to sixty at which point she would move the minute hand, on the large clock in her secret place, forward one minute and start her count anew.

She had a number of such rooms in her secret place having long ago taught herself the art of mnemonics. She had violated convent regulations one day when, while cleaning the bedroom of the mother superior, she had come across a small volume on mnemonics: the art of memory construction. She hid the book under her robes, returning it at her next cleaning assignment and thanking the Lord, for its not having been missed.

She had consigned to memory, a book on memory. In her mind the sin had canceled itself out much like a mathematical equation whose ending is zero.
Her very first mnemonic act as suggested by the book was to construct a mental field, one to her liking, the place where her very own private memory palace would be built.

Before she started her palace she had had to visualize a landscape and there it was, as if it had always been there waiting for her, a perfectly flat green field that stretched out in all directions to the horizon. Above it was a pale cerulean blue sky with the sun exactly positioned in its center.

Evening after evening she would sit and meditate in her green field.

She was unable to begin the building. She had nothing to put in it.

One evening while meditating she realized that there was indeed a treasure to be saved and she then constructed a very large high ceilinged room—her entrance room. Except for its size it was a simple room with flat and plastered walls painted white with a shiny white tiled floor. At the exact opposite end of the room, from the entrance door, she imagined a niche, eye level, quite small, twelve by twenty four inches and eight inches deep.

She gazed lovingly at the room for a very long time. She had no idea, yet of how the outside of her palace-to-be looked.

Then she walked slowly across the white tiles, to the niche, where she tenderly placed the worn leather book on mnemonics.

When she left her palace-to-be she walked a good distance before turning to look.

There in the distance was a simple large white structure, a perfect cube, with a white entrance door barely visible in its center at ground level.

She was very pleased.

The following day dragged on longer than usual for her. She was eager to get to her palace.

There was work to be done, although she wasn’ t sure of what it was that had to be done.

But because she had finally done something the things that she could do seemed to be infinite. So very infinite that she had no idea of where to start.
That evening she walked slowly across her grassy field to her palace and stopped to gaze at the cubic structure with its almost invisible door, the faintest of a hairline,outlined in the flat white facade, the four sides of the door with no visible locks or doorknobs. She then decided that she would not mar the near perfection of the square facade and so invented a word that would close and lock the door behind her after she entered, or after she left. A secret word, for her secret structure.

After she had entered her small cubic palace she visualized a soft comfortable chair, curving hardwood with soft red velvet seating, back and armrests. She sat and looked againat her room and at the niche with its precious small brown leather bound aged and knowing book. Then she did a very forbidden thing. She placed full-length mirrors on either side of the niche. There were, to her knowledge, no mirrors in the convent. Mirrors were considered to be a sign of vanity. Now she had two. She didn’ t dare to look into them. Not
yet. It had been a long time, a very long time, since she had last seen herself in a mirror.

She had a vague memory of a young, pale, plain face. She was afraid. She had never seen a full-length reflection of herself, and since being in the convent had seen only distorted reflections in windowpanes under certain conditions, or briefly, fleetingly, in puddles in the garden field after a rain, or melting ice.

Evening after evening fearful anticipation taunted her, nagged at her. On several occasions she had gotten up to approach one of the mirrors only to quickly sit back down.

Tonight she was determined. Tonight she would look, she told herself. Tonight shewould look, or would never again return to her cube. Given that self-imposed conditionthere was no way that she could now avoid approaching one of the mirrors. She rose trembling from her chair. How could she have done this to herself? What a terrible thing to do to trick oneself like that. She loved her cube, could never give it up. And so it was that she started for the right side mirror. She did not take steps, she could not take steps, rather she slowly slid first one naked foot, then the other, across the cold white tiles.
Let me see she said to herself, as she glided slowly across the room, ifI can close my eyes until I arrive at the mirror. I’ll aim myselffor it then close my eyes. About thirty steps should put me at the mirror. Then when I’m ready and only when I’m good and ready I’ll open my eyes, not slowly, no, not slowly. Quickly!

And gliding step after slow gliding step, her eyes shut tight, she crossed the cold white tiled floor counting her steps as she went.
Twoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo . . .
Twenty-nine . . .
She felt her body and forehead simultaneously hit a hard smooth surface.
Too far, too far, I’ll have to take a step back. Perhaps two. Three.
She carefully glided backwards from the mirror. At the count of three she stopped.

This was it. She prepared herself, and prepared herself, and prepared herself, for a very long time.

I’ve got to open my eyes or I’ll never be able to return here.

She felt the urge to turn, run out the door, escape, return to her cot in the convent, anything.

I can’t, I won’t, give up this place, she thought.

And with that she opened her eyes.

There was nothing in the mirror except the reflection of the room behind her.

Relief. Disbelief. Disappointment.

She looked.

This can’t be, she thought. This can’t be. This is my way to avoid seeing my image and to still keep my precious place. I’ve tricked myselfagain. I can’t have it, this trickery.

Am I such a coward then? I won’t leave. I won’t leave. ot until I’ve seen myself.

She fell asleep in front of that mirror, and in her dream she was standing in front of a mirror that had no image other than that of the room in it. And in her dream she had neither desire nor fear. She was just a person in a dream, in a dream room, with a dream mirror.

The image was so faint, so very faint at the beginning, at last coming very slowly into being. She was watching a person appearing out of nothing, a person much like her, perhaps her, yes it could be her, but why was she clothed? In black. In a nun’s habit? A slender black silhouette with only a pale plain face exposed, the self same face that she had seen so long ago as a child.

Oh dear, she thought, I even deceive myselfin my dreams.

Still, she could feel the cold tiles under her bare feet. Nude feet. Very well then, she was nude under it all and nude she would be and she effortlessly removed very slowly all of her nun’s robes and the very plain undergarments and then bravely looked once again in the mirror.

She knew how her body looked. Every Saturday evening the nuns took turns at the washing as they called it. There was a small room in one corner of the convent. In the room, were two doors, a small high window and a fireplace. In the exact center of the room was a flat dull gray low battered zinc basin two meters in diameter. When one entered the room, what one saw was a small table with its towels and a sandglass timer, which would run out after
ten minutes—the time each was allowed to complete their washing. A wicker basket for the used towels, the zinc basin, empty, three gray metal pails of luke warm water and a small stool with a bar of soap, the exact same soap that was used for washing clothes in the laundry room; pale yellow ochre laundry soap.

On one wall, with two small square windows high above at the ceiling were a number of hooks. The fireplace had hanging in it a large iron kettle of water filled to the top. There was never enough time for the water to get hot after the first of the washings: garments, step in the zinc basin, soap herself up with the first pail using what was left in the pail after soaping to lather her hair. Then she would do a first rinsing from what was left in the pail, a second rinsing from the next pail and a final rinsing from the third.

After drying and dressing, it was her job to refill the pails from the kettle and to
refill the kettle from the well outside the door, fuel the fire from an outside woodpile. After which she would leave the room and the next nun would enter.

To insure fairness, the second nun in turn, on any given washing day would be the first nun in the following washing day. Everyone looked forward to being first-in-line, for the rare treat of the pails of steaming hot water.

A thin nude body, much thinner than it had appeared when she looked down at it in the washing room. Very vague with the child’s head except that now the head was framed, top and sides, with thick black hair.

I almost look beautiful, she thought. Perhaps. Just perhaps, I am beautiful. Oh
vanity. I’ll surely suffer in Hell for this.

Yet she continued to look. The sin was done. Why not let it last for a while.

Enjoy it. Besides, is one guilty ofa sin ifit is committed while one slept?
I think not, she, the dreamer thought, I think not. Or perhaps there is a dream hell where we pay for our dream sins?

She woke the next morning to the ringing of the morning bell and when sitting at the long wooden breakfast table she suddenly remembered the dream and blushed.

"You are not well"said Sister Grazia who sat across from her, taking it upon herself to break the vow of silence.

Sister Vinessa held up a hand, signaling that she was quite all right, and gave a graceful nod towards her kind comrade.

But she continued to blush throughout breakfast; blush and guilt. She kept her head bent low to the tabletop.

She vowed then to find a way to save her shameful thoughts for her secret place.

She could do it. She would take care of it this very coming night. Throughout that day, she continued to blush from time to time as hard as she tried not to. The Mother Superior informed that there seemed to be an ill sister ordered her, to her room, to rest.

The Mother Superior entered her room with a nun who carried a bowl of hot broth.

The Mother Superior refused to respond to her hand gestures of not being ill, ordered her into bed ‘ this very minute young lady.’

Very well, she thought, I’ll use the time to solve my blushing problem.

She sipped the broth. After a time she relaxed, closed her eyes and was standing in front of her cubic structure. She entered and sat in her red velvet chair. Across the room was the book niche flanked by the two mirrors. She visualized a clock, a very large clock, on the wall above the niche. She set the time at eleven thirty; the time she believed it to be. No matter. In the morning when she was wakened by the convent bells she would rise knowing it was four thirty and her clock in its secret cube would re-set itself. Then she
counted the minutes away. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand to sixty at, which the clock read four thirty one. If she could learn to concentrate on the count she need never blush and would always know almost exactly how much time was left for her before she could once again visit her precious, private palace.

She learned her newfound art quickly. Within a week or so, she had no trouble concentrating on her numbers. After several months, she found that she could push the numbers backward into a far corner of her mind, where they continued to count, and then she could concentrate on her work. After any large number of minutes, she found that by simply looking back into the corner of her mind where her numbers had been placed she could immediately know the time. It wasn’ t long before her counting became completely independent of conscious thought and she would only make herself aware of it when she found her thoughts going into dangerous places or when she was curious.

She would often stop working and turn towards the convent just seconds before the bells rang out the lunch or evening meal. It didn’ t take long for the other sisters to notice this and soon, when they saw her stop, they also stopped and turned in unison with her to await the ringing of the bells. When
the Mother Superior saw this one midday from her room overlooking the field where they worked, she ordered them all into the great hall where she inspected them, each and everyone, for a hidden watch. It was not too long
before it was revealed that it was from Sister Vinessa that they were getting their cue.

"How is it that you know the time Sister Vinessa? You may speak."

"I used to count but now I don’ t, replied Sister Vinessa."

"I don’ t understand, my dear, please explain."

"I used to count the seconds and the minutes and the hours Mother Superior."


"To keep my mind from shameful thoughts."

"That is admirable my dear. But why not pray?"

"I do pray Mother Superior, often, she answered, somewhat truthfully."

"You must stop this counting and pray constantly my dear."

"I no longer count Mother Superior."

"You no longer count?"

"No longer Mother Superior."

"I see. What time is it now, do you think?"

"It is two and twenty nine minutes Mother Superior."

The Mother Superior looked at a small watch in the palm of her hand.

"How can you know this?"

The nuns present all made the sign of the cross.

"I just know. I can’ t help it. It won’ t happen again. I won’ t stop working until I hear the bells. I promise dear Mother. I’m very sorry, very sorry."

Sister Vinessa, now in tears was looking at the floor.

"You’ re forgiven my dear. Pray. Pray always will you my dear?"

"Yes Mother. I’ ll pray every day and all day."

"And in the evenings. You’ ll pray in the evenings also?"

"Yes Mother Superior, I’ ll pray right up to bed time."

"That’s a good girl then."

She kept her word, prayed constantly. Right, as she had said, up to bed time. But the instant she was in bed she was free! Free to go to her place in the green grassy field! Free to look at herself in the mirror! Free to build more rooms if she liked.

That very evening, she went to the cube and removed all of her clothing. Naked she bravely opened the door and stepped out into the bright sunlight. There was nothing to fear.

She was the only person in her world.

She ran barefoot through the grass, which she had first made damp by an imagined earlier rainfall. She ran joyfully, threw herself down and rolled in the wet grass, laughing.

When she returned to the cube she kneeled before a rough wooden cross that she had imagined under the book niche and fell asleep saying her rosary; penance for the pleasure she had just indulged in. Prayer would become her coin, her payment for indulgences. She thought it a fair arrangement.

She built another room to the left. A smaller white cube attached to the larger cube.

The connecting opening she gave an arched top. Across the bottom of the arc she put a silver rod and on the rod a white silk curtain almost transparent. In the new room more silver rods, were placed shoulder high running from wall to wall, on three sides. She spentthe next three weeks filling the room with clothes on silver hangers. She would imagine a dress, put it on, gaze at herself in the mirror and then hang it up. On to the next dress. Then
came the shoes, scarves, shawls, gloves.

She said two rosaries the night of the silk stockings.

She built another cube exactly the size of her closet cube on the opposite side of the larger cube. She had to. She felt bound to symmetry. She gave it the same arched entranceway, the same silver rod, the same silken curtain. But she had nothing to put in it. Not yet.

She walked outside and looked back at her triptych cubic structure.

This will never do, it looks like a mausoleum.


o, not flowers. It would look yet more like a mausoleum.

What then?


Windows? In my pure, white symmetrical facade?

Yes, windows, in your pure and white and symmetrical facade. Three Venetian windows with pointed tops and small balconies and white silk curtains blowing with the soft breezes.

And there they were.

Scrape, scrape, scrap, scrape, PLOP, scrape, scrape, scrape, PLOP, scrape, scrap, scrap, scrap, scrap, PLOP, PLOP!
Our Father who art in Heaven . . .
Scrape, scrape, scrape, PLOP!
Hallowed be Thy ame . . .
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape . . .
Thy Kingdom come . . .
Thy Will be done . . .
scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape . . .
On earth . . .

She worked she prayed. A horse went by with a rider, she assumed. She was in its shadow briefly as it went by. She didn’ t look up. The nuns never looked up at the passing traffic on the dirt road, what little there was of it.

Scrape, scrap, scrape, scrape . . .
As it is in Heaven . . .
Another horse was coming.
Scrape, PLOP!
Give us this day . . .
She was in shadow. The horse had stopped.
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape . . .
Our daily bread . . .
She stood and stretched, pretending that she needed to. The sun silhouetted the rider.

She squinted. It was a man; a man on a horse. He was looking down at her. She could just begin to see his features. She had seen very few men in her life, most of them before coming to the convent.

He had a black mustache, thick black eyebrows, pale blue eyes like miniature circular skies. Rough sun burnt skin. He was wearing a beaten up black fedora. A black weatheredleather vest over a very fine white silk shirt, baggy black corduroy pants, a red handkerchief around his neck. There was a pistol tucked under his wide black belt. The belt’s buckle was embossed. Oval. Silver. He was looking at her. He rode away.

Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, PLOP, scrape . . .
And lead us not into temptation . . .
And lead us not into temptation . . .
She had forgotten her place. She started again.
Our Father who art in Heaven . . .
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape . . .

That night she redid the right hand wall. She removed the entranceway with its silver rod and silk curtain and replaced it with a small window. In the window, she put thick black vertical steel bars four inches apart. Then she put the man she had seen that day in the room. He was her captive. She could safely study him. She would bring him food and water every night. And yes, perhaps, a small glass of wine. Men like wine.

He paced the room, restless. She felt sorry for him. She made him a wooden bench up against the far wall. She looked through the bars at him. He looked back, seated at his new bench, at her. She changed her mind and changed the bench into a cot. There. That was better. Now he could rest.

She made a slot in the door. A thin slot four inches high by fourteen inches wide.

Through the slot she passed a silver tray. On the tray was a small Sicilian salami, a loaf of freshly baked bread, a small glass and, at its side (she felt generous this night), a half litre of dry deep ruby red Tuscan wine.

He grunted. Ignored the food. Drank the wine in a few gulps from the bottle.

He wiped his mustache with the back of his hand, threw the bottle into a corner and sat staring at her defiantly.

It was then that she noticed the pistol tucked into his wide black belt. She made it disappear.

He looked down in amazement at the empty spot where there once was his precious pistol.

"How did you do that?,"he demanded.

"I can do anything, she said. Behave yourself. Be careful. Be good."

"Why am I here? How did I get here? Who are you?"

"I want to watch you and so I brought you here. I am Vinessa. I can do anything here, anything that I want to. You are my prisoner, at least at night you are. What you do during the day is your business I suppose. I’ve told you my name, you must now tell me yours."

"What gave you the right to bring me here?"He paused. And when he saw that she was not going to answer he continued, "I am Giovanni,"he bragged proudly."Giovanni Bianco. Surely you’ve heard of me. Doesn’ t my name, my very name, put fear in your heart? I’m better known as Bastone Bianco. You’ve heard of Bastone Bianco?"

"Big White Stick? Oh. I don’ t like that, I don’ t like that at all. I’ ll call you Gio".

"Don’ t you dare. If you do I’ ll call you Vinnie."

"You wouldn’t."

"Try me."

"Can’ t I call you, at least, Gioseppe?".

"No. No, never. Gioseppe will be my son’s name. I am Bastone."

"Why are you called Bastone?"

"Because I once struck a policeman who had drawn his gun. I struck him with a large stick that I was conveniently carrying."

He was sitting on the cot looking at her face. She knew that he could only see her face in vertical sections behind the silver bars.

"Now that you’ve brought me here, against my will, at least be kind enough to give me another bottle of that fine red wine."


"Some cigarettes then? Or one of those nice crooked black cigars?"

"No. No smoking here. And no excessive drinking either. And please do not take The Name of The Good Lord in vain."

"Good? What makes you think He’s good? He laughed.

"Oh He’s good, He’s good, everybody knows that. You mustn’ t laugh like that you know."

"I don’ t know that He’s good."

"Of course not. You’re a criminal, a bandit. You’re damned. You’ll burn in Hell for Eternity, one day."

"Eternity is only one day?"

"You know what I mean."

"So you think that I’m a bad person?"

"Yes. You’ve robbed and what’s worse is that you’ve probably killed."

"Yes I have, I have killed. I’m not proud of it."

"What? You have?"


"But why?"

"They wanted to kill me so I killed them. If I had not killed them they would have killed me. And so it was that I had to kill them. Would you rather that they had killed me?"

"Why . . . I don’ t know."

"At least, this way there is only one killer, myself. Had they succeeded there would have been three killers. Aren’ t you pleased that there are three less killers in the world?"

"I don’ t know. When you put it that way . . . why did they want to kill you?"

"Because, like you, they believed that I was a bad person. That was the justification.

They had also convinced themselves that I deserved to die. But without the promise of the reward they wouldn’ t have bothered."

"And who were these persons who wanted to kill you?"

"They were farmers. A father and his two sons. The father was corrupt, hungry for fame and money. The sons, poor lads, obeyed their father’s wishes. They were fine young men. Innocent. In the very prime of their lives. I killed the father with pleasure.

The death of the sons made me sad. I buried them in the Pietrone Mountains. No one will ever find them. I buried the father first on the side of the mountains that never gets sun. In order to honor the sons I buried them far from the father on the sunny side of the mountains. A nice site with a wonderful view. I said my version of a prayer over their graves."

"And what was that?"

"I said that I hoped that there was such a thing as rebirth and that they would be born to a better and happier life "

"You don’ t believe in Heaven? In Hell? You don’ t believe in God and His Most Precious Son?"

"No. I don’ t."

"I’m a nun you know."

"You are? One couldn’ t tell by looking at you with your thick and lovely black hair.

But I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you in your black robes and habit working the field."

"And I’ve seen you, ah, Bastone, with your fine black horse and pistol, also
working, I suppose."

"So, we both work then?"

The next day the man stopped again, casting the shadow of his horse and himself on the spot where she worked. She continued working, afraid to look up. She almost felt that she knew him that he might know her.

He refused to move on and waited patiently.

She looked up.

He looked down, studied her face. Then rode off with a puzzled look, shaking his head.

She returned to her work. She was blushing.

One thousand, two thousand, three thousand . . . . Our Father who art . . .
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape,scrape, scrape . . . PLOP!

"You shouldn’ t have come by like that, stopping to stare at me.

"Why not? You bring me here and stare at me."

"It was humiliating."

"You are humiliating me also."

"Because I have you captive here?"

"No man wants to be imprisoned."

"I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m afraid."

"Of me?"


"Then why don’ t you let me be, why do you bring me here?"

"I don’ t know. I really don’ t. I, I’m curious."

"You’ re curious about me?"

"I don’ t know, maybe about what you represent. The dark."

"What? What dark?"

"The other side. The dark side "

"I am not the devil. Perhaps your precious God and Jesus are."

"Oh you’ ll surely go to Hell now."

"If they are not there that is where I wish to go."

"Oh! How can you?"

"How can you?"

"I’m good. I try to be good. What’s wrong with being good?"

"If everyone was as good as you are think that you are good there would very shortly be no one on this earth, which might not be such a bad thing come to think of it. Hum, I could go for that. Think of that. How wonderful. A planet with only birds, animals, fish and plants, he paused and insects and bacteria of course. Problem is, my jailor, it’s just not possible. We are only animals. Whatever we need we hunt for."

"You believe that? You truly believe that?"

"Yes. You brought me here didn’t you?"

"Oh! How do you dare? Go away, go away. I don’ t want to see you anymore."
And the cell was empty. She almost thought that she heard someone say from a far distance, 'thank you'.

She cried.

He rode by again the next day. Stopped and waited patiently until she looked up. When she did he studied her briefly, frowned and rode off.

I can’t believe that this is happening to me. It’s not. It’s not happening. Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be Thy name . . .
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape . . .


Thy Kingdom come . . .

Every night she returned to her small palace. She would arrive and then undress allowing her black robes, rough cotton undergarments and black and white habit to fall to the floor in a heap. Then she would go into her closet and pick out white silk undergarments, a fine white satin gown and white velvet shoes. Then she would dress, sit in her red velvet chair, comb her hair and cry. She willed the outside day to night. Suddenly against the far wall were three perfectly silhouetted pale yellow Venetian windows cast by the light of a full moon.

When she had worn every white combination that she had, she willed away all the garments, shoes, shawls and scarves. Now she stood nude in an empty closet bathed in the light of the ever present full moon coming through a new window she had suddenly decided on. Somehow the moonlight seemed to warm her. She slowly rubbed the moonlight into her nude and chilled body.

Then she slowly and meticulously restocked her closet. One by one she designed the dresses, the gowns, the pairs of shoes, shawls, scarves and undergarments. Then she added gloves and stockings. Then silver and golden necklaces, rings and belts encrusted with the most precious of gems.

The nude her, moon bathed, looked around. Except for the silver, gold and gems everything in her wardrobe was white.

She no longer cried. Night after night now she sat newly dressed and upright, in the faint moonlight, hands finger clasped in her lap, and what? waited? Off in the distance a wolf wailed. She had willed that. She needed company. She needed something to echo her mood.

No one came. No one would ever come. She knew that. No one could come unless she willed it. That was something she would never do. Never. Never. Never.

Her days now were a welcomed relief to her dark and moonlit lonely nights.

She had daylight, most often sunlight, the silent company of the sisters, the music of the scraps with their plop accents. She had the Saturday night lukewarm washing, the morning hot milk and bread, the noon soup, the evening pasta in fish, meat or vegetable sauce. She had her prayers, her rosary and her bible. Perhaps life wasn’ t so bad after all.

She was lonely. Now she silently cried real tears that occasionally fell and stained the yellow-brown earth momentaraily before they evaporated slowly into the faintly dusted air.

Her nights were dark now; she had done away with the moon. One night she made it rain, gently at first, a soothing drizzle. It didn’ t help. She let it rain harder. Then she added thunder and lightning. To hell with it. The thunder got louder, the rain more violent, the lightning more frequent. Soon there was nothing, but the rapid threatening exchanges between the roar and rumble of the thunder and the brilliant slashing flashes of blinding light that almost completely obscured the background sound of the rain, gentle and melodic now by comparison. She watched fascinated as lighting images of her three windows flicked rapidly in and out of being. She felt somewhat, but not much, better. I wonder what would happen, she thought, if I would will the lightning to strike my palace, strike me. But she didn’t. Not yet, she thought. Not yet.

She sat on the tiled floor against the wall facing the niche with its book and the wooden cross below. In the center of the room was her precious red velvet chair, under it she had placed a lit candle. She willed her white garments to float one by one, slowly, out of her closet and across the room to land in the chair to then be, slowly, consumed by the flames.

In the end, all that was left was a grey-black smoldering heap.

The ashes ofmy wedding dresses. Why did I think that? I had never thought ofthem as wedding dresses. I am already married to the Blessed Lord Jesus.
In her black robes and black and white habit she walked barefoot across the wet, green grass, away from her palace, and towards a red bubbly setting sun. As she walked, the ground began to tremble ever so slightly. Then she felt it heave and sink. On the horizon the flat ground-line swelled up. The ground below, sounded muffled throaty roars as it squeaked, swelled and heaved.

The horizon rose higher and higher blocking out the sun behind it. She looked up at the rising crest high, above her now, in the sky. Then, with a mighty deep gurgle that trembled and vibrated its way to the peak, the top of the mountain exploded into a fountain of hot lava and black smoke, the smoke working its way across the sky above as if there was some invisible ceiling defining its ever expanding roll. Twilight disappeared. In the darkness of the smoke and the new night she undressed illuminated by the fire and lava above. She laid herself naked in the comfort of the wet grass, arms to her sides, and waited.

Soon the hot cinders and sparks were falling across her body burning and sizzling as they hit her bare skin, smoking when they hit her black hair spread out in a fan around her eyesshut- tight-face. Next to her, her clothes had burst into flames. She cried, the tears working their way out from the pressed, shut eyes. Her face and body were pot-marked with blisters, her hair aflame. The hot cinders continued falling, reinforced now with splashes of burning red torturous lava. She looked down from above at her body covered with a blanket of smoldering ash and lava, she smelled her burning flesh and hair. As she watched she saw herself disappear, consumed by the hell and the fury that she had rained down upon herself.

In the morning she was surprised to find herself intact, alive, unharmed. She studied her flawless thick black hair while running it through her fingers slowly. Then she quickly dressed for the pre-breakfast chores.

As she worked the ground she heard the shots and saw the dust rising from the ground far away near the base ofmountains. Close behind the cloud of dust was another, then another. Then they seemed to blend into one long cloud of flat pops that echoed in the mountains behind her.

That night she brought him once more to the cell.

"You again?"he said.

"You’ re alive?"

"I’m alive."He had his left hand cupped in his right.

"You’ re hurt?"

"Only my hand."

"Your gun hand?"


"I’m glad. I’m glad you’ re alive."

"Why did you bring me here again?"

"I heard the shots, saw the chase. I thought it might be you."

"They got Gianni."



"Who? Who killed him?"

"The militia."

"Who was Gianni?"

"He was only a boy. So young."

"Why are you a bandit?"

"They call us bandits. We are not bandits we are patriots, rebels."

"Rebels, against what?"

"Against Mussolini and all of the others who have betrayed their promises, betrayed the folk, betrayed Italy "

"Were any of them killed?"

"One, an unfair trade. One trained militiaman with a gun for one untrained and
innocent lad without one. Still, I wish that they were both still alive. We had no choice, have no choice."

They looked at each other.

"I don’ t like this room and you are a poor host. No wine, no food, no cigars. Let me go now."

"There’s some wine, a cigar and matches, there, on the floor, in the corner."

"Well, that’s better. I’ ll drink and smoke and then you’ ll let me go."

"Yes do please. And then I’ ll let you go."

"I’ve got to learn your trick. I’d like to bring you to my dreams and hold you captive.

Would that please you?"

"No. No, it wouldn’ t,"she blushed."Well, you know I feel then."

As the nuns worked the garden he and two men rode by. He stopped, glanced her way, the others stopping with him. She tried to see his left hand. It was hidden behind the mane of his horse. After a time the three rode away.
He was in the cell once more. There was a table and on it was wine, cheeses, bread, salami, a roasted chicken.

"Let me know what you would like if this won’ t do-she said from the barred

"The cigars?"

There were cigars.

"Some Vin Santo."

There was a bottle ofVin Santo and a small glass.

"Some Amaretto cookies."

There were Amaretti cookies.

"How do you do this?"

"I, I just do."

"You say you’ re a nun but you are a witch."

"I’m not,"she said shaking her head."I’m not a witch."

"A sorceress then?"

"No, not that either."

"I don’ t care. Whatever you are, like me, you are an outsider. Outside of your order, outside of society, outside of wherever and whatever it is that you came from."

"I don’ t think . . ."

"Never mind, join me."

"To eat?"

"Of course. To eat. What did you think I meant?"

"I can’t join you."

"Why not?"

"I, I don’ t trust you."

"I would never violate a true and good nun nor any good woman."

"You’ re a man. Men can’ t be trusted. My mother warned me."

"Well if you won’ t join me let’s call off our date and you can let me go."

"It’s not a date. It’s not, not a date. You’ re my prisoner."

"None of this is real, including you, including these walls. If I truly wanted to I
could walk through that wall, or that door, since I am not real either."

"You can’t. You wouldn’ t dare. You’ re my fantasy, not your fantasy. I have total control over you."

He walked towards the cell door.


He continued.

"Please stop. Please don’ t."

He walked through the door. She stood and hugged her chest with her arms.

"Please stop. Go back. Go away. I, I command you."

"I won’ t hurt you."

She had tried to hide her shame, her secret. Then she no longer could. The nuns were the first to notice and the Mother Superior was eventually informed. As soon as she heard the news she called Sister Vinessa into her small office and had asked if it was true. Sister Vinessa had to confess that it was, but that she had no idea of how it could have been possible. She had done nothing wrong she said.

"Was it the stable boy? One of the workers repairing the convent? The postman from the village? You can tell me dear."

"It was no one. I did nothing. It wasn’ t, no, it’s not, real. None of this is possible."

The Mother Superior had given her some rough cloth and had told her to make herself a dress, preferably one that hung to the ankles. She could keep the undergarments and shoes, she said. Then she must leave the convent.

She sat on a stone bench outside the convent walls. There was no place to go. Night.

Cold. Hug body. Cry.

She was in her palace. She had willed a large fireplace. In her palace she closed her eyes and enjoyed her newfound comfort. So warm. So nice.

She fell asleep.

In her dream she woke. She hadn’ t heard the noise; the loud cluttered muffled plops on the tiles. High above her on his black horse, illuminated by the light from the fireplace was Bastone. He extended his wounded wrapped hand down towards her.

"Come. Come with me to the mountains. You’ ll be comfortable and safe there until we can find a proper and good place for you."

She woke outside the convent walls. She hadn’ t heard the noise, the loud cluttered muffled plops on the hard earth. High above her on his black horse, illuminated by the light of a full moon was Bastone. He extended his wounded wrapped hand down towards her.

"Come. Come with me to the mountains. You’ ll be comfortable and safe there until we can find a proper and good place for you."

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