Rosalia's Bittersweet Pastry Shop (10 page)

 
As for the nuns, Rosalia hadn't learned much about them yet. They all seemed to blend in, with their uniform habits and daily routines. The only two who had stood out to Rosalia were Madre Carmela and Sorella Domenica, and like the sisters Elisabetta and Teresa, they couldn't have been more opposite. While Madre Carmela radiated serenity and happiness, Sorella Domenica exuded nothing but doom and gloom. Rosalia wondered why she was so angry all the time and where it stemmed from.
The dinner bell startled Rosalia out of her thoughts. Every day, as soon as all the food had been laid out on the table, one of the nuns would ring a small bell made out of porcelain, alerting everyone it was time to eat.
“Sorella Domenica, would you be so kind as to lead us in the blessing today?” Madre Carmela asked the grumpy nun.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Thank you, Lord, for giving us this meal. Amen.”
Without looking up, Sorella Domenica immediately picked up her spoon and began scooping up her minestrone. The other sisters looked to Madre Carmela for permission before beginning to eat.
“Sorella Domenica? That was a lovely blessing. We must always be grateful for having food, especially when so many go hungry. But I was thinking perhaps you could say a prayer for Rosalia since this will be her last day with us at the convent.”
Sorella Domenica froze midway while scooping up more soup. Her brows knitted furiously. Slowly she lowered her spoon. With a slight nod of her head in Madre Carmela's direction, she said, “As you wish, Madre.
“Dear God, please bless Rosalia and her family. May she find peace in her life again. Amen.”

Grazie,
Sorella.” Madre Carmela picked up her spoon, signaling to the other nuns they could begin eating. Of course, Sorella Domenica once again did not wait for the mother superior's cue as she greedily slurped up her minestrone.
“May I say something, Madre Carmela?” Rosalia timidly asked.
“Of course, my child. Go ahead.”
“I just wanted to thank Sorella Domenica for the lovely blessing, and I wanted to thank all of you for helping me, especially when I was so . . .” Rosalia struggled to find the right words. “. . . especially when I was not feeling well. I will never forget your kindness.”
“We are just happy you are healthy again and returning to your family and home,” Sorella Giovanna said.
Rosalia remembered Sorella Giovanna's was the other face she had looked into that day when she woke up by the cave. She had tended to Rosalia those first few weeks when she was still so weak.
They ate in silence until it was time for dessert. Rosalia found it funny that the nuns made this exception to their rule of not speaking while eating. When dessert was brought to the table, the mood instantly lightened, and the nuns began chatting animatedly. Usually, the discussion centered on the particular dessert they would be indulging in that day. They even laughed and shared stories, often about some fluke that had occurred in the kitchen earlier. When Rosalia had seen that the nuns didn't abstain from having sweets every day after their midday meal, she couldn't help but express her surprise to Madre Carmela.
“We work very hard in the pastry shop, as I'm sure you've noticed in the short time you've been here, Rosalia. I cannot expect my sisters to create these wonderful pastries and deny themselves as well. The only time we abstain from eating sweets is during Lent and on Fridays throughout the year. I think having this little reward to look forward to helps inspire the sisters in their work. You must remember, Rosalia, we are human, too.”
Rosalia had thought of Madre Carmela's words often since that day: “We are human, too.” She didn't know why, but for some reason, these words had resonated deeply with her. She had come to think of Madre Carmela as a saint and an angel—
her
angel—for rescuing her and bringing her back from near death and the depths of despair. But, of course, Madre Carmela was right. She and the other nuns were not perfect merely because they had taken vows and had devoted their lives to God. Naturally, Madre Carmela and the other nuns must have their own stories about what had brought them to the convent, just like the lay workers did.
After everyone ate Madre Carmela's chocolate pudding, the nuns and the lay workers began leaving the table one by one until Rosalia and Madre Carmela were the last still seated. But no one had cleared the dessert dishes from the table.
“Where did they go?” Rosalia asked Madre Carmela.
“You will soon find out.” Madre Carmela smiled.
After a few minutes had elapsed, the nuns and the lay workers returned. Each of them held a pastry box from the shop. They smiled as they took turns walking up to Rosalia and presenting her with a box.
“For you and your family,” they each repeated.
She then realized they were giving her gifts. Each box contained a different pastry as was noted in ink on the top of the boxes. Rosalia was so moved that she began to cry as she thanked everyone.

Grazie. Grazie mille.


Auguri.
Best wishes, Rosalia.” Lidia kissed Rosalia on both cheeks, and soon the other lay workers joined in.
Even Elisabetta, who was always so reserved with her emotions, managed a small hug for Rosalia. “You should keep on baking at home.”

Grazie,
Elisabetta.”
Mari, in her usual quiet way, merely said, “
Buona fortuna.
” She shook Rosalia's hand and began to turn around, but then stopped and said, “Go forward. Do not look back.” Her gaze met Rosalia's, and instantly, Rosalia knew what she meant. She nodded her head.
“I will try to remember that, Mari.
Grazie.

“Do not try. You must remember that if you hope to survive.” She drew Rosalia's face in close to hers as she whispered these last words. Rosalia could not help but feel a slight shiver run down her spine.
There was a loud knock at the convent's door, which almost made her jump out of her seat.
Madre Carmela looked at Rosalia. “That must be the police. Oh, my, where did the time go?” She hurried to let them in.
Rosalia's heart skipped a beat. It wouldn't be long now before she was in the warm embrace of her family.
The nuns and the lay workers followed her and Madre Carmela out into the courtyard as they said their final farewells. Rosalia thought back to that day when the nuns had found her by the cave and how they had wrapped her in the sheet, protecting her much like a mother protects her newborn baby. And now they were sending her back into the world.
7
Marmellata di Tarocchi di Nonna
GRANDMA CATERINA'S
BLOOD ORANGE MARMALADE
 
 
 
R
osalia's head was pressed up against the glass of the car's side window. Madre Carmela watched her, worried that the police's interrogation at the start of their trip had been too much for her. L'ispettore Franco had asked Rosalia if she would mind answering a few questions during the drive. Madre Carmela had seen her hesitation, but then Rosalia had nodded.
Sensing her trepidation, L'ispettore Franco had said, “I'm sorry. I know this is difficult, but if we hope to find Marco, we need your full cooperation.”
Rosalia had replied, “I want nothing more.”
So she had relayed the events leading up to Marco's kidnapping her and her ordeal in the cave. Though Rosalia had complied, Madre Carmela had noticed how anxious she looked as she recounted what had happened. She told L'ispettore Franco everything—except for the rape. Madre Carmela had already informed the inspector of the crime and asked him not to specifically ask Rosalia about it. She'd been through too much and needed to get emotionally stronger before she should be forced to recount to the authorities Marco's violation against her. And if they did capture Marco, she would have to give testimony in court. Madre Carmela shuddered. She couldn't imagine how Rosalia would be able to recount in detail what she'd been through, especially in front of a courthouse audience.
Now as Madre Carmela watched Rosalia, deep in thought, she wondered what was flashing through her mind. Hoping to lighten the mood, she asked Rosalia, “Tell me more about your family. From what you've shared with me, they sound wonderful. I cannot wait to meet them.”
Rosalia turned away from the car window and smiled. “
Si.
I am fortunate to have such loving parents. And my brother, Luca, is my best friend.”
“He sounds like a special young man.”
“We're all so proud of him, even Papà. Though I know he must've been a little disappointed that Luca decided to become a priest and not a tailor and someday take over his shop.”
“I'm sure your father understands. And it is quite an honor to have a son who will become a priest and devote his life to spreading God's word.”
Rosalia nodded.
“And what is your mother like?”
“Very kind. She always has put our needs before her own. Though we work very hard, and my parents have been able to provide our meals and keep a roof over our heads, they still struggle to ensure they can continue doing this. She is a wonderful cook. She doesn't make too many sweets though, and the ones she makes are simpler, like the
Taralli
cookies we dip in wine or when we have
caffè con latte,
or her
pan di Spagna.
She also bakes a lemon cake whenever it is our birthday or our namesake saint's day. Sometimes, she also surprises us and makes it for Easter.” Rosalia smiled at the memory.
“We make simpler desserts, too, Rosalia. And sometimes they can be just as satisfying as the richer sweets.”
Rosalia tapped her forehead with her hand. “How could I have forgotten my favorite—
Marmellata di Tarocchi di Nonna
—Grandma Caterina's Blood Orange Marmalade. The recipe was passed down to my mother from her mother. Mamma told me when I was a little girl she would catch me sticking my fingers into the jars of marmalade she made. She used to joke that we should call it
Marmellata di Tarocchi di Rosalia
because I loved it so much. When I was recovering at your convent, Madre, I even dreamt about it one night. It's so good.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “I can't wait to have it again. We used to spread it over some toasted bread in the morning or on some
pan di Spagna
Mamma had made, and then we ate it in the evening. She also made cookies filled with the marmalade. Papà would take us to the orange orchards in the country, where we would harvest the blood oranges. It took three days to make the marmalade. I always helped Mamma. Even though it was a lot of work, I looked forward to it. We joked and laughed a lot as we worked side by side, and Mamma told me stories about her childhood and when she first met Papà. I loved hearing how my father courted her.” Rosalia's eyes suddenly filled with tears.
“Don't be sad, Rosalia. You will be with them again in just a matter of minutes.”
She shook her head. “It's not that, Madre Carmela. I can't help thinking how it will all be ruined for me someday when I meet someone special. Marco ruined me.”
She wiped the tears that were now falling steadily with the back of her hand, but she kept her voice low, not wanting the police captain and his officer to hear. Fortunately, they had the radio on and were talking between themselves.
Taking hold of Rosalia's hand, Madre Carmela said, “
Don't
say that again. You are not ruined, and someday you will find a special man to love you. What happened in that cave is in the past. It is unfortunate this happened and that you had to suffer so much, but you must overcome this. Believe in yourself, and when you find yourself faltering, think of my words and me. God will also help you, and He has already. Pray to Him. He will give you strength.”
Madre Carmela squeezed Rosalia's hand. Rosalia squeezed back and managed a small smile. “
Grazie,
Madre. I will remember what you have said.”
Madre Carmela noticed they were going through the streets of a bustling village. She saw a sign welcoming them to Terme Vigliatore.
“This is it. This is my town.” Rosalia looked out her window and pointed to one of the shop windows.
“There! That's my father's shop!”
L'ispettore Franco heard her and pulled over.
“There is a ‘closed' sign on the door,” he said.
Rosalia looked disappointed that her reunion with her family would be further delayed.
“A few other shops are closed, too. Your father is probably still taking his siesta.”
“Ah. I had forgotten the time.
Si.
Everyone should still be at home—except for Luca, who is at the seminary. He only comes to visit us every other Sunday. What day is it today, Madre? I haven't been keeping track of the days while at the convent.”
“It is Saturday.”
“On to your home, then?” L'ispettore Franco looked at Rosalia in the rearview mirror.

Si.

Rosalia instructed L'ispettore Franco how to get to her home from the tailor's shop. Soon, they pulled up to a row of stand-alone stone houses. The street was quiet except for a couple of stray dogs looking for whatever food scraps they could find. Madre Carmela noticed a woman opening her blinds, and soon she could see a few of the other villagers doing the same. People were awakening from their siestas.
They came to the end of the street. Rosalia barely waited for the police captain to brake before she swung open her door and ran to her house.
“Rosalia!
Aspetti!
” Madre Carmela hurried out of the car and called out, but it was no use. The girl was running fast and was at her front door in an instant.
Rosalia knocked after trying the door and seeing it was locked. Madre Carmela and L'ispettore Franco joined her. They waited, but no one answered. She knocked again, harder this time, and shouted, “Mamma! Papà!” But still no one came to the door.
The inspector walked around the house and tried peering into the windows, but all the shades were drawn.
“Perhaps they're not home?” He furrowed his brows as he asked this.
“The only other place where they could be at this time would be the tailor shop, and no one was there. Maybe they are still sleeping?” Rosalia now banged on the door with her fist.
“Do they normally sleep this late during siesta?” L'ispettore Franco asked.
Rosalia stopped banging as she pondered his question. “No, we usually do not sleep for more than an hour. Papà is always anxious to get back to the shop and get ready for any evening customers. Where could they be?” Rosalia's voice filled with concern.
“Don't worry. I'm sure there is an explanation as to why they're not home,” Madre Carmela said, trying to keep the worry out of her own tone.
She noticed L'ispettore Franco was knocking on one of the neighbor's doors. A woman opened the door and looked afraid when she saw the police. The captain gestured toward Rosalia, who was now pacing around, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
“Rosalia?” the woman said in a startled voice, then held her hand over her mouth.
“Signora Tucci!”
Rosalia ran toward her. Signora Tucci walked past the police and took a close look at Rosalia, not believing it really was her.
“Where are my parents? We even went to the tailor shop, but it was closed. Is everything all right?”
Signora Tucci continued to stare at Rosalia, and then looked over to Madre Carmela and frowned when she noticed her habit.
“Please, Signora Tucci. Where is my family?” Rosalia pleaded with her neighbor.
“I'm sorry, Rosalia. You've given me a bit of a shock. I never thought I would see you again. None of us did.”
“And why is that, Signora?” L'ispettore Franco asked.
“She's been gone for so many weeks. And then . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“And then what?” Rosalia sounded desperate and irritated. Madre Carmela was worried she was about to start shaking Signora Tucci if the woman didn't give more information soon.
“Your parents searched for you and so did the police—our local police.” She looked at L'ispettore Franco, who gestured with his hands impatiently for her to continue.
“Even the neighbors helped. We all searched for you. Your parents suspected that . . .” Again, her voice trailed off. She swallowed and then said, “They suspected that man—what was his name?”
“Marco,” Rosalia said softly.

Si.
They suspected he had taken you. As soon as your family realized you were gone, your father and Luca went to the authorities and told them how Marco had been stalking you at the tailor shop and how he'd made an advance toward you. The police then went to Marco's home, but the family said he hadn't returned home the day before. They even inquired around town but no one had any useful information to offer. The police continued to check in with his family and anyone else who knew him over the course of the weeks following your disappearance, but again no one had seen or heard from him.”
Madre Carmela immediately realized the last time anyone had seen Marco was before she and the nuns had found Rosalia at the cave. No doubt he had run off after discovering Rosalia had escaped. And from the expression on Rosalia's face, she had made the same deduction. She blanched visibly and took a step back. Madre Carmela went to her side and put an arm around her, steadying her.
“Your poor parents were beside themselves, and little Cecilia kept asking everyone when you were coming home. She even wandered to my house one day and walked right in.” Signora Tucci's eyes filled with tears. “Even she was looking for you.”
“But where are they now, Signora? I'm back. I want to see my family.” Rosalia turned her head, looking up the street for any signs that her family was returning home.
“May I ask, Rosalia, where is Marco?” Signora Tucci's lips pursed tightly together in a grimace. The sadness that had filled her face a moment ago when she spoke of Rosalia's family's searching for her was now gone.
Rosalia was stunned by her neighbor's question. Shame filled her face, and Madre Carmela knew she was remembering Marco's violation against her. And the way Signora Tucci was peering at Rosalia, it was as if she, too, knew what he'd done. But Signora Tucci was looking at Rosalia as if she were the criminal.
Madre Carmela's protective instincts toward Rosalia kicked in, and she spoke up.
“How should she know where that horrible man is? Can't you see her recoiling at just hearing his name?” Madre Carmela did not attempt to disguise the anger in her face as she challenged Signora Tucci.
“I'm sorry, Sister. I meant no offense. I'm about to explain, and you will see why I drew the conclusion I did. Rosalia's parents received a letter from her saying that she had found out she was pregnant, so she ran away with Marco, and then they decided to elope.”
“I never sent such a letter!” Rosalia shouted. “Never!”
L'ispettore Franco and his officer looked her over, their eyes resting on her stomach as they tried to assess if she was indeed pregnant. Rosalia noticed and shook her head.
“Lies! Marco lied. I am not pregnant, nor did I elope with him! And I never sent a letter to my parents!”
“The letter was in your handwriting, Rosalia. Your father was certain of it since you handled his customers' receipts.”
Rosalia put her hands to her temples as a fuzzy image came to her. She remembered feeling so weak as Marco pulled her off her makeshift hay bed and forced her to sit up in the chair he'd used to tie her to at the end of her days in the cave. He had placed something heavy and hard on her lap, and a sheet of paper rested on the object. Then he placed a pen in her hand and told her to write the words he was repeating to her. She remembered feeling groggy, and it had been the greatest effort just to keep her eyes open. She could barely write and had dropped the pen a few times. But Marco had picked it up and screamed at her to do what he said. That was all she remembered. She didn't remember the words he'd told her to commit to paper. He must have drugged her so she would write the letter, but in that state she couldn't see how she would have been able to write legibly and in her own handwriting, which her father recognized. Surely, her father must've noticed the handwriting was distorted?

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