An Act of Faith
by David Taylor ©
wizened hands shelled peas by themselves, while her eyes
watched her grandchildren at the table.
"Where's she gone?" demanded Tommaso for the second time.
"I've told you once," replied Pia. She's had to pop up to the church."
"But why did she have to dash off like that in the middle of lunch?"
"Eat up. She'll soon be back."
The other children fell obediently to eating but Tommaso kept his gaze fixed on his grandmother until her eyes fell to join her hands in shelling peas.
Angeletta had never allowed her moments of anxiety to distract her from her daily chores. Cares and fears could come creeping in with the loneliness of night when the children were asleep and her face obscured by the quilt. During the day, in common with all the sailors' wives on the island, she had learned to be stoic, private and fiercely independent. That which had frozen her hand in the act of serving the meal had been no brief flutter of passing care, though. It had been, had she cared to describe it, a physical thought; a bodily sensation so powerful as to stop her short, emptying her mind of everything inconsequential and giving absolute precedence to itself.
"I have to go
to the church," she told her mother-in-law.
Pia simply nodded in reply and continued rhythmically pushing peas from their pods as though they were rosary beads.
To get to the church, Angeletta had to walk along the road which ran longitudinally along the centre of the island. Houses flanked the road solidly on either side giving a sense of enclosed security to the island's centre. She hurried along, head down, through a group of carefree tourists all wearing shorts and pastel coloured tennis shirts. As she passed, she heard one of them remark that it was hard to remember, here in the interior, that the sea was never more than a few hundred yards away. That remark made Angeletta feel, even more acutely, the sea swelling and pushing around the island, drawing her away through the distant straits into an ocean she had never seen. She increased her pace, and did not question that she had understood a comment made in a language she did not know.
She thanked the Madonna out loud to discover the church door was open. The creak of the hinges brought a woman to the doorway of a nearby house. In the dim interior of the room behind her, three children and an old man were eating. The woman crossed herself quickly and returned to serving at the table.
paused only to bow to the altar before falling to her
knees in an unlit apse. She fumbled for a few moments to
find a coin to light an electric candle. The pale light
revealed a large painting depicting a distressed
sailing-ship, tossed helplessly under a heavy,
rain-laden sky. The only relief to the gloom was from on
high, where a strange, intense light broke through a
hole in the clouds and seared through the dark to
illuminate the vessel. Through the hole, there peered
the beatific countenance of a saint, a face in which the
artist had striven to concentrate such intense piety and
rapture as to make it appear disinterested in the
miracle being performed.
little whether the face of salvation was benign or
otherwise, and even less about the painting's artistic
merits; she prayed hard, harder than she thought it
possible to pray. She prayed until, exhausted and faint,
she felt sure that somewhere in a raging sea off the
coast of Argentina, Tommaso had noticed that the sun was
finally breaking through after three days of storm. Yet
breaking through strangely, almost as though someone had
poked his finger through the rain-swollen mass of cloud.
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