Rosalia's Bittersweet Pastry Shop (6 page)

4
Ossa dei Morti
BONES OF THE DEAD
 
 
 
November 1, 1955
 
R
osalia was in the kitchen, helping the nuns and the laywomen who worked at the pastry shop. Since that first day when she decided to live again rather than waste away in her bed, she had come down to the kitchen and helped with whatever the workers needed. Immediately, she became fascinated with the art of pastry making. She had no doubt in her mind that it was an art and marveled at how the workers on a consistent basis could bake and create such beautiful little treasures of sweets. Her favorite part was when it came time to decorate the fancier sweets like the marzipan fruit or the elaborate cakes such as
Trionfo di Gola
—Triumph of Gluttony.
She soon learned that the pastry shop operated on a calendar, in particular, the religious calendar. Pastries were made either to honor a saint's feast day or for a religious holiday like Christmas or Easter. Today was the first of November and was also All Saints' Day—a church holiday that honored all the saints. The weeks leading up to this religious holiday were among the busiest for the convent's pastry shop. Though the nuns and other workers had been preparing for a month, they were still baking and decorating marzipan and
Ossa dei Morti
—Bones of the Dead cookies made to resemble bones. These cookies were consumed every year on November 2nd for All Souls' Day, which was tomorrow. Both the marzipan and the bone-shaped cookies had been selling out. For the past two weeks, long lines of customers had waited to purchase the brightly colored, realistic-looking marzipan fruit and the white, hard bone-shaped cookies.
While marzipan was one of the pastry shop's most popular sweets and was sold throughout the year, the demand for it soared in late autumn. On November 2nd, All Souls' Day, children in Sicily woke up to find baskets containing marzipan,
pupi di zucchero
—or sugar dolls—and other toys and treats. The baskets were supposed to be gifts from their ancestors who had passed away. On the afternoon of All Souls' Day, families descended upon cemeteries with picnics and flowers to celebrate the memory of their loved ones who had passed on.
Rosalia's parents had also taken part in this long-held Sicilian custom, but they had never been able to afford a basket for each of the three children or the marzipan fruit that was sold at their local pastry shop. Instead, they prepared one large basket containing apples or pears, and her mother made her simple
Taralli
cookies that were more savory than sweet and meant to be dipped in wine or coffee. Rosalia did not even know that the tradition was to add marzipan fruit to the baskets until Madre Carmela told her. The families of her school friends were poorer than hers, and many of the other children did not receive a basket on All Souls' Day.
Tears fell down her face. Rosalia lifted the apron tied to her waist to wipe her tears, but she didn't notice that a teardrop had fallen onto one of the raw bone cookies that she had neatly lined up on a baking sheet. When she lowered the apron, her head suddenly began to throb. Closing her eyes, she rubbed her temples. A fuzzy image of a shop flashed before her. Customers were walking out of the shop holding hangers of men's trousers or suits that looked as if they had been freshly pressed. The shop's sign came into view, and she could make out the letters. They spelled “Sarto DiSanta.”
Rosalia opened her eyes. “Sarto,” she said aloud to herself. Of course, her father was a tailor. That was his shop she had just seen in her mind. “Sarto DiSanta,” she whispered once more. Her heart raced. She remembered. DiSanta was her last name. Rosalia DiSanta. Yes, that was it!
She ran out of the kitchen, much to the dismay of the nuns, who shouted after her, “Rosalia! Where are you going? We still have much work to do!”
Running out into the corridor off the kitchen, Rosalia bumped hard into Sorella Domenica—one of the few nuns she still hadn't met. But she had noticed her during the past few weeks in the kitchen. She always seemed to stay apart from the other nuns, and sometimes Rosalia caught her glowering in her direction. Then again, Sorella Domenica often had a scowl on her face. Rosalia had not given her much thought since she was always busy in the kitchen and focused on her work. She knew her name only because she'd heard the other nuns talking to her.
“Excuse me,” Rosalia said in a low voice as she tried to hurry past Sorella Domenica. But the towering nun continued to block her path. At 5′11″, Sorella Domenica loomed over Rosalia's petite frame.
“Excuse me,
Sister.
You
must
always address me and the other nuns as ‘Sister,' ” she said in a very harsh tone.
Rosalia was taken aback by her demeanor. Until now, all the other sisters she had come into contact with at the convent had been nothing but kind to her.
“I'm sorry, Sister. My name is Ro—”
“Rosalia. I know who you are.” Sorella Domenica looked angry. “You must never run in the convent—or even in the courtyard. This is a place of God, and as such, we must always respect it as well as carry ourselves in the most dignified and humble manner. The Carmelite Sisters do not call attention to themselves, and we expect everyone who resides and works here to abide by our rules.”
“I understand, Sister.” Rosalia looked down at her feet. She could feel her face burning up.
“So why were you running? What is so important that you could not walk?”
Rosalia glanced up into the sister's face. Her expression still looked contemptuous. Rosalia did not want to tell her. She wanted Madre Carmela to be the first to hear the news that she remembered her surname and the name of her father's tailor shop. But she knew she had to tell Sorella Domenica something if she hoped she would clear her path.
“I was just looking for Madre Carmela.” Rosalia silently prayed that would be enough explanation for Sorella Domenica to let her be on her way. But Sorella Domenica remained fixed in place as she stared at Rosalia, making her feel as if she could see right through to her soul. Rosalia was tempted to look away, but she knew that might give the nun cause to think she was lying. So with all her willpower, she stared back at Sorella Domenica, doing her best to maintain a wide-eyed, innocent stare.
After a few seconds of silence, but what felt like an eternity to Rosalia, Sorella Domenica said, “Very well. But remember what I told you.”
Sorella Domenica stepped aside. Rosalia bowed her head in the nun's direction and walked away, doing her best to take slow steps. She could feel Sorella Domenica's stare on her back for as long as it took her to reach the end of the long corridor. When she reached the corner, she stole a sideways glance to see if the nun was still watching. She was. How strange!
Once out of Sorella Domenica's sight, Rosalia resumed running. She wasn't going to let the likes of Sorella Domenica intimidate her—well, at least when she was far away from her peering gaze. Rosalia ran to the tiny office that Madre Carmela used. She had told Rosalia that the office used to be a linen closet that she had cleared out so she could take care of the convent's affairs. Madre Carmela was often in here in the late afternoon.
Though the door was slightly ajar, and Rosalia could make out Madre Carmela making entries with a pencil into her ledger, she still knocked gently on the door.
Madre Carmela looked up. Unlike Sorella Domenica's perpetual scowl, Madre Carmela's face instantly beamed when she saw Rosalia.
“Ah! Rosalia! Come in. Is it time for
cena
already?” She glanced at the clock that hung on the wall to the side of her desk—the only adornment in the room.
“No. It's not suppertime yet. I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you, but it is important, Madre Carmela.”
She waved for Rosalia to enter. “You can always come to me, my child. Don't ever be afraid.” She smiled warmly.
Rosalia's heart lightened. She thanked God every day that Madre Carmela had found her. While she was anxious to be reunited with her family, she had quickly grown fond of the nun who had cared for her these past couple of months.
“I remembered my surname, Madre Carmela! DiSanta. That is my family's name!”
“Ah! That is wonderful, Rosalia! See, I told you your memory would come back!” Madre Carmela stood up and went around the desk. She wrapped Rosalia in a tight embrace.
“There's more! My father is a tailor of men's clothes. He owns a shop called Sarto DiSanta. I still don't remember the name of my hometown.” Rosalia's happiness from a moment ago was quickly overshadowed by the realization that she still had not remembered where she lived.
“That is all right. I will contact the local police now that I know your surname and even the name of your father's shop. They can make inquiries here and in the neighboring towns. We are closer to finding your family. And who knows? Maybe you'll even remember everything by the time the police are done with their inquiries.” Madre Carmela squeezed Rosalia's shoulder encouragingly as she lowered her head to peer into her face. “Don't be discouraged.”

Si,
Madre. I must be patient. I'm sorry. I do not want you to think I cannot stand being here. I just miss my family so much, and I know they must be very worried about me.”
“Naturally, your place is with your family, Rosalia. I will call the police first thing in the morning.”

Grazie,
Madre Carmela.”
“It's nothing. So is it still crazy down in the kitchen?”

Si!
I should return. I abandoned them in my excitement over remembering. I wanted you to be the first to know.” Rosalia smiled.
As Rosalia and Madre Carmela made their way back to the kitchen, they walked arm-in-arm. Madre Carmela had a habit of telling Rosalia a saint's story whenever they worked side by side in the kitchen, and since today was All Saints' Day, it was even more fitting. Madre Carmela was about to tell Rosalia the story of Saint Rita when an idea suddenly came to her. Taking a deep breath, she knew she was taking a chance and that Rosalia might not be ready. She quickly uttered a silent prayer to God before beginning.
“Have you ever heard of Saint Maria Goretti, Rosalia?”
Rosalia shook her head.
“She was made a saint by the church only five years ago, in 1950. Well, Maria and her family were very poor—so poor that they had to share a house with another family after Maria's father died when she was nine years old. The family they lived with had a teenage son, Alessandro. He was nineteen years old when he began pressuring Maria to have relations with him. Maria was merely eleven years old. Alessandro made advances toward her on three separate occasions, but each time she adamantly refused, telling him it would be a mortal sin. But on the third occasion, Alessandro became livid. He choked Maria and threatened to kill her if she did not sleep with him. She still refused. That was when he stabbed her many times.”
Madre Carmela paused and looked at Rosalia, whose face had gone completely ashen. Madre Carmela tightened her grip on Rosalia's arm. She wondered if she should continue the story. But Rosalia looked at her when she hesitated, waiting to know what happened next.
“Maria was rushed to the hospital. The doctors were amazed she was still alive, but her injuries were so grave they could not do anything for her. Before she died, she forgave Alessandro. Although Alessandro did not manage to rape Maria, she is also considered to be the patron saint of rape victims as well as of chastity, young girls, purity, poverty, and forgiveness.”
Rosalia stopped walking. Her eyes held a vacant stare—the same stare she had when they found her by the cave. Madre Carmela instantly regretted telling her the story of the saint. Rosalia was still not ready. Though her plan of telling Rosalia the story of Saint Maria Goretti in hopes that it would stir up forgotten memories of whatever terrible fate had befallen her before she was rescued had worked, now it seemed that Rosalia was regressing again. But just when Madre Carmela began thinking the worst, Rosalia spoke.
“What happened to him?”
“Alessandro?”
Rosalia nodded.
“He was arrested and sent to prison. After three years, he repented and said Maria had visited him in a dream. Maria's mother had interceded on his behalf, and instead of receiving a life sentence in prison, he was only given thirty years. After he was released, he went to Maria's mother and asked for her forgiveness, which she granted. He later became a monk.”
Rosalia pursed her lips tightly. Anger flashed across her face.
“So he was able to continue living his life while that poor girl lost hers. How could her mother have forgiven him? If that were my daughter, I would never forgive anyone who had hurt my child like that.”
Breaking away from Madre Carmela's embrace, Rosalia walked a few feet before stopping. She wrapped her arms around her waist and brought her chin to her chest. Rosalia's lustrous, waist-length dark locks swung forward, covering her face like a mourning veil. Madre Carmela could see her shoulders shaking. And then the sobbing began, softly at first, but soon the sobs became anguished moans. Madre Carmela rushed over and pulled Rosalia tightly against her chest.
“Shh! Shh! Everything will be okay. I promise you.” Madre Carmela stroked Rosalia's hair, which had an immediate soothing effect on Rosalia. She continued to cry, but quietly now.
Madre Carmela led Rosalia back to her room and helped her into bed.
“Get some rest. Don't worry about the kitchen. I will tell them you weren't feeling well. I'll bring something up for you to eat later.” Madre Carmela was about to turn off the lamp on the night table and leave when Rosalia reached out for her arm.

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