A Novel in Stories by Paola Corso
(University of Wisconsin, 2007)
On The American Association for School Libraries’ “Best Books for High Schools”
On Library Journal's "First Novels: Fall Firsts" Notable List
A Sons of Italy National Book Club Selection
It took exactly twenty-six minutes for a mother, her daughter, and a chicken to board a bus in Santo Procopio. The driver, a slight man with narrow sideburns who was sitting on a bench near the parked bus, appeared to move at a pace that habit had timed for him rather than a schedule. He pulled up his pants, tightened his long belt a notch, and opened the door for me by bumping it with his hip.
I handed him money for the ticket, which he accepted graciously as if it were a tip rather than the fare. He bunched it in his shirt pocket with his cigarettes and pointed to all the vacant seats before walking toward the tabacchinu. I quickly asked if the bus would leave on time and if its route would go by the passegiata along the water in Reggio di Calabria. He stared at my money belt before signaling me to board, no doubt thinking I was another tourist hoping to see the Fata Morgana along the Strait of Messina, which meant he knew that I knew that unless he got the bus moving, we’d probably get there too late to witness a fantastic city rising from the sea.
It was a foggy and humid morning, and the odds were as good as they were going to get for the Sicilian town of Messina across the strait to be reflected in the water and air, creating the mirage’s rare occurrence. The weather in the afternoon, however, was forecasted to turn sunny as was the remainder of my stay. I made sure the driver saw me tapping on my watch before stepping up into the bus.
After a few minutes passed and there was still no driver, I waved at him out of my window. He nodded and smiled at me from the tabacchinu doorway as he ducked inside the beaded curtain. I sat back down, looked at my watch and worried that my one chance to catch a meteorological freak of nature was ticking away.
I gave him 30 more seconds and then I would get off the bus to fetch him. I’d offer to buy him a gelato and he could lick it while he drove. He’d probably use one hand to steer anyway. Even to navigate the hairpin turns along the steep cliffside to the water. Just as I was about to hop off the bus, he poked his head outside the curtain of beads at the doorway and shouted, “Nu minutu, pe favuri, Signura.”
The driver and I obviously had the same difference of opinion over the likelihood of the Fata Morgana that my mother and father had. I remember as a little girl asking them about it. He pulled out the encyclopedia and read what he called scientific fact:
"A Fata Morgana mirage is when a layer of hot air traps rays of light coming from distant objects such as rocks, which appear to be towers of a fairy-tale castle. The light rays bend as they pass from the cool, heavy air near the surface to the warm, light air above it."
He slammed the book shut and said that if the Fata Morgana were to occur, which it wouldn't, it was no miracle that it would be in Calabria.
"It's full of hot air. Not just the Sirocco current from Africa but from all the people down there who have nothing better to do than listen to themselves talk! And there's enough rock in the boot of Italy for a million optical illusions! Ask the campagnolu who work the land. Your father was one of them. I don't want to hear no more, Celestina, about castles in the sky."
When he walked off, my mother opened the encyclopedia to the page my father read from, his sweaty thumbprint still visible on the corner of the page. She inserted a small piece of onion-skin paper with a few sentences handwritten so lightly the Italian words were barely visible. When I asked my mother to read it to me, she said it was the testimony of a priest who, hundreds of years ago, witnessed the Fata Morgana miracle over the Strait of Messina.
"The sea, washing up the coast of Sicily, rose up like a dark mountain range. In front of the mountain, a series of white-gray pilasters appeared. Then they shrank to half their height and built arches like those of Roman aqueducts. Castles appeared above the arches, each with towers and windows before it all vanished."
She tucked the thin piece of paper into the encyclopedia as if it were a holy card marking a page in the Bible. I often heard her reciting it out loud in a cadence of prayer. Her eyes slowly closing, her lips moving ever so slightly, whispering the words so only she could hear them.
Read about Catina's Haircut on Psychology Today.
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Copyright © 2020 Paola Corso. All Rights Reserved.