SordinaA Chapter by Domenic Luciani
the next character to make an entrance.
Sordina, The woman whispered quickly in Italian. Sordina, it is time for dinner.
Sordina didn’t move; didn’t speak. She didn’t even give any indication that the old woman’s words had reached her. She sat still in her chair, staring out the window as the fields of sunflowers rippled like waves in a sea of gold with the wind. Her room was almost completely devoid of furniture except for the small wicker chair upon which she sat. The walls were white plaster; powdered bricks were revealed where the plaster had peeled off, and a crater was left in the ceiling where the light had once been, but something had gone wrong with the wiring, and so it had lain open and unfinished like a man halfway through surgery.
The old lady hung in the doorframe for a moment longer, watching to see if the thin young woman with straight black hair would react, and then motioned a frustrated shoo of her hand, receded down the hallway, and disappeared.
The day was bright, and the air warm. It wasn’t the best view in the decrepit house, but it faced against the wind in the summer time, when the scent of sunflowers became lost in the breeze, only to rediscover itself as it rushed through the small window. Downstairs, pots and pans could be heard banging together along with the sizzling of meat as it met with hot metal.
The woman didn’t think about eating. Instead, her mind wandered to its usual sanctuary of past memories, and the few good ones that would probably never be experienced again.
Sordina was not the woman’s true name. In Italian, Sordina meant mute, and the people who had adopted and named her, called her so because she refused to speak. Doctors figured it was a mental issue, as all of her organs dealing with speech were in working condition. She hardly ever moved, and when she did, it was only to position the chair back a ways when the sunlight became too oppressive. Every afternoon, someone from the family came up to remind her that a meal was ready, and that she was welcome to join them.
She never did.
Sordina took meals in her room and only ate when no one was watching. The orphanage they had adopted her from had no idea how old she was, so now the family guessed she was around twenty two. She had been left at the doorstep without a note, which had led all she met to know her as Sordina the mute.
She had a memory that she recalled often. A cloudy day, it was raining, and . . . there had been someone there that she couldn’t quite picture. . . .
The voice had startled Sordina to the point she nearly fell off her chair.
Sordina, we’re going to the market later. You’re coming with us. Make sure to grab your sandals from the closet.
Sordina looked up, her thoughts disrupted. A trip to the market was unheard of. She could picture the family downstairs, conversing about the strange adopted daughter who lived secluded in her room, like a ghost.
Slowly, she stood up from the chair. She walked strangely; back arched, feet dragging, head low. Sordina wasn’t wholly unattractive, but her lack of personal hygiene made her seem like an aged hermit. Her white sundress rippled behind her in the slight breeze that came through the open windows.
Downstairs, there were family members Sordina had never even seen. They eyed her like a stranger who had invaded their home. She cowered behind the old woman to avoid their gazes as they proceeded into the foyer.
Sordina would be accompanying her uncle, a middle aged man with a round belly and head so bald it sparkled in the sun. Her nephew would also be tagging along, a boy the family called Tortoise because of his oddly slow movements.
The family didn’t have a car. Instead, they used a somewhat aged moped, colored a faded robin’s-egg-blue and with a large basket attached to the back.
Even though Sordina had known the sunlight for most of her life, outside, it seemed so much closer and it beat down on her shoulders, turning them red. Uncle jumped onto the moped and tried to start it, slapping at the dashboard angrily when it stalled.. It came to life with a pathetic frum frum. Sordina looked at the thing. Since she had arrived, she had only left the house on two occasions, and both were in a relative’s car. Now that she gazed upon the rickety vehicle, her nerves began to tense up. She looked back at the old woman and shook her head furiously.
It’s alright, child, the old woman said, putting on her most reassuring smile. Your uncle may be a fool when it comes to many things, but he’s a decent driver.
Sordina continued to shake her head until Tortoise stepped forward and took her hand. She gazed down at him, eyes wide, heart pounding, a thousand scenarios tearing through her mind, all ending with the moped and its three riders consumed by a blur of flames.
Tortoise ignored her obvious fears and trudged to the moped with her in tow. He sat down, and, against her better judgment, she tentatively took her seat between him and Uncle. With a holler of joy, Uncle gunned the tiny engine of the moped and shot off down the dirt road towards Ascoli Piceno.
Sordina didn’t recall most of the journey, due to the fact that her eyes were shut tight and her death grip on Uncle’s torso took a few minutes to remove once they had arrived. Immediately, the stench of cigarettes and commerce invaded her nose. There were many more people here than she hoped there wouldn’t be. She clutched a handful of the back of Uncle’s t-shirt as they made their way through the maze of ancient stonework and boisterous people to where shops were set up, selling various trinkets like necklaces and counterfeit watches. An entire square was dedicated to food and that was where the trio was headed.
Without keeping track of it, Sordina held bags as Uncle dropped fresh fruit in them. Eventually, when they moved on to pastas and bread, Tortoise took over with his own bags.
The sun was only just beginning to set when Uncle finally declared that all the shopping was finished and it was time to return home. Taking into account Sordina’s irrational fear of people, he escorted them through small alleys and vacant sections of the town in order to avoid confrontation.
Back on the moped, the three sped off back towards home, as the light of dusk began to throw black shadows against anything that stood against the sky.
Sordina had her eyes closed and as such, she could not foresee what was about to happen. The first sign of trouble was Uncle’s body tensed up (she knew because her grip on his abdomen was so tight, she probably could have felt the air move in his bowels before he passed gas), then the moped slowed down slightly, as if he was unsure of what to do. Even though it was quite possible none of these occurrences were in any way ominous, beneath their lids, Sordina’s eyes flickered nervously, and her heart was pounding without reason. She knew something was wrong.
In an instant, there was a crash and a sharp pain in her thigh. Her grip slackened on Uncle and Tortoise’s grip released from her waist as well. Then her bottom left the seat and after that: nothing.
When she came to, she was lying in dirt some yards away from a broken heap of parts that had been the moped. Standing up, light headed at first but adrenaline began to clear her mind, she looked around to figure out what had happened.
Other than a bruise on her left knee that forced her to limp and the fact that she was covered from head to toe in mud, Sordina was alright. A car stuck out of a ditch about a quarter mile down the road. Its lights were still on, but there was no sign of anyone near it.
Then there was Tortoise.
The pudgy boy was knelt over a dark shape in the middle of the road; Uncle.
Sordina rushed to his side, noting he had a horrible gash that ran down the length of his chest and his face was already swollen from bruising. She fainted almost instantaneously at the sight of his blood. Darkness consumed her and, in an instant, she was gone.
When she came to for the second time, she was lying on a bed. Sitting up, she was met with the sullen look of the old lady. Sordina did her best to fix the old lady with her best questioning stare.
It’s alright, child, she said, reading Sordina’s mind. Your uncle has a nasty concussion, but his wounds will heal. Tortoise is fine as well. You were hit . . . by a drunk driver. Luckily, one of the boys who hit you had the right sense to call for an ambulance, the old lady sighed. One of them in the car died, though. Went through the windshield and got glass in his throat. It was God’s punishment, and there’s nothing to say or do about it.
The old woman stood up and exited the room, leaving Sordina to her thoughts. A bright light flickered just above her, and the chilly nighttime air crept in through the old windows even though they were closed. A mosquito buzzed around the light.
Maybe it’s trying to get away, she thought to herself.
There was commotion downstairs, and she knew and argument had broken out. A dozen conversations sparked by angry Italians were entertaining, no doubt, but not a good atmosphere for thinking.
Without a noise, Sordina crept down the hall to the bathroom, where she started the water in the tub and waited until it was warm enough to step in.
During unconsciousness, someone had changed her and wiped her free of mud. She was wearing a long, thin nightgown now. She dipped a finger into the water and decided it was suitable. She shed herself of clothing and eased herself into the warm water of the bath.
The bathroom was just as untidy as the rest of the house. The walls of the tuny room had small tiles covered in grime. Those that weren’t had fallen off, revealing patches of rusty piping. The sink had a crack that ran down the length of it, as if at any moment, the whole thing might split in two. The ceiling was dotted with dark spots where water had leaked through the roof, soaking the plaster ceiling.
What felt like hours went by and Sordina did nothing but lie still in the bath, delving once again into her own memories in the hope that she could recover something that would remind her why she was alive, if for a reason at all.
Once again, her thoughts were interrupted - this time by a knocking on the bathroom door.
Sordina? called a voice. Sordina, are you in there?
Sordina raised a fist and knocked twice on the wall behind her head: her sign for yes.
Sordina could you come out soon, please?
A single knock: no.
The old woman on the other side of the door sighed in frustration, paused as if to include something that would make the conversation more urgent, but gave up. Sordina could hear her footsteps move downstairs and back into the babble of conversation.
She wished to disappear. It seemed God had hardly bothered to give her a purpose in life. She slowly sunk lower until the top of her head disappeared below the water.
A muffled knock came again, but the voice that was speaking was too vague for Sordina to understand. She let her body float a little in the tiny space of the bath tub, wondering if they would simply leave if she didn’t answer, or attempt to break down the door to witness her attempting to drown herself.
She tried to come back up, but for some reason, up didn’t exist anymore. The small bathtub had grown to an immense size and the surface wasn’t visible anymore. Sordina looked all around her, lungs already starting to burn from lack of oxygen. She struggled to swim, but to her dismay, she had never learned to. Instead, she appeared to be convulsing in the strangest fashion.
The space around her began to shrink again, spinning around her as if she were in some freakish washer machine.
When it was done, she looked up. The surface was an inch from her face. She burst out of the tub, gasping for breath and clutching her chest. She must have fallen asleep in the tub and slipped under.
Wiping water from her face, Sordina glanced around, her eyes widening with fear with every square inch they passed over. This was not her bathroom - this was not her tub.
The strange place she had surfaced in looked something like a carnival funhouse. The walls were covered in angular mirrors trimmed with gold that fit together and seemingly random dividers of glass swung freely in a foul-smelling breeze that entered through an open window somewhere. It was bright in the room. Bulbs emitted a white light that reflected off all of the mirrors, creating more light than what actually existed.
Suddenly, a man appeared behind one of the glass dividers. Sordina’s hands immediately jumped to cover her small breasts. The man looked at her, and a greedy delight passed over his face. He was youngish; mid thirties or so, with a mop of dark hair and chiseled features. He wore what appeared to be a tuxedo without the jacket. Sordina blushed at how good looking he was, and how homely she must have looked then.
Without warning, the man moved closer and knelt beside the tub. Tell me, young woman, he said. Where do you come from?
Sordina couldn’t understand that the man was speaking English. She opened her mouth and gave a sort of raspy, throaty sound in answer. The man sat there, perplexed for a moment then realization dawned in his eyes.
You’re a mute! he exclaimed, as if this revelation excited him. He stood up and left in a hurry, returning moments later with a pad and pencil.
Can you write?
Sordina didn’t know what he was saying, but she recognized the gesture and nodded vigorously.
Language? He asked, handing her the pad and pencil.
In most languages, the word ‘language’ is pretty easily identified, and so Sordina was able to understand that much and scribble down Italian on the piece of paper.
The man had an even stranger reaction this time, as if finding a naked woman in his bathtub was the most exciting thing that had happened to him all week. His next words were garbled as he punched the air and laughed like he had triumphed over some difficult challenge.
He turned to her when his odd celebration was over and said, in near perfect Italian, I’ve been waiting for someone like you to come along for a while, now. But where are my manners? I’ll have a servant fetch you a dress to wear or something. There is much work to be done and no time to lose. But for now, we will continue this conversation after you’ve settled. I imagine it may frighten you, coming to another world and all.
“So, the mute girl ended up here as well,” The gentleman said to himself. “Fascinating.”
“The story will prove to be even more so as it moves along, trust me.” He said, staring absentmindedly out the window as rain began to assault it with enormous drops that fell like hammer strokes.
Most of the people in the restaurant had left a while ago. All except for the two men and a waitress with a scar above her left eye.
“I think I need to take a break for a moment,” he said, once his scattered thoughts had collected themselves long enough for him to speak.
“Please, take as long as you need,” the gentleman said. “I’m honored that you have agreed to tell me your story. You’re probably a busy man, and I thank you for taking the time.”
“I’m not as busy as you think, and . . . don’t mention it.” The man stood up and left for the bathroom, leaving the gentleman there to envision his story with a look of wonderment on his face.
A few minutes went by, and the man finally came back out, mumbling something about calling the sanitation department on this place, and taking up his usual seat across from the gentleman.
“Now,” he said, drawing his chair in closer. “There is one more person we need to meet, before this story can truly begin.”
© 2010 Domenic Luciani
Added on August 28, 2010
Last Updated on August 31, 2010
The City of Senses
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..
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