Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 440 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories, Sand, Rain, Heat, The Tales of Talker Knock and 50 Short Stories: The Very Best of Steve Carr, and LGBTQ: 33 Stories, and The Theory of Existence: 50 Short Stories, published. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. He is the founder of Sweetycat Press. His Twitter is @carrsteven960. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com /
LUCIA ON THE BEACH
Lucia La Rosa came from a Sicilian family with a long, storied past. She lived alone in a house near the beach at the southernmost end of the island. She had inherited the house when she was only sixteen from a favorite aunt who died from a heart attack while seated at the dining room table. The table remained in the same place it stood with the six chairs seated around it just as they were when the aunt died six years before. A handmade light blue Sicilian burrato embroidered lace tablecloth passed down through generations of La Rosa women covered the table, held in place by a stone mask that lay in the center of the table. The mask was recovered from one of the island’s ancient Roman ruins; its value incalculable. The shutters to the dining room were always kept open, allowing the breezes that carried the salt air from the Mediterranean Sea to blow in night and day, in fair and foul weather. Lucia’s orange tabby cat, La Tigre, a mouser who had been the deceased aunt’s cat and turned his nose up at man-made cat food, spent most of his time lounging in the chair next to the window, being shooed from it only when Lucia sat there to write poetry in one of her journals while staring out at the beach and ocean.
On the eve of her twenty-third birthday, as the sun set, Lucia stepped out of her house and onto the marble tiles of the portico of the house and watched as plumes of black smoke rose from the top of Mt. Etna. She shoved her long hair that had fallen over her ears back onto the top of her head and adjusted the gold hair comb studded with emerald chips, one of the many pieces of jewelry left to her by her aunt, so that it held her bundle of hair in place. The front of her house, where she stood, faced a road that ran between the villas that lined the beach or were perched on small hills on the opposite side of the road. The sweet, yet spicy scent of the ubiquitous white plumeria hung in the air. While gazing at the whitewashed stone villa on the other side of the road owned by an American couple that she had seen but never met lived in it during the winter months, she inhaled the fragrance of the flowers and wondered what it was like to live anywhere else but in Sicily.
The slight tremble beneath her bare feet that vibrated through her entire body brought her attention back to the volcano. All her life she had expected it to erupt. As the moments passed and it continued to exhale clouds of black smoke into the air and do nothing else other than make the ground shake a little, she turned and went back into her house. Her friends were throwing a Birthday party for her at Carladina’s Restaurant that was located on the beach a few miles away. She thought it was time to preserve this moment, the time spent awaiting the moment when she would put on her new dress to go to the last Birthday party of hers she ever intended to attend, and write a poem about it in her journal. She pushed La Tigre from the chair, picked up her pen and journal, gazed out at the darkening sky and sea, and then began to write.
Like electrified ivy, miniature white lights were wrapped around the poles that held up the red and white awning of Carladina’s Restaurant. Lucia walked under the awning just as a smattering of volcanic ash began to rain down from the night sky. Carrying a faded and slightly worn small bright blue clutch purse that her aunt carried for many years, she opened the door, walked in, and searched for her friends inside the small restaurant before seeing them sitting at a table under a large beach umbrella striped with the colors of the rainbow out on the back patio.
Accursio, the head waiter who never attempted to hide the crush he had on her said to her cheerfully in emphatic Italian as she walked past him,“Buon compleanno.”
“What’s happy about it?” she replied before going through the doors out to the patio. There, her nine friends circled around the table, stood, raised their glasses of wine and began singing “Happy Birthday to You.”
For the next hour as the group ate, drank, sang and chatted noisily and happily, Lucia stared out at the water and watched the white sails of a small boat gleaming in the ambient light of a star lit sky as it crossed the water not far from the shoreline. Unable to rouse herself from the ennui that had overtaken her, she kissed her friends on their cheeks, thanked them, and left her party early. She climbed onto her scooter and then remembered she had left the clutch purse at the table where she had been sitting. She went back inside, and after she and her friends searched the patio, and Accursio looked about the entire restaurant, she left the restaurant without it, with promises from Accursio that he would find it or if it wasn’t found, “Throw himself into the volcano from shame.”
She entered the house, kicked off her shoes, walked into the dining room and flicked on the lights. La Tigre was sitting on the chair with a dead mouse dangling from his teeth by its tail. The balmy ocean breeze ruffled the cat’s fur and made the edges of the tablecloth that hung over the sides of the table flutter. She then went into the kitchen, put a tea kettle filled with water on the stove, and turned on the flame beneath it. While waiting for the water to boil she removed her dress and laid it over the back of a chair. In her bra and panties she opened the back door and realized that the sailboat she had seen while at the restaurant was the same one she now saw riding the waves not far from the beach behind her house. Seeing it puzzled and frightened her although she reasoned that it was merely coincidence that it had reappeared so near to where she lived. The floor beneath her feet trembled almost imperceptively from a tremor caused by Mt. Etna just as the kettle’s whistle began to shriek. She closed the door, turned off the flame beneath the kettle, and filled a cup with the hot water and dropped a tea bag into the water.
Returning to the dining room she saw that the mouse no longer hung from La Tigre’s mouth. She pushed the cat from the chair and sat down and sipped the tea while watching the sailboat appear and then resappear over and over as the waves around it rose and fell.
At age eight after her parents were lost in the Mediterranean waters in a boating accident, their bodies never recovered from the depths, the orphaned Lucia came to live with her aunt and uncle in the house where she now lived. It took her months to adjust to living with them and in a house where everything was old and were rarely moved from one spot to another. The pictures that hung on the walls had always hung in the same place. The pendulum that never swung from side to side as it was designed to do in the lower cabinet of the grandfather clock had never budged an inch. Uncle Marco, who had once been a hitman for the Sicilian mafia, sat in the overstuffed chair in the living room, slowly aging just like the radio he always listened to that he could only get one station on. It played American swing music from the 1940s. Aunt Gianna replaced only one thing, the hair that fell from her head after chemotherapy with a wig that was a few sizes too large and sat askew on her bald head.
Lucia spent most of the time on the beach, building sand castles and searching for seashells that she kept in old purses given to her by her aunt. She kept an eye on the ebb and flow of the tides, watching for her parents to wash ashore. While friends came and went, coming into her life and leaving it depending on her level of enthusiasm in being with them, which was as inconsistent as Mt. Etna’s subdued eruptions. It was the volcano that anchored her to Sicily and the thing that filled her with constant terror.
“If it blows, it blows,” her aunt would tell her.
“Won’t it kill us all?” Lucia asked.
“Maybe yes, maybe no.”
Her uncle died a few years before the death of her aunt. She forgot him soon afrer he died except for the time he spent in his chair. The memories of her aunt who never recoverd spiritually or emotionally from the cancer – it sapped her of any zest for life – were like apparitions that constantly hovered in her thoughts.
Early the next morning, Lucia opened the front door to her house to see a taxi pull up in front of the villa owned by the Americans. She watched as the taxi driver opened the trunk to his car, took out several large pieces of expensive-looking luggage, and carried each one up the long path to the villa while the couple stood by and watched. The couple were younger than Lucia remembered. She looked on with a mixture of surprise and envy as the taxi left and the husband took his wife in his arms and kissed her passionately. She wondered if they were always so loving together or just happy to have returned to Sicily. In her entire time with her aunt and uncle, she had never seen them do even as much as hug. As the couple turned and walked hand in hand to their villa, Lucia looked down at her feet. Lying on the marbled floor was the clutch purse she had left at the restuarant. On top of it was a brightly colored envelope with the words “Happy Birthday” written across it. She picked up the purse and the card and carried them into the house, closing the door behind her. In the dining room she tossed the unopened envevlope onto the table and then opened the purse expecting to find her identifcation and the money that had been in it. She looked inside it and then turned it upside down, spilling seashells into her hand. She quickly dropped them onto the floor as if they were pieces of volcanic ash that had burned her skin, stepped back and stared down at them. In that moment Mt. Etna rumbled loudly. La Tigre jumped down from the chair where he had been eating the remains of a mouse and ran under the table. Moments later when nothing else happened, Lucia went into the kitchen and fixed a cup of coffee. She then opened the back door and sipped on the coffee as she watched the sailboat glide across the calm waters of the Mediterranean.
A large number of the La Rosa extended family had attended Aunt Gianna’s funeral. In the Catholic church Lucia sat in the front pew only a few feet away from her aunt’s open casket. Before the priest quietened them, the women mourners, all dressed in black, cried and wailed loudly enough to rival the noise being created by a minor eruption of Mt. Etna. Lucia wore a floral print skirt and sandals, shocking the rest of the attendees who had paid no attention to her from the day her parents disappeared. The rumors spread by the La Rosa women that Lucia’s mother and father had sailed off to enjoy a life of leisure in a foreign country got back to Lucia through her aunt who decried the gossip, but never refuted the claim. Sitting in the pew, the last words that her aunt said to her before she died echoed through her mind. “A woman’s sexuality is like a volcano, ready to erupt at any time.”
Once her aunt was buried, she returned alone to the house that had been left to her, shed her clothes and spent several hours sitting nude on the beach staring out at the sea. It was then that she decided she would end her life on her twenty-third birthday. It was an arbitrary number with no significance other than Aunt Gianna was twenty-two when she lost her virginity to Uncle Marco and secretely claimed to Lucia, “Life was a pile of stinking manure from that day on.”
Lucia put La Tigre out on the portico and closed the front door and locked it. She then went from room to room to get one last glimpse at every piece of furniture and the painting and pictures on the walls that seemed frozen in another time, long past. In the dining room she tore open the envelope and despite feeling nothing, smiled at the picture of a balloons shaped like hearts on the front of the card and inside it a note from Accursio wishing her a Happy Birthday. She placed the card on the Roman mask and went into the kitchen. There she opened the back door, stripped off her clothes and walked out to the beach. Her footprints in the sand disappeared within seconds after she made them. At the edge of the water, as small waves of warm ocean water washed over her feet, Mt. Etna erupted.