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Di Mezzo il Mare
In Fiorenza's nineteenth year
came news from the sea:
her father Giordano had returned
from his long voyaging and
would soon arrive in Nocciolaia.
To the ordinary hustle and bustle of harvest
was added the need for a celebration,
as the lost husband of Marietta
and the missing father of Fiorenza
must be welcomed home in proper style.
Fiorenza flittered and flustered
about her little cottage for days,
tidying this and baking that
and trying not to panic over the idea
of meeting someone she had dreamed about
ever since her grandmother Carmela
had told her about him.
The day her father was to arrive,
Fiorenza hurried with the last of her tasks,
baking buccellato, the sweet round bread
full of sultana raisins and flavored with anise.
In the village there would surely be
a pig roasted whole and dressed with apples,
vegetables cooked in olive oil, wine-poached pears,
and sundry other celebratory dishes;
but Fiorenza wished to impress Giordano
with something made by her own hands.
When she finally met him,
Fiorenza was startled to discover
that he was not so large as she had imagined,
for Giordano stood half a hand shorter than herself.
Still there was something of her
in the stubborn set of his jaw
and the way he craned his neck
as he looked down and then up, saying,
"Why are you wearing breeches like a boy?"
Fiorenza blushed, for she had been up before dawn
cleaning and cooking and gardening,
and had entirely forgotten to change clothes
before running in to the village.
"Because she has work to do, and
she doesn't want to get good clothes dirty,"
said Fiorenza's aunt, Zola, coming up behind them.
"Don't let your tongue run away with your wits, Giordano."
Zola steered Fiorenza into the nearest cottage
where Bettina waited with a sage-green dress.
"We thought you might get absorbed in practicalities
and forget about the festive parts," Bettina said
as she pinned a crown of autumn flowers
into the dark riot of Fiorenza's hair.
Fiorenza felt a little more confident
when she stepped out in the fine dress.
"Much better," Giordano declared.
"It will be easier to find you a proper husband
when you are dressed like a proper woman."
With those words, Fiorenza's world
went out from under her again.
She had never thought about
marriage in the same way
as the other village girls,
for all she'd helped Bettina
cope with challenges of that sort.
Growing up without a father as she did,
it had never occurred to Fiorenza
that someone might insist
on arranging a marriage for her --
and what was she to tell Giacinto?
"I do not believe that any young men
in the village think of me that way,"
Fiorenza said carefully to Giordano.
"They are accustomed to coming to me
with head colds and bruised faces,
not with flowers in hand.
To them I am the wisewoman,
not a girl to be courted."
Giordano waved away her words.
"Your mother was a wisewoman's daughter
and she had no trouble catching my eye,"
he said blithely. "Something will work out."
"Surely so," Fiorenza murmured.
This was not turning out at all
like any of her childhood daydreams.
Giordano was weathered and fierce
and had no idea how she fit into the village
or how the village had grown in his absence.
He ordered people around without a thought,
and she recalled someone mentioning
that he had captained his own ship.
Just when Fiorenza despaired
of pleasing her father in any way,
he smiled softly and said,
"You look so much like your mother.
You have her hair and her eyes."
He tucked a stray lock of hair
behind Fiorenza's ear.
"I remember her as ... so beautiful."
Fiorenza fairly melted with joy
at his words of praise.
The feast was a marvel of harvest bounty.
Zola had done something splendid with apples
and a shipment of cardamom from the Indies.
Abelie had cleverly candied the borage flowers
with which she had whispered courage to Fiorenza.
Giordano raised an eyebrow at the spring delicacy,
but said only, "The world is full of wonders,"
and reached for a second slice of buccellato.
After the celebration, Giordano moved in
to the little cottage he had briefly shared
with his young wife and her mother,
which now housed Fiorenza and Mad Ercole.
It was a snug fit in more ways than one,
but they all tried earnestly to make it work.
"I brought this back from the sea,"
Giordano said to Fiorenza
as he offered her a small sack of gold.
"Thank you," Fiorenza said politely.
"We can put it in the dowry box with the rest."
Mad Ercole fetched out the little chest
from its space beneath a hearthstone.
Giordano frankly stared at the stacks
of gold, silver, and copper coins
and the jewels in their velvet-lined box.
Margherita had discovered
Fiorenza's fondness for emeralds,
so whenever she spoke of healing,
she saved one for Fiorenza.
"You must be quite the herbalist indeed,"
Giordano said. "Such a dowry
will make it easier to find you a husband."
"It is good of you to say so," Fiorenza replied,
"although there is really no hurry."
"You are nearly twenty," said Giordano.
"That is reason enough to hurry."
Fiorenza turned away to look for her mending.
"Not like that, scemo!" Giordano snapped.
Fiorenza whirled to find Mad Ercole
trying to replace the hearthstone the wrong way.
"Patience is a remedy for every sorrow,"
she said as she took the hearthstone and set it right.
"Why do you even have such a man under your roof?"
Giordano asked. "People will doubt your virtue."
From somewhere Fiorenza found
a sudden sturdiness of oak in her spine.
"Ercole is a veteran of the siege of Fermo,"
she said, "and you will treat him with respect."
Giordano looked away and muttered,
"You may have your mother's eyes,
but you have your grandmother's voice."
So it went, with everyone trying to do well
and all tripping over each other instead.
"This morning I stepped on the cat,"
Giordano said to Fiorenza,
"and she cried 'Goffo!' at me.
How has my life come to this?"
"You moved into a wisewoman's cottage,"
Fiorenza said. "Was it any less strange
when it belonged to my grandmother and mother?"
"Well," Giordano admitted, "there was a talking dove..."
Later that day, Fiorenza was brushing the burrs
out of Marchesa Micia's fur. "I do not know
what is wrong," Fiorenza said.
"Giordano will not leave me alone,
but he does not seem to like me much either
and certainly he is not very happy here."
"Perhaps you are not the only one,"
Marchesa Micia said wisely, "for whom the reality
swings wide of the daydreaming."
When Giacinto visited Nocciolaia to ask
if Fiorenza would help him gather hazelnuts
since she cast better fertility charms than he did,
Fiorenza's father was more than a bit scandalized
to learn that the two of them had been keeping company
since they met at the market in Fermo.
"A witch-son who wears his mother's skirts?"
Giordano said. "Surely you can do better than that."
Fiorenza fastened her wolfskin hat over her ears
and said, "Not so easily as you might imagine."
With that she took her basket and left.
In the village it went no better.
Giordano snapped at Zola when
she suggested giving Fiorenza more space.
"I am her father! She should make space for me."
"You have been out of Fiorenza's life
these nineteen years," Zola pointed out.
"You can hardly expect to sail back in
and take a father's berth in her harbor
as if you had been gone but a day."
"Yet society expects it of me,"
he said heavily. "Now that I am here,
I am the one who is responsible for her."
Zola shrugged. "Fiorenza has done well enough
taking responsibility for herself," she said,
"and half the village besides." Zola picked up
her basket of apples and walked away.
By that point, of course, everyone was staring --
the children, the old women in the parish garden
covering the beds with leaves, even the priest.
"I say to you, I am trying o be a good father,"
Giordano declared as he flung up his hands.
"What do you have to say to that?
For it seems that everyone has an opinion!"
"Tra il dire e il fare c´è di mezzo il mare,"
Don Candido said calmly, crossing his arms.
Between saying and doing there lies the sea.
That evening when Giordano went home
to the little cottage near the edge of the village,
he asked Fiorenza, "Is there anything here
that needs to be done before winter?"
She looked up at him in surprise,
for her father ordered often and asked rarely.
"I suppose the roof could use some attention,"
she said in a careful tone.
She could mend the chicken house,
but the cottage wanted more skill than that.
"Tomorrow I will climb up and look at it,"
said Giordano. "I used to do such things here
in my youth. Perhaps it will be of some help."
"Yes," Fiorenza said, watching him thoughtfully.
She had thought she had the measure of Giordano
by now, but perhaps she had underestimated him.
Even in the middle of the sea,
a ship might change its course.