Bianca come la neve
An excerpt from “Bianca come la neve ” by Patrizia Poli
“White as snow” my father said, “so I want this daughter of desire.”
My mother sewed by the window, she pricked herself, drops of blood wet the cold pillow on the windowsill. She then turned to my father, put down her work, held out that diaphanous hand that already foreshadowed her death: “Yes, white, like snow” she said with her soft smile, “but also red, like blood. She will be ours, she will be part of you and me, she will be the imprint of our love.”
I was born with clear skin, blue veins of noble blood and red lips.
The women who witnessed the birth smiled, “beautiful,” they said, “this baby.”
My mother put in my hands the rosary that Father Bernardu had given her, she made the sign of the cross on my forehead. “May God protect you, daughter of our love.”
Radu Florescu speaking.
It was when she got pricked and I turned around. I saw the blood on the windowsill. Three drops that stood out on the white snow, on the black of ebony. White as snow, black as ebony, more beautiful than your mother, more beautiful than all, more desirable and desired, Bianca, my daughter.
My mother took me with her on her visits to the village. We went in, house by house, she always beautiful and elegant, bending her head to cross the poor thresholds. She coughed a little and her step was tired. I didn’t care, because “beautiful girl”, people said to me, “eyes like the bottom of the lake.”
I discovered in those days that I was beautiful, but I also saw children dressed in rags in the snow, toothless mouths, shrunken legs and skins disfigured by smallpox. “Not everyone has bread on the table,” my mother used to say. She taught me to have pity on those who were not lucky like us. “Bianca” she repeated, “we Florescus have been responsible for these people for centuries”. The boots dirty with manure up to the ankle, the mink stained with mud, she held out her hand to me, I pressed her nails like pink almonds, I looked into the depths of her eyes the same as mine, and I felt I loved her because she was good.
Father Bernardu said that my mother was good too, “a compassionate woman” he said, “a daughter loved by God. He loved her so much that he wanted her next to him.”
God chooses the purest for himself, those like me he leaves here, forever.
Father Bernardu speaking.
God sees and provides, Bianca, God cares about your soul.
Your mother confessed to me just before you were born. “Father Bernardu,” she told me, “during the day I was the merciful countess, who visited the houses of the poor, but at night I drank she-wolf’s milk to conceive. Desire, father, was stronger than fear. When I pricked myself, that day while I was sewing, the blood was calling me from the windowsill. But today I tremble for my creature.”
I prayed with her, then put my rosary in her hands. “Give it to the boy or girl who will be born.”
“It will be a female, father and, through her, I will not die.”
But it was you who didn’t die, Bianca.
The smell of bread was missing the morning they found my mother dead in her bed. I opened my eyes, the smell was not there, and my skin rippled with a long shiver even in spring. She did not die in the dark and cold, she died at dawn, welcomed by the sun that resembled her. Outside the window the birds sang.
My father cried in his room and I didn’t see him until the day of her funeral. The rain soaked my fur coat, made it weigh on me, I no longer understood whether it was the burden of the fur soaked in water or the anguish that oppressed me.
My father never knew that I disobeyed him, that I entered the forbidden room where, they told me, my mother was sleeping and she could not be disturbed. Death is not as sweet as they make us believe. When I saw her, surrounded by burning candles, my mother was already like clay washed away by water, like gray ash, like colorless glass. She was an empty shell, soul and life evaporated in that first sun that had taken her away.
“I will not die,” I swore. And maybe it was in that instant that my destiny was fulfilled, maybe God listened to me.
They lowered my mother into the pit, the earth running down in dark rivulets, the flowers crumbling on the wood. Everyone was at the funeral. Rich and elegant people, the Badescu and the Visnics, the Tsepes, even an emissary of the king, and poor people, with a pig on their heels, with their feet frozen in the marshy grass of the cemetery.
Goran, third Marquis Badescu in line of succession, stared at me from behind his father’s legs, his black mop glued to his forehead, his lips pouting. I had played with him when we visited the castle on the hill.
I looked at the faces and looked for my mother’s face, I reconstructed it inside me, as I have done every day of my life since then. I wanted to be alone and together I wanted people to notice me. I was looking for my father’s eyes but I saw them far away, I saw more wrinkles on his forehead. “Mother”, I called silently, “where can I reach you?”