Elisabetta Panzica (pages 44-49)
Emma stood by the kitchen table, disoriented. Her head ached, everything was a blur. She let out a deep breath. The feeling of being confined inside a sarcophagus clung to her. The tightening around her chest and throat persisted. She slowed her breath, making a concentrated effort to calm herself. Mr. Franklin looked over the top of his book.
“Emma what on earth are you wearing?” He frowned.
“I- it’s … a stola,” she said trying to sound nonchalant.
Emma nodded. “I was just going to …”
“Well go up and change, quickly!” Mr. Franklin pointed at the parlor with his head. “The good doctor’s here to see you, Emma.”
“But I’m not sick, Papa.” Emma’s face contorted as she shrank back against the wall.
“I think you need to talk about things, you know.” He shrugged. “It might do you some good.”
“What would you know about that?” Emma’s voice rose, loud enough so the doctor could hear.
“I am your Father, don’t you take that tone of voice, or …”
“Or What?” Emma screamed, hot tears rolling down her cheeks.
“That you, Miss Emma?” Dr. Monastersky’s voice boomed across the parlor into the kitchen. Emma stomped out of the kitchen and walked into the parlor without answering. Her eye’s widened, her mother’s portraits were back on the wall, her emerald vase and trinkets on the coffee table. Maybe Papa had had a change of heart. Emma sat on an overstuffed chair.
“Well, good evening, young lady.” Dr. Monastersky rose, toying with a large recording machine he had set atop a weighty mahogany cabinet the Franklins had acquired overseas.
“Evening, sir.” Emma lowered her gaze and pressed her lips into a tight line. She could smell roses; her mother always wore perfume made of rose petals. She stared at the doctor wondering where the aroma was originating from. It couldn’t have come from him. Dr. Monastersky always smelled of strong herbs and garlic. Items he used to make medicinal treatments with. Emma shrugged, eyeing the old man with some curiosity.
In her mind’s eye, Emma could still see Markus’ face as he pushed her into the sarcophagus. He was trying to help her, to hide her from his mother and brother, from all who would have had her stoned.
“So, your Papa says you’ve been having bad dreams…” Dr. Monastersky paused, studying her face. “What’s that you’ve got on?”
“A stola, and I haven’t been having bad dreams.” Emma protested. “Papa is never here anymore, how would he know? He doesn’t care anymore.” Emma paused for long time, choosing her words. “I know his nosey sister sent you,” she said, attempting to illicit a response.
“Is that so?” Doctor Monastersky stared back at her. “So, Emma where did you get a stola?”
“I borrowed it from a classmate. It’s part of a history project to help Miss Hampton show her students how people dressed in Roman times,” Emma lied. “I am wearing it tomorrow.”
Emma could see Dr. Monastersky did not look at all convinced. It was almost as if he knew something. As if, she sucked in a breath, as if he believed her.
“Emma, I want to talk about Tom. He’s not going to be coming back.” Dr. Monastersky said, taking Emma’s hand between both of his. “But your parents are here for you.”
Parents? Why would he say that? Doctor Monastersky took care of her mother before she died.
“I know.” Emma frowned. She wanted to shout back, tell him how rude it was of him to say that, but she held her tongue. And why was he bringing up Tom after so many years?
She had almost forgotten about Tom. It seemed a lifetime ago. She swallowed, her mind shifting. Tom had been her best childhood friend. They had been neighbors all their lives. Why was he bringing him up now?
“I’m sorry Emma but … I don’t know. Maybe it’s too soon.” The doctor shook his head.
“Too soon? What are you talking about? Tom’s been gone for over three years.”
Doctor Monastersky’s lips puckered and he rubbed his temple with the tips of two right fingers. “Emma, focus. It’s only been a couple of months. Your parents are worried about you.”
Parents? There it was again, that word. He was starting to sound like a crazy man. Emma pounded her fists on her thighs, fighting to remain calm. It had taken all three years to finally move on. To continue her life, to let go of Tom, but there were always reminders and people like Dr. Monastersky that wouldn’t let her lay the past to rest.
“Tell me what happened.” The Doctor’s eyes burned into hers.
“I’ve told the story before.” Emma said unable to hide the frustration in her voice. “It wasn’t just me, we all saw Tom fall into the underground, a bunch of us did,” she blurted, tightening her lips. Why couldn’t he just let it go. She hated pulling out memories she had struggled so hard to bury.
“Emma, I’m not here to talk about what your classmates saw. I’m here for you. Emma, it’s not healthy to keep things bottled up. “I know it hasn’t been long, everything is still fresh in your mind. But you can’t just make things up, create an alternate reality.”
“I’m not! Seriously, don’t you have someone who needs your medical attention?” Emma rubbed her head as if it ached. “We saw Tom disappear, is all,” she said, pulling at the hem of her fine roman garment, self-conscious, aware of his stares. He probably thought she was crazy. No one wore stolas in Philadelphia, not in 1860. “We all saw it.” Emma blurted. Why did he wait so long to ask questions?
“Alright, well tell me again, how he disappeared?” Dr. Monastersky sat on the edge of his chair, pushing his spectacles back against the rim of his nose. His face was a roadmap of wrinkles.
Why was he so interested? An old country Doctor? Emma laid back in the old chair staring up at the old man. “It happened at the school-house,” she said finally, “after Miss Hampton’s class.”
“I help her sometimes. She’s real busy with all these new kids coming from Alabama and Georgia. All of them Northern sympathizers,” she fidgeted in her seat, “their families are against the Compromise of 1850.” Emma was not so sure the resolution created by Henry Clay to bring forth a compromise on the matter of slavery was a good one.
“I know about the Compromise, but that’s not what this is about.” Dr. Monastersky frowned. Emma knew that he, like almost every northerner, had voted for President Fillmore and came to regret it.
Doctor Monastersky rose, he pointed a large cone-shaped speaking horn toward her as he cranked the handle of a large box-shaped instrument. Emma had seen a recording machine before, at the World Fair in London in 1851.
“Tell me about Tom. Go on, child.”
Dr. Monastersky insisted, his voice growing strained.
Emma hesitated. “We were having lunch.” She stared at the recording machine, Papa called it a phonautograph. Emma’s face darkened. She didn’t want to be recorded, she wanted to forget the entire incident, but the doctor would not let her, he urged her on.
“Tom and I … we went for a walk …” Emma hid her face. He had asked her to marry him. Emma could not bring herself to finish the sentence.
Dr. Monastersky squinted. Everyone knew she and Tom were close. “What did he say?”
“He … he fell.” Emma swallowed, pushing back tears. “He …” She could feel him next to her, holding her hand. She didn’t want to marry, wasn’t the type, but if she had chosen to marry anyone, it would have been Tom. She and Tom had known each other from since they were childern, he was like family.
Dr. Monastersky inched in closer. Emma could feel his breath on her face, it smelled of lemon and mint.
“There were monsters.” Emma’s voice cracked. “The earth opened up. Big hairy apes came out. I don’t want to talk about it.”
The Doctor’s upper lip twitched, raising his pencil thin moustache on the left side of his face.
“I’m telling the truth.” But who would believe such a story? She wasn’t sure she believed it either. Emma knew it sounded crazy, but it was true, just like Pompeii was true, and Markus was real, and the girls were real.
“Please, Emma, don’t stop.” The doctor’s honey-colored eyes urged, eager to learn more.
Emma lowered her head and went on. “The next day the older students and I, we took our father’s shovels and hid them in Farmer John’s barn, the worm farmer. After school was dismissed we dug holes where Tom disappeared.” Emma shook her head. “But there was nothing there. Nothing.” She gathered her skirts and stood up. “Please, I don’t remember anything else. May I go? I really need to go.”
Dr. Monastersky pushed back on his chair and rose. “I suppose that’s enough for now, I’ll see you to the door, Miss Emma.” The doctor opened the parlor door and followed Emma into the hallway.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Emma said, “but Miss Hampton won’t be happy if I’m late for school again, I should retire early tonight. Tomorrow is our last day of class before the summer break.”
Emma tucked her long wheat-colored hair behind her ears and lifted her gaze to study the old man’s face. “I’m not crazy. I know what I saw,” she said, looking down at her stola. She really should have changed outfits before she came into the parlor.
“I never said you were.” The doctor smiled. “I’ll be seeing you next week, Miss Emma.”
Emma rolled her eyes, she didn’t want to see the doctor. Not next week, or on any other day. She hated Aunt Victoria for suggesting these unnecessary visits. It was a waste of time, why would her father succumb to her infernal requests? Emma stepped out of the parlor and walked away without another word.
* * *
Emma ran to the barn, to the chest her mother had hidden there. But it was gone. Emma’s face lost all color and she shrank down into a pile of hay, weeping. It was all she had left of her mother, and now it was gone. Emma wept until she fell asleep atop the lumpy pile of hay.