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A Servant’s Impenetrable Heart
FREEDMAN MURDERS WIFE. The headline blared at me, searing my eyelids, imprinting itself on my skin, marking me for ridicule. The picture of this man appeared to be vaguely familiar, with my eyes and nose and Charlie’s hair. He was our father, the one whom our mother had always kept an unspoken secret.
Her eyes glimmered maliciously as she came in the room, drinking in my pain when she realized that I had seen the newspaper. What Sergio’s mother wouldn’t do to keep me away from her son, her precious son.
“Oh, Charity, what a pleasant surprise!” she smirked. “How are you?”
“Splendid. But you have misplaced your newspaper…” I breathe, tears glittering blurrily at the tips of my eyelashes.
“Not at all. I left it for Sergio to read. He would be greatly interested in today’s news.” she replied, eyes widening in fake innocence. Shocked, I glance up to find Sergio slouching at the top of the stairs in his own house, afraid to face me. I gaze at him, willing him not to see me as the girl whose father killed his own legitimate wife and attempted to flee to the woman who he had two other children with, my mother. Sergio’s hazel eyes flicker away, guiltily drawn to his feet. How could he, this boy that I love (with whom I’ve been going out with for almost a year), how could he think differently of me? It is too much for me to absorb at once and I fly out the door amid a whirl of red hair and hurt that dances a cruel jig in the back of my eyes.
A dull knock invades my dreams, scattering bleeding roses and Sergio’s face.
“What?” I groan, rubbing my eyes. A newspaper is plastered to my cheek and my hand rests lightly on my sketchbook. Charity Freedman is scrawled across the top in cursive. Round vowels drift in from my glassy paned window, whispers of Italian curling through my room. My mother’s face peeps around the side of my door. A scent of chicken pot pie and fresh bread wafts into the room, announcing her presence.
“Talk to me love.” I have a theory on a mother’s voice and words. Whatever they say is always the correct thing. This, allied with their voice is more than enough to make their children open up to them, a major attribute. But unfortunately, what my mother said didn’t make me want to gush about what I read in the newspaper. I throw the newspaper at her. Her face blanches and she clutches my dresser as a lifesaver for a drowning woman. Now I know it is true. My mother perches gingerly at the foot of my bed. A worn hand brushes back a bit of red hair which is identical to mine. She parts her lips, revealing rows of hard won pearly teeth.
“Charity let me explain… Your father and I love—loved each other very much. We didn’t tell you he was married to another woman because you were so young…”
“NO! You could have! I have a right to know things like this! I’m seventeen! And because of you Sergio thinks I am some kind of witch! I hate you!” I hissed. My heavy eyelids burn with unshed tears. A ball of shame knots my stomach and my lips tremble. I didn’t hate my mother; I loved her more than anything. Pain flooded my mother’s eyes, but she kept her chin up and shoulders back.
“Don’t think this was all cake and pie for me either. I must admit that your father wasn’t the best of men. The most worthwhile things I got from him were my two children: you and Charlie. He had a family with his wife and he had us. He was a lucky man. He realized that, I think, because he gave you your locket and made a point of spending time with Charlie.” she explains, squeezing me to her motherly self.
I squeeze her back. Poor wife of my father, this woman who he murdered. Did she know about her husband’s mistress and family? I wonder if my father’s wife is in heaven… watching. We didn’t even know he had a wife and other family. We thought we were his everything, I think to myself. I blink and eventually my heart stops racing, soothed by my mother’s lullaby.
He still won’t meet my eye. It has been a week since the newspaper initially came out. Gossip has died down, I can finally enter the grocery store without some old lady offering to buy my groceries (the last thing I need is charity), but Sergio still avoids me. I blow on my sketch of a golden locket, wide open, a picture of my father on the interior. A rare smile melts across my face. Perfect. I recently unlocked my impenetrable locket (gift of my father), actually after the newspaper came out. It makes me feel like maybe the world has some charity left for me. I feel at peace. And I know that my father truly loved me, no matter what.
Solid muscle tenses beneath my hand as I touch Sergio’s back. I feel like I am about to swoon as I inhale his unique scent, perhaps for the last time. He turns, clasping my hand to his lips. Uncomprehending, my brain whirrs to keep up with him. By instinct, I want to lean against his chest, but my mind and conscience remind me to investigate first. I reluctantly pull away, steeling myself for what is to come.
“Why have you been avoiding me? Do you find me revolting? Have I changed so much that you can no longer look me in the eyes?” I demand, commanding an answer. I am suddenly in war mode, a fighting princess, defending her honor.
“My mother ordered me not to talk to you, or else I could not go abroad for a year before college.” He smiles, a young man confident in his forgiveness and favor. I want to pluck his eyes out. All this pain and confusion for a year abroad. What have I been thinking for the past year?
“You would not talk to me so you could go abroad?!? I, who you swore you loved?!?!” His eyes widen in shock; I want to laugh at this spoiled brat who stands before me, but now is not the moment.
“It was important to—“
“Well, take it then, but wait, you spoke to me. No year abroad for you. Good bye Sergio. I pray for the next girl who is subjected to your two-faced lies.”
I spin around in a whirl of triumph and regret. The air stings my nose and reeks of car exhaust and fresh ink, unusual for Italy. How romantic. I grin, an unnoticed burden knocked from my shoulders, the future in my hand. A scrap of newspaper tumbles hopefully past my nose, and with surprisingly quick reflexes, I tear it from the wind’s iron clutch, expecting a snippet of my father’s misdemeanor. But the words upon it read FREE.