Read Ardor Online

Authors: Lily Prior

Ardor

ARDOR

a novel of enchantment

LILY PRIOR

For Christopher

Contents

Prologue

She must have had a premonition of the tragedy, for…

CHAPTER ONE

The man who was responsible for this whole mix-up was…

CHAPTER TWO

During the following following days the precious seedlings stretched and arched…

CHAPTER THREE

While Arcadio Carnabuci sat sat back and waited, far to the…

CHAPTER FOUR

And so Fernanda Ponderosa was drawing closer to the man…

CHAPTER FIVE

When Fernanda Ponderosa had said what she wanted to say,…

CHAPTER ONE

Eventually, drained to exhaustion by exaltation and despair, I gave…

CHAPTER TWO

Meanwhile, Arcadio Carnabuci was stinging from the hole that had…

CHAPTER THREE

For the rest of the night, Fernanda Ponderosa was jittery…

CHAPTER FOUR

It was a beautiful day, the first in May, and…

CHAPTER FIVE

Next to the Bordino Bakery stood the Happy Pig, the…

CHAPTER SIX

Arcadio Carnabuci was right: Fernanda Ponderosa had come to regret…

CHAPTER SEVEN

The following day the paths of my mistress and her…

CHAPTER EIGHT

As soon as Arcadio Carnabuci was able to squeeze through…

CHAPTER ONE

The following morning Arcadio Carnabuci caught sight of his image…

CHAPTER TWO

In the Happy Pig, Fernanda Ponderosa mopped and polished, sliced…

CHAPTER THREE

The baby grubs in Arcadio Carnabuci's closet curled up and…

CHAPTER FOUR

Inside the ambulance, Arcadio Carnabuci was scarcely breathing. Gianluigi Pupini…

CHAPTER FIVE

The following morning Pomilio Maddaloni, the eldest of the Maddaloni…

CHAPTER SIX

While my angel continued to languish in the infirmary, I…

CHAPTER SEVEN

While Belinda Fondi lay inanimate as a result of the…

CHAPTER EIGHT

Like the doctor, and the nurse, Belinda and Romeo Fondi…

CHAPTER ONE

Yet I am getting ahead of myself. Shortly after Serafino…

CHAPTER TWO

In the Happy Pig, that sealed world, the writing was…

CHAPTER THREE

Over at Montebufo, where even late in the afternoon the…

CHAPTER FOUR

In the kitchen of number 37 Via Alfieri time was…

CHAPTER FIVE

By some trick of the light the writhing figures of…

CHAPTER SIX

The cataclysmic storm had restored the region to its usual…

Ardor

I
t hung in the air over the region that summer, like a cloud, rendering the air thick and pearly. Suspended spangles of gold dust caught the sun and twinkled, causing a pang of longing. Cloying and rose-colored. A perfumed ectoplasm.

“Gardenias,” “freesias,” “sweet peas,” “apple blossom,” said the garden lovers, their noses straining to put a label on it.

“Fresh cream,” “molten chocolate,” “baking bread,” “ripe melons,” “wild strawberries,” said the gourmands, their mouths watering.

“Lust,” said the moralists, applying pegs to their noses.

“A saintly emanation,” said the sisters of the monastery of Sant'Antonio Abate, giving praise in a special mass officiated over by the bishop.

“Drains,” wrote the municipal inspector of environmental health with a flourish on his clipboard.

“Fog,” said the meteorologists.

“Fresh air,” said the purists.

“Death,” said the pessimists.

“Hogwash,” said the intellectuals.

“Cholera,” said the medics.

Yet it was none of those things. It was ardor, and those that inhaled it, myself included, were stricken.

Characters

Fernanda Ponderosa,
the woman

Oscar,
the monkey

Sole and Luna,
the monkey's babies

Olga,
the turtle (has seven babies: Evangelista, Carla, Debora, Cressida, Dafne, Manon, and Lilla)

Raffaello di Porzio,
the telegram delivery boy, eleventh precinct

Vasco,
foreman of the Grossi removal company

Signora Vasco,
Vasco's wife

Glauco Pancio,
one of the Grossi removal operatives

Borrelli,
the bar steward on the
Santa Luigia

Maria Grazia,
my cousin

Arcadio Carnabuci,
the olive grower

Concetta Crocetta,
the district nurse

Myself, Gezabel,
the District Health Authority mule

Fedra Brini,
the cobweb knitter

Priscilla Carnabuci,
Arcadio's mother (deceased)

Remo Carnabuci,
Arcadio's father (deceased)

Max,
Arcadio's dog

Amelberga Fidotti,
the draper's assistant

Speranza Patti,
the church organist, and town librarian

Teresa Marta,
the blind carpet weaver, and her deaf husband, Berardo

Malco Beato,
chorister, dies of embolism

Padre Arcangelo,
the parish priest

Ambrogio Bufaletti,
truck driver

Irina Biancardi,
ambulance driver

Gianluigi Pupini,
paramedic

Maria Calenda,
cheese maker and pig keeper to the house of Castorini

Silvana Castorini (née Ponderosa),
Fernanda Ponderosa's twin sister

Fidelio Castorini,
Silvana's husband, Fernanda's brother-in-law

Primo Castorini,
the pork butcher, Fidelio's younger brother

Perdita Castorini,
mother of Fidelio and Primo

Pucillo's Pork Factory,
archrival of the Happy Pig

The widow Filippucci,
one of Primo Castorini's lady friends

The band of thieves known as the Nellinos, and their dog,

Fausto

Neddo,
the regional hermit

Sancio,
the Castorini family mule

Belinda Fondi,
gives birth to an angel

Romeo Fondi,
Belinda's husband

Serafino Fondi,
the baby angel

Felice, Emilio, and Prospero Fondi,
future offspring of Belinda and Romeo

Dr. Amilcare Croce,
the doctor

The widow Maddaloni

Don Dino Maddaloni,
proprietor of the Maddaloni Funeral Home and Mafia boss

Pomilio, Prisco, Pirro, Malco, Ivano, and Gaddo Maddaloni,
Don Dino's six sons

Selmo and Narno Maddaloni,
Don Dino's cousins
Franco Laudato,
painter and handyman

Luigi Bordino,
the baker

Gloriana Bordino,
Luigi's wife (deceased)

Melchiore Bordino,
the baker's son (a pastry cook)
Susanna Bordino,
Melchiore's wife

Old Luigi Bordino,
the current Luigi's father

Manfredi Bordino,
Luigi's grandfather

Gerberto Nicoletto,
melon farmer

Filiberto Carofalo,
dairy farmer

Sebastiano Monfregola,
the barber

Policarpo Pinto,
the rat catcher

Luca Carluccio,
the shoemaker

Carlotta Bolletta,
night nurse at the infirmary
Signor Alberto Cocozza,
of the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department

The sisters Gobbi,
famous for their facial hair
Arturo Bassiano,
vendor of lottery tickets

Carmelo Sorbillo,
the unreliable postman

Giuseppe Mormile,
Amilcare Croce's nearest neighbor
Immacolata Mormile,
Giuseppe's wife

S
he must have had a premonition of the tragedy, for when the boy brought the telegram, he found the house boarded up and Fernanda Ponderosa already gone. Raffaello di Porzio could tell from the feel of the wire that it contained bad news. As he stood on the deserted porch, holding it in his palm, the burden of the misery it contained descended upon him, and he could scarcely stagger down the steps under the weight of it.

Already the paradise garden, which was famous throughout the island, had assumed a mantle of abandoned beauty. In the two hours since her departure, every one of the three hundred varieties of orchids had wilted. The cascades of velvet roses had withered, as had the sweet peas, the gardenias, and the tender freesias. The baby peaches had shriveled, and the lawns, once green and lush and perfect as a maharaja's carpet, had become parched. No longer did the scents of orange blossom and lavender and honeysuckle pervade the air; now there was the stench of rotting and decay. The butterflies, once so plentiful, had vanished along with the bees that used to suckle so
happily at the blooms. The statue of the goddess Aphrodite had also disappeared, leaving a bare patch of earth that wriggled with wood lice and worms, and the tinkling fountain now played the sound of weeping, not laughter.

Raffaello di Porzio shivered. The air of gloom cast a cold shadow over the gardens even though the sun was at its highest. Nevertheless, gathering his strength, he set off in pursuit of her, careering through the steep cobbled streets on his bicycle, seized by a feeling of panic and by the need to do his duty.

 

Although Raffaello di Porzio never found her, Fernanda Ponderosa was eventually traced to the offices of the Grandi Traghetti, where she sat like a queen on the dock surrounded by more of her possessions than was prudent. A cast-iron bathtub that had been in her family for nine generations sat there wearing the same tight expression as Fernanda Ponderosa herself: of dread and determination. Five men had carried it there, under the direction of the foreman, Vasco, the salt of their sweat plopping through the flimsy planking and combining with the ocean swell.

Yet in vain did Glauco Pancio sustain the rupture, one more tragedy on a day of tragedies, for the bathtub defeated them all, and with a shudder that seemed human, followed by a mighty splintering as though caused by an ogre wielding a giant ax, the bathtub fell through the rotting planks. It sank majestically down to the ocean floor, where it landed with a dull thud on the sand to the openmouthed astonishment of the parrot fish and the dismay of the limpets clinging quietly to the legs of the jetty.

It was a miracle that Fernanda Ponderosa remained dry, and although she affected not to have noticed it, she regarded the submersion of the bathtub as another omen. The removal men, taking their cue from her, saw it would seem indelicate to mention it. It occurred to no one to mount a rescue operation. The bathtub that for three hundred years had purified her illustrious forebears, cleansing from them the gore of battle, the mucus of childbirth, the perspiration of lovers, was now reduced to laundering the less punctilious mermaids of the Marina Grande.

Fernanda Ponderosa looked around with alarm at her other goods and chattels, half expecting those remaining to become submerged under the foaming sea. She regarded herself as the premature victim of a shipwreck although she was still technically on dry land. The gilded cage containing her lugubrious monkey, Oscar, was poised on the edge of the splintered precipice, and though he feigned unconcern, his tiny toes were curled up in a gesture of terror that he could not hide from Fernanda Ponderosa. The sailor suit, in which she had carefully dressed him that morning in preparation for the voyage, was soaked by the spray and by his secret tears.

She moved the cage to what appeared to be a place of safety, and reaching into her bag, she handed the monkey through the bars a linen handkerchief edged with fine lace with which he blotted himself dry. He paid particular attention to the areas behind his ears, which were prone to the development of a fungus, to the spaces between his toes, which were slowly beginning to unfurl now that the initial danger was past, and to his
rumpled suit, now sadly reduced from the pristine condition in which he had left the house only a short time before. The monkey was nothing if not methodical.

The great oak chests containing linens and laces blocked the approach to the waterside. Under the direction of the laconic Vasco, who had come late to removals—he had devoted his young life to the building of barricades—the men had abandoned her goods with the intricate inattention of those who prepare obstacle races. Cast onto the dock like the jumble of a bad dream was a wooden rocking horse with a mane of real hair, the life-size marble statue of the goddess Aphrodite, which Raffaello di Porzio had already noted as being missing from the gardens, a chaise longue, a spiral staircase, family portraits of the noble house of Ponderosa, a glass tank containing the turtle Olga and her seven coin-size babies, a weathervane, a baptismal font dating from the time of the first Crusades, a selection of hatboxes, a grand piano, the mounted head of a unicorn, a stuffed pygmy hippopotamus in a display cabinet, a harp supported by carved wooden angels, a heavy oak crib, a grandfather clock, a nest of galvanized buckets, an elephant's-foot umbrella stand, copper pans, a feather bed, an American-style refrigerator stocked for the journey, tennis rackets, a crystal chandelier, a banana tree, and finally a valise containing gold ingots and precious jewels.

This selection was by no means the entire contents of the house, nor indeed the most precious, but when she had woken that morning her heart gripped by the presentiment of calam
ity, she had taken with her only those things that she would have rescued in the event of a fire. When she moved, and she moved often, she took the things that came first into her hands and that way avoided the agonies of decision-making at a time when life and death hung in the balance.

Although the removal was incomplete, the need to conduct Glauco Pancio to the infirmary became pressing. He was splayed out on a pallet, clutching his nether regions, and groaning pitifully. Fernanda Ponderosa waved the removal men away like flies (it had become impossible for them to do anything outside of the group, and when one went, the rest had to follow) and was left feeling outnumbered by the ranks of her own possessions, which seemed to have taken on a different character now that they were out of the house, in the sunshine on the quay, indelicately exposed to public view.

The tourists on package holidays with little more than a suitcase each and an armful of tacky mementos regarded her with hostility for taking up so much space, and low-pitched mutterings reached her ears, bringing a flush of annoyance to her cheeks. A young man in a uniform appeared with a clipboard and indicated in official jargon that Fernanda Ponderosa could expect to be invoiced by the Grandi Traghetti for the damage caused to the public access areas. But worse was yet to come.

En route to the infirmary, Vasco, who was far from competent behind the wheel of a truck, failed to spot Raffaello di Porzio turning in from the Via della Fortuna, still waving the
telegram in his fist and calling upon Fernanda Ponderosa to appear. Many agreed it was a blessing that Raffaello di Porzio died instantly as a result of the impact. Vasco was not so lucky. After flying through the air for three blocks he landed on his head on the roof of the military headquarters and was then peppered with bullets by an overzealous sentry who mistook him for a terrorist.

Although his dented head, and his body full of holes like a colander, were patched up by the finest surgeons the island had to offer, Vasco's mind was never recovered. Signora Vasco liked to think that it was still in trajectory, and while her husband's living corpse lay motionless in a hammock, she consoled herself with the belief that his mind was orbiting the earth.

The telegram, too, was never recovered. It was not discovered in the grasp of Raffaello di Porzio, and indeed when the closed fists of the body were prized open, they were found to contain nothing but frozen teardrops, which his mother collected with care and kept forever in a jar in her icebox. Whatever had happened to it, no trace of the telegram was ever seen again, and as a result Fernanda Ponderosa made the voyage on the strength of her intuition alone. An intuition that, it has to be said, she never doubted for a moment, and according to which she regulated the rhythm of her life.

In the cacophony of bugles and sirens that marked the worst road traffic accident the town could remember, a band of thieves took advantage of the uproar and stole away a number of Fernanda Ponderosa's goods from the quayside. Only later
when the
Santa Luigia
had finally docked and the porters began loading the cargo did she discover the theft, and by then there was nothing she could do about it. Once she had ascertained that Oscar and Olga and her seven babies were safe, she was able to accept the robbery with a calm she dug down deep for. Besides, she reasoned that this was a passing sorrow compared to that which she knew was waiting to confront her at her journey's end. She had, after all, never liked the portraits; the spiral staircase was probably not going to be of much use to her; and she had never approved of her ancestors' tendency toward big-game hunting. She supervised the loading of what remained and then took her place at the prow.

When the ferry finally sailed, she did not give one backward glance to the island paradise she was leaving forever. She made a policy of never looking back. Instead she looked out to sea, to the school of acrobatic dolphins, hundreds strong, dancing in the glittering waters, and to the enormous octopus being landed with difficulty on the deck by a schoolboy with a fishing rod.

 

On land, her departure was greeted by many with relief. The morning's events had reinforced her reputation as a jinx, and the Vasco and di Porzio families, despite their grief, felt it prudent to offer their friends a little wine and a few almond cakes in celebration of her going.

Throughout the two days and nights of the passage, Fernanda Ponderosa refused to take any rest, and neither would she abandon her vantage point at the prow of the ship. She
stood like a figurehead, wrapped in a black seafarer's cape, which billowed out behind her in the wind. She seemed a sinister apparition to the other passengers, mostly commercial travelers with suitcases full of rubber gloves, hairpieces, or surgical prostheses.

Was she a ghost? they asked Borrelli, the bar steward, who boosted his sales with blood-chilling lies concerning Fernanda Ponderosa, which left the customers in need of copious amounts of bottled courage to return to their cabins. Yet Fernanda Ponderosa was guilty of nothing more sinister than urging the vessel onward, and trying in vain to understand the cause of the grief in her heart.

Eventually the
Santa Luigia
reached port, and Fernanda Ponderosa, the monkey, the family of turtles, and the goods that remained were bundled rudely onto another dock, this one on the mainland, far away from home. They made a forlorn little group, particularly when the heavens opened, and they found themselves submersed in a pool of water that lent them the picturesque aspect of a fountain. The turtles didn't mind the damp, but the monkey hated it, and he was obliged to blot himself once more with the handkerchief, which had only just dried out.

I know all of this because, by an amazing coincidence, my cousin Maria Grazia was herself being transported on the
Santa Luigia,
and she saw
firsthand
everything that happened.

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