Maria was the only one who could calm Isabella when she was in the throes of an emotional collapse. No matter how I tried to hold her close, rock her, pat her back, she would wriggle out of my grasp and I would follow her around the villa, grabbing her to prevent any destruction of precious statuary.
In response to Isabella’s sobs, Maria always appeared – in whatever room my vain efforts at comfort happened to be taking place.
Maria was always calm and that serenity had a soothing effect on Isabella. Maria seemed to be possessed of some ancient wisdom – long-kept secrets and stories that have been floating around the villa and the city since the beginning of time.
“Come,” Maria would say in Italian, which Isabella could speak fluently, but which I was only just beginning to comprehend, “you see how your crying makes your mamma sad. Let’s go all three of us to my rooms. I will make us a cup of tea and tell you a story.”
And Isabella would cease mid-tantrum! I was always relieved by Maria’s quiet manifestation. Her room were far from the family’s apartment. How did she know? I was always jealous of Maria. What did she know about my child that I didn’t?
Maria had her own small kitchen where she brewed a strange kind of tea – made of roots and herbs. It was bitter and sweet at the same time. To this she added honey and a slice of orange. She on the calming effects of this brew.
“He is a good cat,” Maria would say. “See, he has a kind face.”
He was all black, with green eyes which I loved. I would be sitting on the small couch by the fireplace. Maso would jump on my lap.
When the tea was served, Maso would move to the side and Isabella would climb onto my lap in his place. And Maria would begin a story. I was grateful for her tales for I had no books to read to Isabella. In those days books in English were hard to come by in Italy. Maria knew all the old myths and superstitions. Reciting these, she transmitted to Isabella the wisdom of the ancients. I was happy for Maria to give Isabella what I couldn’t.
“What story shall we tell today?” began a period of tender serenity.