Back From the Dead Red
The familiar salty sea air spread its beachy, fishy aroma across the shipping dock. The scent reminded Francesca of exhilarating days perched on top of Papa’s shoulders trying and barely touching the rigging that supported the foremast of Mourning Star. Staring from the steps of the boardwalk, Francesca watched with awe at a new arrival. She could hear the booming commands from the captain and first mate intermixed with the clattering voices that commonly joined in the pier side chorus. Young boys and girls in rags sold shellfish in their make-shift carts, wandering and curious visitors of pop-up shops that appear as frequently as they disappear, each baring trinkets and treasures from lands far from where the horizon lay.
“Oysters for sell!”
“Fresh oysters! Cuatro Reals,” bellowed a dark haired girl in an outfit composed of recycled fishing nets and loose fabrics.
She looked on with wonder at the large ship. The white sails glowed in the afternoon sun, the aged bronze of the figure of a siren at the bow matching the metal accenting the ship.
A loud horn signaled the end of the working day. Hopping down from her seat, Francesca fetched the young girl and placed a gold Real in her hands for one of her oysters.
“Gracias Senora,” the young girl cried with gratitude, fresh tears in her eyes.
Another horn sounded sending Francesca off in a hurry. She waved goodbye to the curious girl.
Her husband Lucio was to return home any minute and would expect the aroma of tonight’s dinner to seduce his freckled nose as he entered their villa on top of a hill. As she walked closer to the town center, Francesca looked out for the large, white clock tower with its winged gargoyles that pointed North, South, East, and West.
“Son las cinco y cuarto, perfect,” said Francesca when the out of place building came into her direct view. The sun’s amber light shone on the left face of the clock tower. Its very tip had already begun to disappear into the shadow. She always thought it quite peculiar and anachronous in the vibrant coastal town. For months after her arrival when she was a young bride, she tried to avoid the blank stares of the beaked guardians at all costs; but eventually daily life as the wife of a popular merchant required for her to inquire over her husband’s local business with the town elite and wealthy citizens. Not only did she dread the stares, she despised the lingering whispers after the golden doors closed shut. With a turn onto a steep hill with cobbled streets, 8-foot-tall wrought iron fences signal the entrance to a large, light blue house resting on the apex of the hill.
“Hola senorita Francesca. Staring at boats again?” said Eloisa, the family’s head of staff. A tiny woman of large personality who was once Francesca’s wet nurse. It was in her care Francesca was left in after a band of mutinous pirates raided Mourning Star midnight Christmas morning while Mama and Papa slept in a tranquil slumber. Francesca can remember the searing heat of the roaring flames flashing in honey, tangerine, and crimson. The fire crept along the sides of her sleeping chamber. The blooming obsidian smoke choked the air from her quarters. Her screams for help were answered by a soot covered man with a receding hairline and ugly intentions. Francesca blackened the proceeding moments from her memory for it nearly drove her mad during her years of eternal and penetrating grief. “I figured you wouldn’t return on time. So I began preparing for dinner for you and Señor Hierro,” Eloisa kissed Francesca’s cheeks twice and took her jacket from her hands. “But my duties are over, and I give you full reign of your house.” The elderly woman flashed a toothy grin at the younger woman. Francesca just rolled her eyes in jest and naïve deviance.
“Ah Ma, you have earned your keep for today. So dimelo what’s next for you?”
“I heard of a traveling actors group performing tonight in the city square. And I am late. Adios Señora”
Francesca swirled a wooden spoon into the simmering pot of creamy Alfredo sauce and little dumpling balls of potato dough the Italians called gnocchi. Bringing the spoon to her plump rose lips, she tasted for any absent flavors. Her nose crinkled.
“It’s definitely missing some spice.” She thought out loud and made her way into the walk in pantry Lucio built for her after striking a contract with a spice kingpin in South East Asia. Being the wife of a wealthy merchant had its perks, specifically in the grace of foreign spices that reached their pantry, insuring an explosion on their tongues. She rummaged through the different spices held within spherical vials.
“Ah, these will do.”
She made her way back to the stove holding vials of paprika, cumin, and ras el hanout.
Francesca yipped with joy when her micro experiment went as planned. The Alfredo gnocchi had a spicy kick that sent her nerves firing like a full moon celebration.
The entirety of the building appeared to be sculpted from the mountain side. The large central room held together by mosaic archways in the windows, doorways, and even above the heads of the wealthy crowds. An ingenious plan for skylights sent sunlight scattering and bounced off the crystals of purple and white onto the tan stone to give a light show of rainbow of colors. On Francesca’s pale grey gown glimmered hues of blue and pink and iridescent green like the shells of Egyptian beetles. Francesca found the twinkling lights more interesting than the company of airheads she sat with. It is quite inconvenient to wear corsets in place like this, she thought. She wiggled inside the wire cage. Her breathing shallow. Her adversaries, dressed in all the frills, poof, and glitter imaginable looked to the merchant’s wife with wonder, and some with envy, as she ordered for everyone in the language of the Arab servers. The young ladies loved to repeat to themselves the smooth words. “Teteria,” “Karak,” “Shukraan.” The words rolled from their lips and evaporated into the heavy air.
Francesca’s mind fleeted from her immediate surroundings to imagining how Lucio’s hunt for her ship was coming along. She was startled back into reality by the gentle touch of her elbow. Instinctively, she withdrew herself from the touch and looked at the man defense her fingers flexed into a tight fist.
“Perdon Señorita Heirro.”
“Oh no. No. Perdoname, I’ve been catching myself in the luls of daydreams more and more often than not.” Her cheeks tinged pink with embarrassment.
“I should’ve proceeded with caution rather than start a beautiful woman like you.” The man, she knew that his last name was Reyes winked at her. “You almost gave me a black eye with that fist.”
Francesca watched him, waited for him to make his point. A quick awkward silence followed, and he cracked with a cough.
“So… I wanted to inquire about a shipment Senior Hierro has arranged to arrive tomorrow from far east of China.” He said carefully. She felt the tea surge back up and her face expressed the disgust she felt.
“That’s business you have with my husband.”
“Yes I am aware. I have mentioned business with him but he requested more than was fair.” He touched her elbow again looking intently into her golden honey eyes, “I was hoping you could pu—”
“Antonio! What are you doing?” In a swirl a petite brunette shouted and pulled Antonio Reyes away from Francesca, “Today is for small talk, gossip, and tea.” she quipped as she snuck herself underneath his arm. The brunette winked at an anxious Francesca. All she could do present a meek smile on her face.
“Dios mio, I’m sorry Francesca. My cousin fails at social life.” The small brunette whose name couldn’t surface in her memory giggled childishly. Antonio seemed offended and he huffed, “Goodbye ladies,” and with a flare of his coattail he scurried off. Less anxious, Francesca smiled back at the woman in a gown that looked like it was made of millions of dew drops tied together by spiderweb. She sat back on the large satin pillows she rested on.
“Tea?” She offered, reaching for the pot, “Um, Tatiana right?” she questioned carefully as she poured the amber liquid into a second golden cup and refilled hers for the third time.
Francesca chuckled in relief. What an embarrassment if I got it wrong, she thought. The warm liquid washed over her and she moaned quietly into her cup.
A thick layer of smoke spread across the ground and the skylights dimmed despite it being noon. Conversations faded as bells chimed with the entrance of six women, clad in colorful fabrics of silk and chiffon, little gold coins were tied to a scarf around their hips, bells at their ankles, and veils of chiffon allowed the party goers to only see their deep, dark almond eyes. A group of men in loose ivory clothes and black turbans sat on pillows and began to play instruments that looked as ancient as the room she sat in. The women swayed and moved their hips in a sensual way that aroused the crowd. Francesca excused herself from her new friend and fluttered towards the bathroom on the far western side of the tea house. She approached the narrow hallway, but stopped in her tracks when she heard hushed words. A thud against the wall sent a short wave of vibration to where she stood. She hid around the corner and carefully watched the transaction between Antonio and another mysterious man in a dirty jacket and torn pants.
The other man, taller than Antonio to that his nose reached his chest and he had to tilt his head in order to look at him, he had his long arm across Antonio’s chest teeth flashing in his face.
“I swear to Aegaeon… we gave you 2 hours.” He growled, spit flying onto Antonio’s petrified face.
“Please, I couldn’t get the bitch to speak and then my cou—” Antonio pleaded but was cut off by the back of a ring adorned hand, causing a minor gash to begin bleeding. “What was that for?”
“For being an idiot.” Mused the man. He pushed Antonio harder into the wall. “I need a way into la casa azul.”
Francesca slipped an audible gasp as she realized the tall man was speaking of her house. Her blue house on the hill. Her eyes widen with shock and she covered her mouth with her hands pressing her back into the wall.
“What was that?” The tall dirty man looked down the hallway squinting to see a figure in the hallway only illuminated by a single gas lamp.
Francesca closed her eyes willing herself to be as quiet as possible. The looming heavy steps beginning to walk towards her corner.
Please… God, she prayed inside her head. The clicks of his heel stopped right before the threshold of the hall and the darkened room in which Francesca hid and turned back around. A sigh from Francesca was covered by the grunt and thump of someone being kicked.
“You’ll regret crossing me and taking precious time.” He spat and made his exit.
Oh’s and Ah’s of admiration quickly turned into shouts and screeches of panic.
Krizia Isamar Bruno is an artist, editor, and writer born and raised in Brooklyn, who decided to unpack her bags in Pittsburgh, PA. Her creations feature a magical and diverse world where moms and daughters live for and against each other.
She is the founder of Ofrendas Press, an independent publishing press focused on creating handmade books and publications by women of Latinx, African, and/or Indigenous heritage. Her first self-published work, Dominicana Americana, is available for pre-order at the Ofrendas Shop.
More of Krizia’s work can be found on www.kri-zia.com.