The wind carried the sweet, honeyed scent of almond blossoms across the sea, mixed it with the dust of the Sahara and laid it gently on the beach at Carrie’s feet. Just a couple of yards away, tiny waves spread darkened fingers to claim that dust and pull it back into the azure sea. It was only March, but the sun shone warm on her face as she gazed southward and tried to imagine she could see the coast of Africa.
“Here.” Ariel dropped down beside Carrie into a graceful heap and handed her an open beer. “It’s a Moretti. Not that I know what that means.”
“Thanks.” Carrie tipped the bottle back and let a mouthful of the rich, slightly bitter alcohol slide down her throat.
Ariel sipped at a Coke and remarked to Carrie’s raised eyebrow, “If I’m driving that crazy road to your family’s home town, I am NOT drinking.”
“Probably a good thing you’re driving then.”
Ariel chuckled. “That would be interesting; you negotiating all those hairpin turns with a cast on your arm.”
Carrie turned and dropped her head as she had become accustomed to doing over the past couple of weeks, hiding the bruising and the stitches that marked her face like the road map of Sicily. She was still uncomfortable with the stares – stares that would likely never go away for the rest of her life.
The women sat in silence, surrounded by the sounds of the wind, the sea and the whispers of their own thoughts. Clouds scattered across the sky, raced and vied with each other for the honour of casting shadows along the beach, but with the passing of each one, the sun shone through, warming both the sand and the women once more.
“Okay.” Ariel tossed back the last of her Coke. “Let’s do this thing. I’m not looking forward to this drive, but if we are going to do it, the sooner we start, the sooner it’s done.”
Carrie nodded. She dug a little hole in the sand, poured in the last of her beer, and covered it over. She placed a small polished stone on top, marking the spot.
~ ~ ~
The little red Fiat hugged the edge of the curve as they sped around to the left. Carrie was grateful for Ariel’s driving skills; she was sure she couldn’t handle the wild roads and the crazy drivers of the Sicilian countryside even if she was at her best. The road and the car swung to the right and the box on the floor slid from the right to bump her left ankle. Carrie squeezed her feet together to hold the box in place. She hadn’t been comfortable in a car since the accident. She leaned her head back against the seat, closed her eyes, and did the breathing exercises the psychologist had given her to help deal with the anxiety left over from such a catastrophic crash. Her breathing slowed and the perfume of the almonds filled her lungs and transported her…
~ ~ ~
The first time she had driven this road she was a sullen 13-year-old sitting in the back, arms crossed, black bangs hanging across her face, black eye-makeup outlining barbs of hate shot at the back of the two heads in the seat in front of her. Baggy black clothes, the emo uniform, were accentuated by the large silver cross that she had been wearing upside down until her father refused to let her leave the house until she turned it around.
“Zio Antonio said that your room has a view of the valley.” Her father’s voice was strained.
“That’s lovely. Doesn’t that sound lovely Carrie?” Her stepmother’s answering voice was at an unnaturally high pitch, reaching an uncomfortable squeak with the second ‘lovely’.
“He has animals. Zio Tony still keeps donkeys. And rabbits. And the farm is over-run by cats.” Her father added.
“What-ever.” Carrie muttered under her breath.
Inside Carrie was seething. She had not seen her father in five years and suddenly he arrived with a new wife and a ticket to Sicily. And her mother had agreed to it!
“You should see where your Dad’s family is from.” Her mother had responded to Carrie’s angry protest. “You’ve never been to Sicily. You’ve never met your aunts or uncles who are still there. You must have a ton of cousins. You’ll have a great time!”
Carrie had flounced off to her bedroom and threw herself down on her bed and refused to speak to anyone much at all for the two weeks before their flight was to leave.
“Maybe this was a bad idea…” She heard her father hiss to the woman that Carrie had decided was nowhere near as pretty as her mother.
‘Yuh think?’ Carrie thought to herself.
“Marco, don’t worry, she’ll come around.” Her stepmother patted her father’s leg and Carrie wanted to gag.
But they had been right. Carrie had come around. When they arrived she was swarmed by other teenagers who thought their Canadian cousin was, with her dark and emo clothes, the coolest person they had ever met and their soundtrack for the summer was a mixture of Kurt Colbain, Doomsword and Fall Out Boy.
~ ~ ~
As she came out of her reverie, Carrie found herself humming.
“Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious.” Ariel burst out singing.
Startled, Carrie looked at her friend. “What?”
“You were humming Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“I was just thinking about the summer I spent here with Dad and Rachel.”
“Yeah, you were a pretentious little emo git back then.” Ariel chuckled. “You came back a lot easier to be around.”
Carrie snorted. She turned her head to watch the pine trees speeding by as they overtook another corner. They travelled in silence for another two curves and then she began to sing softly, “Load up on guns…bring your friends…It’s fun to lose and to pretend…”
Ariel laughed and joined in. “She’s over bored and self assured…Oh no, I know a dirty word…”
And then, as if on cue they shouted out together, “Hello, hello, hello… how low…hello, hello, hello.”
~ ~ ~
“I think the turn is up there,” Carrie pointed. “In the gap in that stone wall.”
Ariel negotiated the car off the winding paved road and onto a rough stone lane, barely a goat path, that ran through a collection of stunted pine trees. Ariel moved the Fiat as slowly as she could over the bumps and holes, but still they were tossed back and forth as they crept down the hill. Ariel’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel and she frowned in concentration as she picked out the smoothest path around deep potholes and large jagged rocks.
The intensity in Carrie’s quiet word caught Ariel’s attention faster than if she had shouted. Ariel brought the car to a stop and looked up with a gasp. Before them was a steep ragged valley. Large white outcroppings of stone broke through the surface to dot the plunging hillside. Sheer cliff faces framed the valley to the left, but to the right the valley continued to fall away farther and farther until it met the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean.
“Holy shit. This is… incredible.” Ariel whispered. “This is your family’s land?”
Carrie nodded. “Now you know why I had to come back.”
They pushed open the doors of the Fiat and climbed out. Carrie awkwardly picked up the box from the floor of the car and held it against her stomach with one hand as she teetered down over a rocky precipice to a spot that seemed made for the two of them to sit. Carrie tried to put the box down one handed, but Ariel took it from her.
“Let me help you.” Her friend said quietly. She placed the box gingerly next to the flat stone and then helped Carrie sit. Ariel scrambled down next to her. They sat in silence for long minutes, gazing at the dramatic vista. Finally, Ariel wrapped her arm around Carrie.
“Do you want me to stay or do you want to be on your own?”
Carrie turned to her friend, tears glinting in the corners of her eyes. “Would you stay?”
“Of course.” Ariel whispered.
With difficulty, Carrie climbed to her feet. Without being asked, Ariel reached down and unlatched a hook that held the lid on the box and opened it. She reached in and carefully lifted out a lidded jar. Unscrewing the lid, she handed it to Carrie. Standing facing the valley, Carrie hugged the jar with her good arm. She took a deep breath, held it, and then exhaled slowly. She paused and then poured a fine powder out of the jar. A breeze danced across the sheer cliffs, caught the powder and spread it like a fine dust over the valley. Carrie’s good arm dropped to her side, the jar falling to the ground then rolling and bouncing down the hill, as the clouds of dust twisted in eddies away from her. Tears mixed with the dust and drew lines down her cheeks. She brought the one hand to her face and ran her fingertips gently along the lines of still healing stitches. She moved her hand to her lips, kissed her fingers and then stretched them out to the wind.
“Goodbye Dad.” She whispered.