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  • Susan Russo Anderson

Dressing for Dinner

Death in Bagheria is Serafina’s third mystery. She is commissioned to investigate the death of a baroness who lived in Bagheria. In the nineteenth century, Bagheria was a watering hole for Europe’s wealthy; today, it's known for its waterfront and the lush, Sicilian Baroque villas lining Corso Umberto. BTW, Bagheria dates back to the Phoenicians who named it Baaria.

In the middle of the story, Serafina reflects on her life. Here’s the excerpt. It’s from the chapter called “Dressing for Dinner”:

Serafina was awakened by a light tapping at her bedroom door.

“I hope I am not here too soon, Madame, but I will be happy to draw your bath and help you with your toilet. You have only an hour and a half before dinner, and the bishop has arrived,” Doucette said.

“I could use the help. My hair has always been a problem for me.”

“Not at all. Madame’s curls are lovely if perhaps hard to tame at times.” Doucette drew the bath and returned within the hour to help Serafina into her undergarments and gown, a deep royal blue organdy with a low neckline, the overskirt pulled back into a bustle.

“Jewelry?”

Serafina shook her head. “I travel with pearls and can fasten them myself,” she said, reaching into her bag and pulling out a long strand and earrings.

“While she worked on Serafina’s hair, Doucette said, “I heard about the theft of the journals. They talk of nothing else below stairs. How distressing for you. Have you found them?”

Serafina shook her head, declining to tell the housekeeper about the book forgotten in the hallway. “What do you think may have happened?”

Doucette shrugged. “Such a shame but I cannot begin to understand why anyone would steal such little books, unless someone wanted them in order to sell the covers. There are very many, and although each may fetch only pennies, for the needy, at least the sum would be something.”

There was silence for a while as the housekeeper’s deft fingers worked.

“You are so talented, Doucette, do you hope to work as a hairdresser in Paris?”

“Madame is too kind, but Paris is the height of fashion, and I am afraid I am not talented enough to make money from hairdressing anymore. The styles have changed so much in ten years, but as you know, I have been working all my life and have no need to work anymore. I think it is time for me to enjoy the remaining days, no?”

Interesting, the housekeeper had amassed enough money so that with wise investment, she’d no longer need to find employment. While Doucette worked on her hair, Serafina let her mind roam. If she were honest, she could not imagine a life without laboring for pay. She’d been helping her mother with midwifery since the age of five and, for the past four years, worked as a sleuth whenever Oltramari’s commissioner sent for her. Not only did her stipend help to support the family, the effort engaged her mind and, yes, gave her the accolades of the townspeople. But, in future, she thought she’d limit her activities to the boundaries of her city. Away from home, she had too little time with her children. She trusted that Teo and Maria weren’t fighting and that her grandson had gotten over the croup but, if not, that Carmela had called Loffredo. Serafina’s absence left her oldest daughter with a burden, she knew, even though Rosa’s cook agreed to feed her family when Renata was not at home. And lately, she seldom saw Carlo. She wondered if this was how it would be as soon as her children grew to his age. They’d leave, and she’d be without them. She shuddered, looked in the mirror, barely recognizing the woman who stared back at her.

Doucette had finished.

Photo: cover, Death in Bagheria. Cover Design, Derek Murphy


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