Into That Mighty Interstellar Darkness
What were the thoughts of a nineteenth-century woman when she looked up at the stars?
Here is Serafina in a scene from Death of a Serpent. She’s been visiting her friend. Now it’s late and she’s driving home, accompanied by Beppe, a household servant.
On their way home, mist obscured the moon, but Serafina saw thousands of stars, perhaps millions. Brilliant tonight, the world. Letting her body follow the sway and swing of the trap, she peered into the ether, high up into that mighty interstellar darkness, not opaque but not quite transparent; where space went beyond itself to somewhere lighter, bluer, farther up than she or it or any star had ever traveled; where past and future were finished and truth existed, pure, whole, untouched. What would Rosa say if she could hear these thoughts? Serafina saw the face her friend would make. She smiled and, giving herself over to the ride, bumped on, bending with the curve in the road.
She felt an excitement, a tingling in her toes, in the vigorous beating of her heart. Life had changed, and she was brand new. Or perhaps it was her quest to find the killer of Rosa’s women, a calling she was always meant to follow. No matter the reason, she began viewing her surroundings for the first time. “Look at the glittering heavens, Beppe. The big star, see it?”
His brows furrowed. His cheeks moved in and out as he poked a dirty finger at the sky. “That one?”
“La Puddara, a good friend. It never moves. Walk toward the star, you’ll pass through the rough neighborhoods and come upon the sea. Walk away from it, you’ll come back to the center of town. Keep going, you bump into the Madonie or a wheat field, one of those, it depends. Shepherds and fishermen know how to work La Puddara better than I. Talk to them, they’ll teach you all the ins and outs, or maybe Giulia has a book about the polar star. Ask her.” As she spoke, the wind took her breath, the night air stung her nose. She thought of her children’s laughter, the way her sweet Giorgio used to warm their bed.