20. Within the clouds

“What do you think, Nadia?”

No one answered. Peter was still laughing, and Sandra turned to the back seat to see her niece reaction at the joke of the guy. The three of them had met by chance the early afternoon and were driving in the sun, from the woods of San Martino alla Riva to the town centre.

“Nadia, are you with us?”

Asked Sandra, bu the girl had her eyes shut and was seated askew. A pair of headphones had fallen around her neck and the cassette inside the walkman in her lap was still going.

“What’s up, Nadia? Did I hurt your feelings?”

“I think she fell asleep.”

Answered Sandra, believing only halfway to what she had just said. There was a worried expression on her niece’s delicate face, which she didn’t like at all. Also, her skin was paler than usual, while her lips were getting darker, almost bluish. Lookin at Nadia, it made Sandra feel the deep sadness of that morning coming back to sting her. There, a sharp quick stab straight in her open heart.

“Peter, could you be a dear and carry us to my mother’s house?”

“Of course, Mrs Lupo. Everything’s fine back there?”

Sandra bit her lips because of the sorrow she had put in her words.

“Yeah! I think my little scoundrel here – she patted her niece on the leg – She didn’t sleep one hour this night and now she just collapsed out of tiredness. Her grandma will help me put her in a bed and let her sleep through it. Her dad will not be that forgiving if you see what I mean.”

“Yes, madam. If you want, I can help you putting her into bed. I suppose she’s not as light as she seems.”

Sandra turned back to facing the front of the car and tried to chuckle at those words, but she still felt the freezing cold of Nadia’s leg on her palm. The girl had not moved a bit after she had struck her. Still, even if she didn’t know what to do once reached her mother’s house, she could think only of that one as a safe place. Her mother will know what to do. She had a lot more experience than her. Her mother would be able to manage any kind of crisis.  Her mother was a cooler and stronger person than her. Sandra was chanting these words in her mind as the car went by the centre of San Martino. She didn’t know if her desire was not to scare her son’s best friend or herself.

Why am I thinking so much about my mother?

Then, they reached her mother’s home, the last house on that side of the river. Tears started to flow from her eyes the moment Sandra saw the ambulance parked in front of the garden. The siren was silent. The lights were not lit. In the corner of the eye, Sandra saw Peter open his mouth in a silent scream of surprise and concern. She felt none of those emotions. She felt only the hot twin streams of tears falling along her cheeks.

“Stop the car here.”

Sandra ordered calmly to the kid and opened her car door. Walking steadily towards the small gate she had passed so many times in her life, she identified a police car parked behind the ambulance. One Carabiniere was standing outside the vehicle, the radio speaker in his right hand. Sandra closed her wet eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. The pain knife in her heart penetrated more deeply. She didn’t stop walking, though. The moment she lifted her eyelids, the Carabiniere was quickly coming towards her. She lifted one hand in a silent greeting. The man slowed down his pace.

“We could not find you. How did you know?”

Sandra looked firmly into his eyes. The man, who could have been ten years younger than her, didn’t ask any more questions. He quietly escorted the daughter of the deceased inside her childhood home. In the hallway, Sandra found her older brother, Vittorio, seated on the second step of the staircase that led to the upper floor. He was holding his head in his hands. His uniform hat was laying upside down on the floor, between his foot. He was immobile. Sandra could perceive other people in the room a part of her brother, but could not see anything else but Antonio, paralysed by the pain. Someone touched her.

“Sandra.”

She recognised the sad voice she had heard in her morning dream and turned to look into David’s big eyes. He was going to say something else, but she stopped him placing two fingers on his lips.

“Follow me.”

They walked outside the house, passed the gate and moved towards the car. David had no time to ponder why his father’s old Ford Taurus was there, and why that guy he had never seen before was guiding it. The moment Sandra sensed he had stopped, she grabbed him by his jacket and dragged him directly to the rear car door. David saw Nadia deeply asleep on the back seat. At first, he didn’t notice anything unusual, even though the girl was extremely pale. Then, he saw white smoke coming from her bluish lips.

“What’s happening, Mrs Lupo? – asked Peter – and who are you, pal?”

“I am a doctor and I think your friend is unwell.”

“What? – Peter turned on his seat to look at Nadia – My god she seems made of chalk!”

In the meanwhile, David had opened the car door and was on Nadia, taking her pulse. Sandra was standing behind him, not more lively than her brother inside the house or her niece on that car seat. When finally her husband could make her turn towards him, she did not recognise him at first.

“Sandra? Are you well? – asked him – It’s been hours since we started looking for you. Where have you been? God, I was so worried! And then I came here and… and I found your mother, in the kitchen.”

“It was you who found her?”

Asked Sandra in a dry and sceptical voice.

“Oh, well, yes! Me and the doctor. – he looked at David in the car – What’s he doing now?”

“Nadia.”

“What happened to her?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh my good, what is this morning! First, you weren’t at home. Then, I came here and your mother… well… then your brother came and the news broke him. Now Nadia. My god! Should we tell him? Should we call an ambulance? Of course, we need an ambulance. What do you want to do, Sandra? You’ll talk to your brother or go with the girl? Sandra? Sandra, what will you do?”

“I don’t know. My mother is dead. I know nothing.”

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