Note to The Roaming Witch fans: I am afraid to inform you that this series of posts will go on hiatus until the English translation of “La Follia di Delia” is done. I promise I will come back to this story the next spring and finish it. Until then, this is going to be the last chapter I will post. I invite new fans to take advantage of the pause reading this family novella set in the 90s Italy from the beginning, here.
It was a nice, sunny day. It was the kind of day that makes you forget your lovely granny has died while you were asleep in the backseat of an old car you shouldn’t know so damn well. There were no other patients occupying the other two beds, but that afternoon Nadia was not alone in her hospital room. Denise had come to visit and brought nice things to her best friend, such as heart shaped chocolates, peach scented incense and a soft pig plush with large blue eyes.
Nadia’s eyes were still red and puffy but she was more cheerful after a lunch on solid food and a good chat with her friend. Early that the morning, her father had passed by to see her and give her the news before his shift at the local Carabinieri station. At first, she had put on a cold face, telling her father that she didn’t know what was the worst news: that granny Etta had died or that her mother was coming home to take care of her. But since her father had not gone mad, just kept on looking her with hopelessness in his eyes, she had started to cry. She could not remember a time, even as a little girl, that she had cried for so long and so desperately in her father’s arms. Out of the window, the sun was rising, laughing at their misery.
Her father had left her with the promise to behave as a brave officer’s daughter. She had forced herself to let him go with a smile and for that day, they were at peace with each other. Later, Denise had sneaked inside Nadia’s room. One of her uncles worked at the hospital and had let her in behind the doctors’ back. Nadia was glad to see Denise, even if she had this odd sensation that she should be angry at her for some reason she could not identify. Nadia wanted to be as warm and open-hearted to Denise as usual, but that sensation, more than her grief for her granny’s death, kept her detached from her friend. After a good hour of chatting, Denise surrendered to the aloof atmosphere and hid an embarrassed smirk behind an improvised plush shield.
“So, you are not mad at me, right? I mean, not anymore.”
Nadia turned her face from the window and its mocking sun to her friend. So her mystical powers were really growing after the discovery of the witch’s tumb. That weird dream had gifted her with an increasingly sharp sixth sense? Nadia was wondering in silence. Her intense gaze was hooked at Denise’s blushing rosy cheeks, half hidden behind the plush toy. Finally, Denise, who was seated sideway the bed, plunged her face onto the sheets, squeaking in a nervous laugh of shame.
“Oh my! Oh my! Please, stop looking at me like that! I can’t tell you right now!”
The girl’s face, the pig plush, and part of her fluffy pink sweater were covered by her long brown hair. Still, Nadia did not speak. Denise emerged from her hair all red and messy.
“Ok, I surrender.”
In the past, Nadia would have smiled at those words. Denise didn’t need to make all that scene. They had simply shared everything since they were little and Denise was the only relative from her mother’s side who Nadia loved spending time with. Every tiny, little secret they had kept from anyone else was not a secret between them. Nadia knew everything about Denise, and Denise knew almost everything about Nadia. Sure, things had started to change a little, with Nadia’s obsession with the Roaming Witch and that other thing she had done that summer, while Denise was away on vacation with her parents. When Denise had come back, Nadia had told her what she had done, but not all the circumstances and, surely, not the guy’s name. Denise had been rather offended, but not for long, and had said to Nadia that she too had secrets she could not tell, but that was not true. Denise could not bear not telling Nadia. And that she was.
“Ehm, I don’t know where to start. – She combed her hair with her hands, freeing her forehead – Well, um… first, promise not to kill me.”
Nadia gestured with the wrist that still had an intravenous needle patched onto the skin.
“Yeah, I see, but I mean… after. Ok, I’ll talk. – She took a deep breath. – Two days ago I was at the Red House to see you and you wasn’t showing and I didn’t know what to do. I was just standing there, getting nervous because of, you know, the place. And then, this nice guy comes and tells me to enter with him, that he knows about the library and I follow him and, suddenly, I am inside and he is fighting with another guy and then comes the bouncer and he tells…”
“Did the bouncer send you away?”
Denise’s eyes lowered. Nadia’s brows raised up.
“Tell me you didn’t have sex with a perfect stranger.”
Denise wasn’t ready to raise up her eyes and look straight at Nadia’s.
At her friend’s scream, Denise raised up straight and placed her fists on her waist.
“Oh well, when YOU did it, it was perfectly fine!”
“It wasn’t at the Red House. I didn’t lose my virginity to a perfect stranger.”
“Well, who is it?”
Nadia whispered angrily that she could not tell.
“Same goes for me.”
“But I do know who he is. I choose him. I didn’t try my fortune at the Red House on a squeaky old bed.”
“Ah, and what did YOU do? You tried your fortune on a squeaky old back seat?”
Nadia blushed instantly. Her friend brought one hand to her wide open mouth.
“Good lord! It’s… it’s who I think it is?”
“Probably, you are thinking the right person.”
Nadia raised her finger.
“Not a word more.”
“Alright. – Denise relaxed – But you are finished with this secrecy bullshit with me.”
“You are finished, Nadia.”
Denise stood up, came closer to Nadia and kissed on her forehead. After the kiss, Nadia looked at her not sure at who she was looking.
“Now, we are even.”
“I am not sure about this. I am not even sure if this idea could…”
The other one placed a delicate finger on Nadia’s lips.
“You should rest. Surely you’ve had too many emotions going on, for a recovery day.”
Plunged in the warm sunset light coming from the window behind her, Denise distanced herself from Nadia, collected her school backpack and prepared to go. Nadia looked at her in a stupor. Then, Denise tapped maternally on her friend’s leg and said her goodbye to Nadia until the next day. When she walked out the room, Nadia would have sworn that suddenly Denise looked taller.