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The Snow Childby Eowyn Ivey
Sweetwater, West Virginia
September 9, 1975
Ive just ordered room service, and though I am exhausted I must commit to paper a sketch of my initial encounter with Garnet Ferrari, the subject of the committees current investigation.
I was greeted at Garnets door by her aunt Betty, a flustered soul, all chatter and tics, who genuflected deeply and kissed my hand before I could stop her. She deposited me in the library, where Garnet was standing before the lit fireplace, fists clenched as if she were a pugilist in the ring. She was dressed in track shorts and an orange tank top just a shade off from the color of her hair — a voluminous mane that roams at will. Most of her skin was exposed for my benefit, I believe, as if to say: Take a good look!
The background tone of her flesh is pale, but the birthmarks decorating her skin are varying shades of purple: deep mulberry, magenta, the faintest mauve. It looks as if someone took a map of the world, cut out continents and islands, provinces and cantons, and glued them willy-nilly on Garnets body. I distinctly identified Alaska on her right cheek, the Aleutians trailing over her nose; Mongolia on one shoulder; Zaire on the other; Crete on her knee; Chile on her ankle; and many others. There is a kind of beauty in her birthmarks, Gods holy design imprinted on her skin.
Garnet directed me to sit as her Sicilian grandmother pushed in a teacart loaded with cookies and a samovar of coffee. Nonna Diamante is quintessentially Old World with her white bun and orthopedic shoes. When she saw me she began to kneel and reach for my hand, but I forestalled the gesture. Nonna backed out of the room mumbling, “Garney, watch-a you mouth and behave.”
Once we were alone Garnet broadened her shoulders, thrust forward her chest, and jutted out her chin. The display reminded me of that toad in my sisters garden that doubles its size by inflating with air to deter predators.
Finally Garnet sat, draped her legs over her chair arm, and said, “You know I dont believe any of this bullshit.”
Given the resistance — and mockery — the committee has been met with thus far, I was prepared. “Perhaps you dont, but people all over the world do.” I pulled from my briefcase a sampling of the many letters the Vatican has received from people claiming to have been healed by Garnet.
“Dont these people have anything better to do?” She sat upright, grabbed the letters, and unceremoniously flung them into the fireplace.
I stifled my impulse to rescue them, fearing that any sudden movement might send Garnet running.
I then pulled out a stack of before-and-after pictures of various healed skin disorders. I fanned them out for her perusal, careful to hold on tight. “Are you saying these are fabricated?”
Garnet looked at the photos and sighed. “Im not denying that people are being healed. Im just saying that Im not responsible.”
A sudden roar erupted from the pilgrims keeping vigil outside Garnets home. Garnets head bowed under the magnitude of their pleas. When she looked up, her eyes betrayed weariness. “How do I put an end to this crap so I can get on with my life?”
It felt as if we were in a confessional, and I wished I had an inspired answer. All I could do was hand over the standard questionnaire and a tape recorder for her use during our inquiry. “Start here.”
Garnet flipped through the onerous document. “Are you kidding me?”
“The Vatican has a duty to investigate, Im afraid. And we are very thorough.”
For a moment it looked as if the girl might cry, an astonishing notion that made me want to scoop her into my arms and hug her, as a father might. But that would have been inappropriate, and perhaps misconstrued. “The sooner you begin, the sooner it will be over with.”
Garnet nodded, stood, and led me to the front door, the weight of the world heavy upon her neck.
After meeting Garnet I find myself of two minds. Half of me wants to prove that Garnet is the source of the miracles whether she claims responsibility or not. The other half wants to refute the pilgrims assertions so that she can live in peace. It is up to God to reveal the truth.
Ah! My veal scaloppine has arrived.
The Legend of Saint Garnet
To the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Archbishop Gormley in particular:
Before we begin, Archie, I want to reiterate that the only reason Ive granted this intrusion is that the sooner you dispel this sainted nonsense the sooner I can reclaim my life, or perhaps claim it for the first time. Then you and the boys can direct your energies to more urgent matters: rescuing victims of the Banqiao Dam breach, for example, or polishing the papal jewels.
Wait. Theres Nonna at the door.
(Tank-a him for the vis.)
Archie, Nonna wants me to thank you for the visit; a preemptive nicety, since I can hear her spitting even from here with the ptt-ptt-ptt and tocca ferro, touching iron, jangling the five pounds of skeleton keys she routinely hauls around — as do I. Shes using them to ward off the evil-eye germs shes certain you left in the upholstery. According to Nonna, anyone with eyes as dark as yours surely harbors the malocchio, as they call it in Italy, or the maloicky, as they say in Baaston, your holy turf. Nonna wondered about that, sending a Black Irish potato eater instead of a paesano to do the popes bidding.
(I never said-a that.)
(Most certainly did.)
I apologize for her ethnic fussiness, but shes mistrustful of murky eyes even if theyre ordained, since everyone knows Pius IX was a bad-karma-flinging jettatura, even if it was inadvertent. Tell that to the poor schmucks who fell out of windows or tumbled off scaffolding in his papal wake. After you left, Nonna was a whirling dervish of incantations and phallic hand gestures — manus obscenus: mano fica, mano cornuta — though I insisted she stop at sprinkling urine, that holiest of all holy waters, particularly mine, which is why I lock the bathroom door behind me even after I flush.
If it will speed your inquiry I will confess that there is magic here, and I dont mean just the practical jokes playing out on my body. Someone or something is responsible for the mysteries Ive witnessed in Sweetwater, but its not me. In addition to environmental factors, in my opinion, the true source is Nonna —
(Its-a no true! You are the descendant of Saint Garnet! You!)
— It was Nonna who packed anti-malocchio talismans in her valise when she sailed to America, along with her belief in folk magic — the Old Religion — a faith system, however irrational, that I have been unable to banish from my psyche the way I have the Vatican-sanctioned one.
Admittedly, if it is Nonna, her powers are spotty, so perhaps theres a third alternative neither of us has considered. Hopefully your investigation will discover who the real conjurer is and thus pull the limelight away from me.
(Garney, you play for the Padre.)
(What? Why did you bring my saw in here?)
(Why you face-a so mad? He will like-a you playing. She plays-a the most beautiful saw, Padre! It make-a you weep!)
(Give me that. This isnt a talent show. And besides, thats private. Private!)
(Okay, okay. Dont getta so flust. Here, have a cannoli.)
Nonna just made two hundred cannolis for the Saint Brigid bake sale. Shes still recovering from carting tray after tray up from the basement kitchen, though at her age she shouldnt be baking for anyone, not even me. Apparently hiring a chef is out of the question. Such a waste, she says. And besides, no one can match her culinary skills.
Still, her poor knees — creaking as I speak. Ive tried valiantly to get her to use the main-floor kitchen, but all those whirring, grinding, icemaking contraptions confound her, especially the Radar Range — a complete bafflement. If you really want to unlock a mystery, figure out how that thing works. The added truth is she doesnt want to muss anything up.
A santa no live in a-squal, she always says.
(No, I dont.)
(Yes, you do.)
What about Mother Teresa? I always rebut.
Thats a-diff. Shes from Macedonia. You are Sicilian.
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