Thursday, December 26 2013

Roman Holiday, Part One

Lucy Kottayil (née Manning) was sitting near the Trevi Fountain when Bigfoot gave his biggest thump yet.

Bigfoot was the current name for the little miracle growing inside her. They probably wouldn’t name him (or possibly her — they had decided not to know ahead of time) that when he was born.


Hey, kiddo, I get it,” Lucy said as she patted her baby‐​swollen belly. “Be patient. You’ve got months to go down there…”

Another kick followed.

Don’t sass back yet,” Lucy sighed. She braced herself for yet another kick, some prenatal precursor of adolescent rebellion, but (thank God) it didn’t come.

After a few seconds, she relaxed and leaned back a little to savor the surroundings. And as far as surroundings went, the Trevi Fountain and the small piazza around it were pretty amazing. It was like a Baroque explosion. Lucy, who had been surrounded by all Gothic, all the time, for the last two years, happily soaked in the change of pace.

And the sunshine. Okay, maybe Britain’s foggy reputation was a little overstated, but here in Italy, it never even seemed to get cloudy at all. (Based on Lucy’s vast experience of the eternal city, which now totaled almost three full days.)

She and Joe were here — well, technically it wasn’t a vacation, just a trip to check in with The Man (as Lucy had dubbed Monsignor Quinn, the aging Irish intermediary between the London hunters and the Bishop of Rome) about the latest goings‐​on in Britain.

But yes, it basically was a weekend vacation, and Lucy knew it would be the last one she’d take in a good long time. Bigfoot was due to make his Broadway debut in about three months, and Lucy’s gynecologist, ordinarily a sweet old lady, had been quite firm on the reckless, downright lunatic dangers of traveling with a baby on board after the six and a half month mark.

Lucy had nodded along, biting her lip a little as she did. Hopping on a British Airways flight from London to Rome wouldn’t be the most perilous thing she’d done while pregnant. (Although, to be fair, she’d decided to stop vampire hunting about a nanosecond after seeing the blue + on the pregnancy test.)

So here they were, her and Joe and Bigfoot. Joe was still tied up with the Monsignor. It turned out there was actual paperwork to be done. Lucy had only then realized that was why Father Gelasius had been so agreeable to them going to Rome. He hated paperwork. Sister Anne hated paperwork. Zofia hated paperwork and her English was terrible, anyway. Or so she claimed. Lucy was slightly skeptical of the new girl there.

But hey, Roman vacation!

Lucy’s phone suddenly let out a DING! (which may or may not have been in David Tennant’s voice). She fished it out and pouted a little at the text she’d just gotten.

Luv — more paperwork, Lord help me. Meet for lunch at 12:30?”

It was just after 11:30 now, and the original plan had been for a noon lunch somewhere around the Man’s resident church near Villa Borghese. (At this stage in Lucy’s pregnancy, she could still walk instead of waddle, but long distance hikes really weren’t the best idea.)

Still, noon, 12:30, not that big a difference. They had all day.

Sure thing Mr Man” Lucy quickly replied, her speed perhaps slightly more admirable than her punctuation. She added a ”

Okay, stompy, let’s go see the sights, huh?”

Bigfoot had no reply, stompy or otherwise, and nestled quietly, doing whatever the not‐​yet‐​born do, while Lucy heaved herself up off her seat on the edge of the pool at the base of the fountain.

So now what? Lucy looked over in the direction of the Quirinal Palace, once the property of the Popes, then stolen from them by the Kings of Italy, and then stolen from them and given to the President of Italy after World War Two and the end of the monarchy.

(Sister Anne had typed out a long, informative but startlingly stern paragraph denouncing both acts, but especially the first, a day or two before Lucy and Joe left for Rome. Lucy had almost had it laminated.)

There probably wasn’t enough time to poke around there — if they even allowed tours. Lucy wasn’t sure, and she didn’t want to waste time asking. (Let alone try and look it up on her phone. The roaming charges would be brutal.


It was perhaps not inevitable, even in Rome, that Lucy wound up inside a church, but it was fairly predictable.

The one she’d strolled into was fairly small (certainly when compared to the four great basilicas of Rome), but it was absolutely stunning. All of Rome’s churches were.

(Lucy was blissfully unaware of the existence, let alone catastrophic if not downright criminal aesthetic failures, of the Jubilee Church.)

The name of the church, inscribed in a long brass plate above the 18th century doors, was Sacra Famiglia in Esilio. A smaller sign next to the doors added that it was the Roman church of the American Society of Our Lady of Most Immaculate Sorrow, an order (and Marian title) Lucy had never heard of.

Esilio… Esilio… Lucy thought, trying to translate it.

Lucy’s barely remembered Spanish classes came to the rescue. Exilio meant exile, and she supposed Esilio was just the Italian form of the word.

So, Holy Family in Exile. And, sure enough, behind the grand old altar was a beautiful old painting of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Egypt. Joseph led the camel on which the Blessed Mother sat, and little Jesus lay bundled up on her lap. Behind them were the pyramids, and off to one side, a toppled statue of a man with a crocodile’s head. At the margins of the painting were two kneeling figures, a man and a woman, in refined 18th century garb. The original patrons of this church, Lucy correctly guessed.

Inside the church, all was quiet, dark and still. The thick stone walls kept out the honks and screeches of the late morning traffic, the electric lights Lucy could see high up in shadowy recesses were off, and the church was empty.

She dipped her fingers in the holy water font and crossed herself before realizing it wasn’t quite empty. Off to the right of the altar, between it and a small side chapel, there was a big antique confessional, and a subdued light was shining above the door to the priest’s side. Faint murmuring could be heard — the acoustics in Sagra Familia were superb.

Lucy sidled away to the left side of the church and very slowly studied the architectural treasures there. All the corners of the supporting columns were etched with beautiful, minute images from Scripture and Church history. Lucy recognized maybe one in ten and was proud she did that well. Here and there were faded crests, the symbols of long vanished lines of Roman aristocrats.

Sister Anne would love this place, kiddo, Lucy thought. She gently stroked her stomach. You like it?

There was no answer, naturally enough, but Lucy reminded herself silence rendered consent. Her lazy sort of smile lasted until she reached the metal votive candle holder. Most of the candle spots were empty, and all the candles that were there were dark.

Lucy stopped and thought glumly of all the souls who weren’t being remembered, weren’t being prayed for.

She slipped a one Euro coin into the donation slot under the candles and lit a long, skinny white candle. The heavy wooden doors of the confessional were so dark, so well oiled and polished, that the candle flame reflected (faintly) on them. “Lily Sweeney… rest in peace, you magnificent maniac,” she whispered, and then offered the Latin prayer for the dead that Father Gelasius had taught her. “Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.

She lingered a few minutes longer and then left the church in silence. Bigfoot gave a little kick, gentle by his standards, and Lucy smiled bittersweetly. “C’mon, kiddo. Let’s find Daddy.”

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