La scelta

June 9, 2011
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I stood on the cold wet stone, bracing my feet against the torrents of wind that swirled behind me. I heard the sea lapping against the lip of the paved cobblestone bank. The ocean swelled and rolled angrily, venomously lashing out over the stone.

I stood before the Ospedale della Pieta and clutched the bundle cradled in my arms closer to my chest. The child was silent, her cries stilled by the comforting rumble of the thunder in the distance. I squeezed her ever closer, tucking the blankets around her, drawing the cloth over her head to keep the rain off her sweet face. Her eyes opened at my movement, large cupfuls of green, like the Mediterranean on a serene day. She blinked her bristly brown lashes over her bright eyes and pursed her rosebud mouth in a soundless –o.

“Shh, shh,” I whispered, rocking her gently. Grimly I peeled my eyes from my child’s face and pulled the mantle over. I turned my gaze to the white stone building looming over me, towering ominously over my hooded head.

I cannot do this, I thought. I cannot. But I had to. The door was right there in front of me, the big black door. It glowered at me with reproach. I understood all too well. I had been getting plenty of rebuking stares of late, from all sorts of lookers-on.

The foundling wheel watched me, a plain challenge communicating across the distance between us. I looked away.

It had been only a week since my child was born. But even longer since I had been publically humiliated and chastised. When I had been discovered with child six months ago, my parents had disowned and discarded me, insisting I leave immediately. Luckily for me, my elder brother took me in after I had spent two months wandering the streets, searching desperately for shelter from the rain and cold.

I still remember Giorgio’s face when he opened his door and there I stood on the stood, drenched to the bone. Surprise had first flitted across his features, but it was quickly replaced by a sardonic smile as he took in the sorry sight of me- cold, wet, barely garbed in ratty clothes, my hair in tangled knots. And of course, his swift gaze did not miss my bulging abdomen.

“Well,” he said, leaning against the doorframe, “Father threw you out of the house for gaining so much weight, but he still has yet to rid himself of Mother.”

Despite his wry japes, Giorgio did take me in, and he and his wife cared for me and my unborn child the next three months. But we all knew what would happen after the babe was born. We knew what had to happen.

I shivered inadvertently as I stood there, although despite the freezing temperatures and berating wind and rain, I was neither cold nor scared. Only reflective and remorseful.

I peered once again into the tiny face. I didn’t ask for this to happen. I hadn’t wanted it. I had been preyed upon, and I had suffered the consequences of being sixteen years old and pretty in a dangerous city.

I wish this had never happened, I thought, still pulling the baby tight against my chest, wrapping my cloak around her. I hated the position that I was forced into.

The Ospedale della Pieta was the only place for girls like my daughter. They would take her and give her a far better life than I ever could. The orphanage would raise her lovingly, and teach her music. I imagined my little girl, years from now, playing the violin in their orchestra, or perhaps singing. It is the best, the only place for her.

I took a shaky step towards the watching door. It had to be. It couldn’t be any other way. I wasn’t yet seventeen years old. I had no money, no resources, let alone any business raising a child. I took another step on my wobbling legs. Giorgio took me in when I was pregnant and starving and sickly, but I would never trespass on his charity any longer. I took another step. No, I would have to leave, leave Venice. Another step. And my daughter would be raised far better than I ever was. Another step. She would get so much more than I could ever dream to give her.

I pulled my feet up the steps of the grand Ospedale. There was a ledge and on it, a foundling wheel. I turned my head away as I tugged the blanket over the child’s face and placed her in the culla per la vita. I snatched my trembling hands away from her and whirled around before I could do anything else. I knew that if I looked upon her sweet face again, or held on to the soft wool of her blanket for longer than a second, I would never be able to go through with it.

Walk away. You have to. I forced myself to walk down the slippery stone steps. I stopped, facing the churning black waters. Wind howled around me and the low rumbling of thunder could be heard in the distance. I fingered the hood of my torn cloak and then pulled it down off my hair. Tears rose in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

It had to be done, I told myself as I turned my face up to the sobbing sky. The rain coursed down my cheeks, washing away my salty tears with it. The ocean growled, the heavens poured, and my stomach wrenched with pain as I cried.

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