Burden of Memory

Il peso del ricordo 001


Grabbing his startled wife’s arm, Andrew Elliot bolted out of their once favourite Palermo fruit and vegetable market, a stone’s throw from the university where they’d both worked as  lecturers until about four years ago. A time that now seemed to belong to other people. A time of normality.
He manoeuvred her through the passers-by to the nearby car park.
“Get in the car Carol!”
His eyes constantly darting to the rear-view mirror of the rented car, Andrew sped in silence back to Palermo airport where they’d landed only that morning. They returned the car keys at the rental counter, bought two last-minute  tickets and boarded a flight for Rome.
The plane was  in the air before Andrew spoke.
“I saw the killer in the market.” he whispered.
“What?” Carol gasped.
“It was the security guard.”
“Andrew, what happened back there?”
“There was something about the shooting that I never remembered until today.”
“Oh, no!”
“I saw a tattoo that day. It was a sword on a man’s forearm and I saw it again today.”
“Are you positive?”
“Yes. Oh, God!” His chest heaved..
“Please, Andrew. Don’t!”
“…when he rammed the potato into the dead man’s mouth.”
He covered his face.
Carol had to make him understand.
“Stop it. It’s over. But never tell anyone about this. Promise.”
“But I…” Andrew could see that some nearby passengers were eyeing them.
“Darling! Think of Isabel.” Carol insisted.
“It’s wrong not to report it…”
“You can’t solve Sicily’s crimes.”
“I could identify a murderer.”
“There’s no point. Let’s try and get some rest, Andrew. We’ll catch the first flight straight out of Rome.”
He relaxed the tension on her hand and pretended to doze and she was soon asleep, her head on his shoulder.
What to do? Today the impossible had happened. He’d remembered.
And now? The umpteenth rerun unfolded. Memories that still made him gasp.
He’d gone to the market with Isabel, their seven-year old. His stallholder, the old Signora Lucia, Isabel’s Witch, who often offered the little girl nuts or grapes, was selecting peaches when sounds – gunshots – pierced his eardrums. He’d grabbed Isabel and thrown them both to the ground.
A second’s silence. Then bedlam.
Sprawled on the floor, Andrew was face to face with a man, killed at that instant.
A bare arm. A gloved hand shoving a potato into the gaping mouth. Someone leaning over them. Sirens. Hypnotised onlookers.
All eyes on Isabel’s hand…
…that was gripping a gun.
A gun! His daughter was holding a gun.
“Please leave the child.”
“I’ll hold her.” He needed to hold her.
Carol nestled closer. She, at least, had momentarily forgotten.
Much as he hated them, he continued to probe the web of memories. Enquiries. Interviews. Legal battles. Isabel shocked. Carol hysterical. Problems at work. The media savouring the spree. A father and child involved in a mafia murder.
He’d wanted to lash out. Instead, they’d emigrated, fled rather, to Australia where Isabel began relating wild stories about Palermo. She became aggressive and hard to manage. Shirked by suspicious neighbours, they’d changed house twice before returning to London where she’d surprised them one evening by announcing:
“The witch hasn’t haunted me since we came home!”
But he’d never stopped being haunted. The scene just replayed itself over and over.
On a psychiatrist’s suggestion they’d reluctantly returned to Palermo.
This morning they’d entered the market. He’d barely recognised the old Signora Lucia, nor was there any sign of recognition from her. Nothing amiss. Just a buzzing market and people going about their business and exchanging pleasantries.
No healing here, he remembered thinking, taking one last look around.
And then he’d seen the arm. The security guard in a short-sleeved shirt sitting at the market entrance holding his newspaper.
A sword tattoo! A potato!
Gasping, he’d grabbed Carol’s arm. Was the guard looking? No, he was engrossed in his reading.
They’d fled. Again.
As the plane approached Rome, he wrestled with bitterness, regret and anger. He had witnessed evil so foul that he himself had been contaminated by it.
Four years of hell and nobody to atone!
Enough. He wanted his life back.
Sicilian omertà – see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing – so be it. This was a deed that he knew nothing about. It would be his motto too.
Let the bastards get on with their rotten killings.
Carol was right.
It was over.
They were going to get their lives back. They were going to rebuild their family.