Hidden Voices

Free Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins

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Authors: Pat Lowery Collins
themselves.
    Days, I believe, pass in sleeping and waking. Finally it seems I am waking for much longer periods, eager to drink the potions and other beverages offered to me, even taking small bites of the millet porridge I would ordinarily shun. There are fewer beds in the room, and some are empty. No patient is groaning or seems to be in a crisis. My skin itches, and long strips of it are peeling from my hands and feet.
    “Don’t worry,” says Sofia. “That is the last stage of this strange canker rash. It means you are surely on the mend.”
    I would like to tell her that it feels as if I am breaking into little pieces instead, but I know she will not understand.
    The door opens suddenly, and a nurse I don’t remember seeing before fills the opening. She cradles a small figure whose hair drapes from her limp head like a damp yellow kerchief. The child’s eyes are closed, but she wheezes and gasps in her fevered sleep. As she passes my bed, I look at the troubled features and am startled to find that I know this patient, that it is Catina, the confident little girl who did her best many days ago to
console me in the infirmary. How wrong she had been then about this throat disorder. How very sad that such a frail child is now its victim, for many stronger than she have succumbed to its fearful hold. That I have escaped death is perhaps a miracle. When I am no longer so terribly weak, I must study why I have been spared and what it can mean.

I HAVE BEEN VERY GOOD, showing up for almost every rehearsal and trying hard not to anger Maestro Gasparini or Father Vivaldi by not being prepared. It has been most difficult without Luisa and Maria. I myself have had to sing the contralto solo on more than one occasion, and now that Father is planning a grand biblical performance of his first oratorio,
Moyses Deus Pharaonis,
I simply don’t know how he will fill all the difficult roles.
    Today we were told that Maria has left us, and not for a husband. She has, in truth, left this world entirely in the throes of the terrible illness that has claimed some of the younger girls. I did not know her well, so it is not a great personal loss, but there is always deep sadness on hearing that someone has died whose life had not really begun.
    Apparently Luisa is improving, praise God, but they say it will be a long recuperation. There is even talk of sending her to the country in the spring to the same Tuscan farm where other students have gone to recuperate after illnesses not nearly as severe.
    Anetta is pining to see her and writes long letters of consolation, never receiving any in return. Poor Anetta seems thinner and gaunt, as if she has been ill herself. I think only the sight of Luisa, restored to health, will make her well again.
    There is such a pall over everything, one would hardly suspect that Carnival begins in only three days and we celebrate Christmas in two. It is rumored that the Board of Governors will want the Ospedale to ignore Carnival this year. Would such a decision apply to all of us? I wonder. I have been preparing for this grand pre-Lenten celebration since last year, when I first spied the wig-maker’s assistant. In fact, I’ve been working secretly on a magnificent mask made out of all the dusky blue pigeon feathers I’ve been able to find in the street and the square. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to capture the beautiful iridescence that can be seen when massed on the bird. No matter. The mask will still be like no other. And I am so very ready to meet my own dearest love. Another year’s wait would seem endless.
    Just before supper, I have sequestered myself in the little storage room outside the kitchen to work on my mask and am surprised when Anetta comes by with the porridge bowls from the nursery. She stops when she sees me, clearly upset at discovering what I am up to.
    “For the love of Our Dearest Lord, Rosalba. You didn’t kill that bird, did you? Father Vivaldi will have an attack!”
    She is

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