• Sheryl Gwyther

#29 A taste of Caterina's story

The Four Seasons of Caterina


Chapter 7

The next month passed without incident – no ruffianos to worry about and no red-haired stranger staring at her across the Piazzetta. It was as if Venice was drawing breath in anticipation of the Fèsta de ƚa Sènsa when Venetians celebrated their links to the sea.

Some days, hardly a soul walked the Piazzetta so Caterina sat beneath the heron pillar thinking about what Signora Rizzio had let slip about her mother. What a pity old Angelo had died before she’d talked to him.

One sunny morning, Caterina left the Rizzio’s courtyard gate and headed towards a different begging place. The first boatload of foreign visitors had arrived for next week’s festival. They were rumoured to be staying near the Rialto Bridge in the palazzos of the wealthy ... and like every beggar and thief in the city she couldn’t afford to miss out on the rich pickings visitors would bring.

But, she’d have to cross the bridge, and once she did she’d enter Sgrafo and his gang’s territory.

The sun glittered on the Grand Canale; an incoming tide lapped against the waterfront pylons and people rode the gondolas, laughing and trailing their fingers in the water, the harmonies of the gondoliers floating across the water. Multi-coloured flags fluttered and flapped along the Rialto Bridge, as if they celebrated the warmth of spring too. There was so much to love about this city … its colour, the waterways, the music, and always, the singing.

Caterina’s spirits rose. Maybe Signora Rizzio was right. There was no point in dwelling on the past. With the gondoliers’ song in her head, she turned down a side street and headed towards the markets.

The wails of a howling cat pierced the air, then from an alleyway, the yowls increased in pain and fear. Caterina hesitated, and peered around the corner. Five youths circled a large, black cat covered in muddy splotches. Its shape was strange as it whirled and twisted to escape the kicking boots. Caterina gasped. The cat only had three legs and half a tail.

The animal slashed with claws, hissing and caterwauling as Sgrafo grabbed its neck, a cord in his hand. Caterina jumped back behind cover, fear filling her chest. One girl was powerless against five ruffianos. She should run away now before they saw her.

Caterina risked another peek. They’d looped a noose around the cat’s neck and pulled it tight. The poor animal wouldn’t last much longer. Anger and frustration raged through her body. The calle along the canal was deserted. Nobody gazed out a window; nobody could help. There was nothing she could do.

The cat howled again with fear, and Caterina’s fury exploded. She picked up a lump of broken cobblestone and rushed into the street. With the full force of her body, she hurled it at Sgrafo. It smacked into his forehead and he dropped. The cat escaped through the gangs’ legs. It streaked back down the alley and out of sight, the cord flicking along the ground behind it.

Caterina froze. The ruffianos stared at Sgrafo on the ground, his hair and face bloodied. They turned to stare at her. Nobody moved, nor spoke, then she took off after the cat. The gang cursed and charged after her .......

(c) Sheryl Gwyther 2018