Olivia Kate Cerrone

Olivia Kate Cerrone

Whitebait

I.

In Sicily, the man who tried to rape me drove us to a deserted beach somewhere along the Mediterranean coast. Night air rushed through the car windows, bringing with it salted traces of driftwood and brine, the sudden presence of jasmine blossoming over a roadside dumpster. We parked inside a patch of darkness, the moonlight splintering through. The ocean’s pulse hung in my ears, barely audible above my own. Hours before, we’d dined on frutti di mare and local white wine, trading stories from our lives. Now it seemed I’d discovered little more than his first name. I was twenty-five and muddled by grief. Another woman in my family was dead. An uncle had found her body in the trailer they shared back home. No one knew yet if it was the pills or the alcohol that stopped her heart. These days only funerals reunited my family, forcing us together in the shadow of old grievances or endless disputes over inheritance money and fresh legal threats.

The car lurched with the violent spring of mechanical gears. His chair pushed back. He seized my arm and yanked me closer—our movements knifing through the heat.

II.

“You love to put yourself in bad situations,” my mother said when I told her of my plans. For the past year, I’d worked three jobs saving enough for the trip, while studying the language and tracking down the right addresses in Augusta. I longed to root myself in ancient streets, stand inside the ruins of my great-grandparents’ house on Via Megara. My mother reminded me of the women in our family, prone to self-destruction and reckless choices—the alcoholism and drug addiction, the time lost in institutions and shelters, battered or dead at the hands of men who claimed to love them. I knew their stories like they were my own.

“Those women invited trouble,” my mother said.

She had her own ideas about survival, a small life bound to being careful and good. I’d already learned to keep a safe distance from my father. Once my hands moved too fast at the dinner table, and he, hardwired for sudden movements, snatched my wrist and twisted it hard until I shrieked. How could I forget the story of his own trauma—a childhood endured between fists and belts, a mother who pushed him shattering through a window. They spent weeks picking glass out of my face. Be quiet, be good. The light sprain will heal. Don’t be so sensitive. Sever yourself from all hopes of reconciliation. You should know your father. What is silenced from speech arises through impulse. Like any unrequited love, one day you learn to let go.

III.

The car accelerated through the dark. Wet sand gathered between the toes of my sandaled feet as I raced from the headlights and through the uneven dunes and tall coastal grass. Along the harbor glowed nearby cafés, still alive at this hour. I pumped on my legs until losing him at the first street light, then slipped through a dizzy maze of alleyways and storefronts, back into the safety of a little room with double locks and a working phone. I called the polizia again and again without response.

In the morning, I took the first bus out of town to Catania, where the city was large enough to disappear. I went to the sea to forget, numb to the sting of jellyfish—hot lashes across my back and thighs—and kept moving from one place to the next without a fixed destination, driven onward by shame. In Aci Trezza, I found the ocean again. I swam to the isole dei ciclopi several miles off the coast, never stopping until reaching the closest island, where I pulled myself upright and tall. There, I found a clear view of the shoreline, vast and unexpected. Little silver fish, a school of whitebait, appeared through the water’s surface. Some leapt up and landed near my feet. Their strong, tiny bodies quivered, hearts and gills pulsing, until bouncing themselves back from rock to sea—frantic with life.


Olivia Kate Cerrone is the author of The Hunger Saint (Bordighera Press, 2017), a historical novella about the child miners of Sicily. The book was praised by Kirkus Reviews as “a well-crafted and affecting literary tale,” and was named a 2017 Fiction Bestseller by SPD Books. She is at work on a novel called DISPLACED and currently lives in Boston, MA. Contact her at: Olivia.Cerrone@gmail.com

 

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