Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
  • Home
  • About
  • Archive
  • Bio Notes
  • Bookshelf
  • Contents
  • Submit
2,037 words
SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

St. Rita and the Magical Lemon

by T Nicole Cirone

So that I could face a future without my husband, who had left me last summer for another woman, I decided to turn to the past, the very distant past from which my recent ancestors had distanced themselves when they emigrated to America. The ancient world, where magic gave hope when human efforts to alter the course of things had failed.

Our marriage was fraying, unravelling fight by vicious fight, and the distance between us grew as he traveled for work, but I didn’t know exactly why he had left me—only that he had communicated to me in an email that our marriage was no longer viable. He had picked up with another woman immediately. A woman who, at least on social media, possessed in abundance what I lacked: a perfectly fit athletic body, Big Sexy Hollywood Blonde Hair, a trust fund, and the lifestyle brand clothes I coveted but couldn’t afford on my teacher’s salary.

Basically, she encompassed the snapshots of life I desired in the catalogues I poured over; catalogues that featured girls that looked like her: fit, in touch with nature, perpetually climbing rocks and mountains. Flying through air at sunset and leaping on beaches that stretched for miles as though into a vast and welcoming future. The kind of woman who is equipped, with her taut and ready physique, to bound over life’s obstacles—and look badass sexy doing it.

Six years ago, when my husband and I first started seriously dating, we’d gone to Valley Forge Park. Overcome by the exhilaration of new love, I leapt across a dry creek bed. I flew briefly through the September day, feeling the warmth of sunshine on my outstretched arms, my heart alive for the first time in a while—only to land precisely on the jagged edge of a partly buried rock on the other side. A splintering pain radiated from the point of impact through my entire foot. I had shattered numerous bones and spent the first four months of our relationship in a cast. I was unable to drive. Sex was awkward and unpleasant. There was a bone cancer scare.

I am not that Catalogue Girl flying through blithe air, hair lifting gracefully against the golden sunset and legs angled like a ballerina’s against the silhouette of black jetty rocks.

I am the Icarus figure, balled up in fractured agony on a stony ground, wings singed, the flame of confidence extinguished.

So, when my husband did leave me almost six years to the date of that day, for a woman who indeed soared, I rejected human assistance; therapists and lawyers, advisors, papers, plans and doctors had failed me. This was an ancient darkness that had descended’a deep-seated insidiousness that required the power of magic.

Some people, the more superstitious, may whisper “curse” and shake their heads, attributing bad energy to the external, like the malocchio—the evil eye—or perhaps something stupid and accidental but nevertheless ominous, like the mirror I shattered on my 21st birthday. “Maybe HE is the curse,” a friend told me. But I knew better. The darkness was not easily solved by his absence. It was a deep badness at the molecular, spiritual, invisible level coursing through my house and perhaps even my body. I don’t believe in coincidence and am skeptical of irony.

The symbol of the eye serves the same purpose in many Mediterranean cultures: protection from evil. The nazar, the blue ocular charm I had bought from a Turkish vendor and that faced the doorway in our living room, clearly wasn’t enough.

Was it the malocchio? Had someone truly cursed me, or our house, out of envy? Why? Who didn’t want my happiness? Who had laid this curse, this wave of evil that had taken over?

When I was little, my mother had convinced herself that someone had put the malocchio on our family. She hung a strand of garlic in the kitchen among the cheese wheels from my grandfather’s store and gave my sister and me cloves to carry around. She didn’t see that the darkness was actually within the walls of our chaotic house and oozing from her unhappy marriage, and no amount of garlic could absorb it.

Perhaps that’s how it was for me, the angry, abandoned wife with a child—though she was my husband’s step-child, she suffered just as much as I did from the dark emptiness when he left us.

I started to pray to St. Rita. My religion had always tended toward crisis management. But often, especially when my husband and I had vicious fights and I could not make sense of why my marriage started to fall apart, I found myself sitting at her grotto at the Catholic school where I taught. In my spirit, I chatted with her, feeling myself a resigned and desperate figure, diminutive at the foot of her stately marble statue with her outstretched hands: a stony, unmoved medium. But I knew she would understand my situation. Her husband was a cheating, crazy bastard, too, and he had a temper on top of it. Her sons, whom she had tried to protect from her husband’s insanity, ended up dying in a revenge-driven vendetta to avenge their father’s violent wrongful death.

We die the way we live, a friend tells me.

Because my husband had alienated me and hurt my child, I wanted him to live and die that way: alone. I wanted this Catalogue Girl to use him and leave him. I became filled with a wrath the likes of which I had never experienced. I wanted revenge. Who was this awful person who was taking over my spirit? I am no better than your sons, St. Rita, I whispered to her on a sunny September afternoon.

I bought a medal with her saintly face inscribed on the front, in an attempt to tame the children of my pain: anger and vengeance. I wore this medal as though it were a part of my skin, running my fingers along the silver grooves of her face and her veil. Sometimes, I could feel the quiet glow of her magical peace smoldering in my heart. Sometimes I still felt the flames of vengeance devouring my soul.

In Sicilian folklore, it is believed that the lemon will ward off the evil eye. Oval shaped, like an eye, this ubiquitous fruit on the landscape of the island is said to have potent magical curse-removing properties. If a curse is felt to be particularly strong, it is not enough to place lemons or the likeness of a lemon in the house; a serious charm must be made. A lemon and nine new nails are needed; one begins by puncturing the rind like voodoo pins. This must be done with absolute, careful intention. Then, the charm is wrapped in a black ribbon and hung in a doorway. When the lemon turns black, the curse has been absorbed and the charm must be disposed of and removed from the house immediately and completely.

I bought a fresh lemon and new, shiny nails. At the dining room table, I pierced the dimpled yellow skin with each nail, making an even pattern around the oval fruit until the lemon looked like a cross between a pincushion and a sea urchin. “Remove the curse from this house,” I recited over and over, my mantra. Suddenly, the lemon lost its normally sunny, cheery aspect and adopted a sense of gravitas, like the milagros, prayer charms made of tin hearts and legs and fingers left at shrines in some Latin American countries to elicit specific miracle cures.

I hung the lemon charm by its funerary black ribbon in the doorway. The black crepe. My father was always warning that he would hang the black crepe if any of us disgraced the family in any way—by coming home pregnant out of wedlock, for example. It means, “You are dead to me.”

The nails protruding from the bottom of the fruit could graze the head of any tall person who entered. I started to think like a crazy, superstitious ancient woman that any hair caught in the nails would remove the person’s bad energy as they entered the house.

The lemon started to turn black within hours.

For weeks, the lemon’s yellow rind was overcome by the blackness of curse. Everyone around me feared I was losing my mind. “Do you really believe that shit?” a family member asked me, eying the decaying lemon charm with fear. I showed a co-worker a photo of the lemon charm in all its thorny darkness hanging in my doorway. “I’m not superstitious,” she said, shaking her head at me, “but I’m not sure I can even look at it.”

Even with all of our technology and science, we cannot explain why things happen or why “coincidences” occur. Scientists and reasonable people can explain what seem to be phenomena or magic. But perhaps the ancients, who lived in the world with senses alive and attuned to energy forces around them with no distractions or the ready answers of technology to explain away or dismiss what they felt, had a knowledge we, in our fact-driven world, lack.

Perhaps St. Rita and the magical lemon absorbed all the bad, kept me incarnate and relatively sane as I dealt with the pain of my husband’s abrupt departure; perhaps their combined magic cleared the path for my husband to forsake Catalogue Girl and come home to his imperfect wife.

Perhaps there is a magic inherent in intention and spirit and matter and molecule, a magic that allows for the redirection of energy, the shifting of direction, the removal of that which harms. Perhaps prayer also works.

The price, of course, because there is always a price to pay, is the residual existential exhaustion, the depleted spirit. Every departure leaves a vacancy.

I threw the black lemon away the week before my husband texted me that he missed me. That he wanted to see me, to talk face-to-face again. That Catalogue Girl was gone. “She wanted something I could not give her,” he said. He told me he still loved me and could not live without me.

I couldn’t, in the end, face a future without my husband, so I welcomed him home. He was my husband. We made vows together, in front of our friends, to love each other unconditionally, forever, and after everything we had gone through, I was not about to give him up so easily to the siren song of a half-clothed puttana on a North Jersey beach, to a woman whose social-media persona portrayed her as a carefully posed beauty, her life a two-dimensional Insta photoshoot, a woman who I was certain couldn’t possibly understand and accept the complexities of my husband’s spirit the way I did. And I knew he loved me; our story, our connection was profound, and we spoke a language with each other that went beyond rational explanation. After all the hurt he had caused me, I still loved him. So when he chose to come back to me, it felt right to heal our marriage, to make whole our intimacy—reclaim that part of us that he had parceled out so freely to a woman who accepted that which had been sacred to my husband and me with the frivolity of a summer fling. He gave her up; he chose to come back to me and honor our vows, rekindle our friendship, breathe new life and commitment into our marriage.

Each day puts distance between our love and his indiscretion. Yet, the depleted spirit is not instantly resilient. “You have to decide what you want, what you need after forgiveness,” a friend tells me. “You need to move forward from last summer,” my husband tells me.

In the depths of my spirit, there is still a dark pain that begs to be alleviated. What magical elixir can save me now? The chain for my St. Rita medal has broken, and I haven’t had the heart to replace it yet.


SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

T Nicole Cirone

holds an MFA in Creative Writing (dual concentration in Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction) from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also holds an MA in English Literature and BAs in Italian Studies and Political Science from Rosemont College. Her work has been published in Serving House Journal, Hippocampus, Red River Review, Philadelphia Stories, Perigee, Bucks County Writer, and Schuylkill Valley Journal. She is a high school teacher and lives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury