Only Then Consume Them
by Aimee Picchi
Sabina's father shifted uneasily in a tall-backed chair, while her mother wore a
supplicant's smile, as if nothing more than a blessing would be exchanged once the abbess joined
them in the convent's salon.
"Times are difficult--" Her papa turned to Sabina, trying to be kind, as always.
"I know that, Papa." She crossed her ankles under her chair, wondering if her parents
would take her home if she promised to never again write letters to the bestia master in Tunis,
nor again make feathers and scraps of fabric into her own crudely animated creatures. She
opened her mouth, but the vow shriveled in her throat. Even though she knew bestia were one of
three heresies forbidden in the Kingdom of Sicily, she couldn't make herself pledge to stop.
Sabina's mother opened her fan and swiped at the air languidly. "The convent of Santa
Agata has agreed to accept you as a servant nun. It's the best that can be expected."
"Papa, Mama--please." Sabina pressed her lips together as soon as the words slipped
past her tongue, irritated by her girlish tone. She was sixteen, an adult now, and she realized her
parents would no longer view her behavior as harmless childhood whims.
Her father refused to meet her eyes; he was ashamed, she saw, and would rather stare at
the carpet than at his heretic daughter.
Heels clacked along the corridor leading into the salon. The abbess strode into the room
with hands tucked inside her robes, her elbows stiffly angled away from her body. She had the
prickly resolve of one of Sabina's bestia machines, as if marching to orders that only she and her
creator could hear.
Behind her trailed a servant nun, carrying a silver plate bearing two mounds of cake, soft
white domes of sugar-glazed pastry topped with ruby-red cherries.
"Signore, signora." The abbess nodded a welcome, and sat in one of the high-backed
chairs. The servant nun stationed herself by the salon's shuttered windows, and as she passed by,
Sabina caught a scent of the cakes' vanilla pastry.
Sabina had heard of these delicacies, minni di virgini, and their comical resemblance to
their namesakes. She didn't understand why the nuns would sell these sweetened symbols of
Santa Agata, as if making light of the saint's sacrifice. Sabina crossed her arms over her chest.
"Reverend mother," her mother said, "may I present our eldest daughter, Sabina?"
"Eldest?" The abbess's eyebrows glided upwards. "No marriage prospects, I take it?"