olive branches

19. Apothecary Notes — Maria Grazia

12 June 1286

Infirmary Notes – Day five of quarantine

Twelve suore have now taken ill with fever, headache, cough and congestion.

Administered – Tonic of fennel, rosemary, mullein, dill, horehound, sage and honey boiled in wine.

I am to record my observations of each day sequestered in the infirmary: the number of new Suore afflicted with fever, the persistence of Suora Ginevra’s cough, the return of color to Suora Clara’s cheeks. Suora Benedetta fears most for the older Suore, so she herself administers to them equal measures medicine and prayer. I tend to the younger Suore. These young women are no longer my sisters but my children — even those who are mine own age or older. As they lie in bed, sleep battles fevered dreams. I wipe their brows and sing softly, as it seems to bring them rest.

Suora Benedetta reminds me that this is the way of the apothecary — to always be praying, studying, learning and recording. So let me begin to record what has transpired today in this corner of the abbey, choked with fevered air, seemingly unbeknownst to the bright summer idle that exists beyond these walls.

And so I begin …

But I cannot.

God forgive me, I can stave these words no longer. They course like black blood through my soul.

Ah, my soul.

Help me, dear Lord. My soul, I fear, has been cleaved in two, and it is I, myself, who holds the knife.

I am lost, dear Lord. Caterina has returned from Lucca and yet we are apart. She alone in our cell, and I, sequestered here, with only the light of my lamp to comfort me. I am wracked with emotion that I can scarcely name. I recognize only the fear that grows in solitude.

Dear Lord, what fitful plague has gripped my heart?! Out! Let me be rid of it! Show yourself, pox of the mind. Leave me! If it were a fever of the blood I could cut myself free of it. If it were a headache I could swallow a tincture and be done. I fear there is no cure for what afflicts me. How strange that here I sit in the apothecary — twelve Suore asleep outside my door in the infirmary. In various states of sleep — some peaceful, others fevered, some wavering between a night’s rest and an eternity’s slumber. How I envy them.

How did this come to pass?


There. There it is.

Dare I speak it? This pain that grips my heart and rips my soul asunder is that which she has wrought.

No, I will not hold to that belief. Please, God, wash it from my mind so that I may never think it again. And yet, it keeps coming back, like water to the shore. But what else was there to do? A sin was committed, not by her but by the scoundrel Prince of Verona. He shoulders the blame. The blaggard lured an innocent into sin. But, why, Caterina? Why walk so close to fire and think you would not be burned?

And so we are brought to this … I have administered the tincture to Caterina as Fratello Lorenzo directed. I pray with every ounce of my being that my instincts are correct — that Caterina does not carry another beating heart beside her own. I witnessed only the pallor of shame and anger upon my dear friend, not the plumpness or blush of new life. Dear Lord, let me be right. If not, I fear we have committed one sin to cover another and it is a burden my soul may not be able to bear. So I write this as a confession and a plea. I will — I must — believe that Fratello Lorenzo directed me thus in order to heal Caterina’s body from the violence it endured. It is nothing but a God-given concoction to render the body to its pure state. Nothing more.

Then why do I find myself chilled in the room I love second only to the little cell that Caterina and I share? Before me, everywhere I look, in this tiny, most magical, most earthly room, I see bottles and flasks, herbs and flowers, powders and salves designed to restore life. They have never seemed so far, or so foreign to me. That alone, I know, if not remedied, will render my heart stone.

Please, God, if it is indeed possible to attain forgiveness without the intercession of a Priest, please, please let it be so. I dare not speak these feelings to a Priest, not even Fratello Lorenzo for fear that my doubts would he offend. It is not Your forgiveness that I plead for — although I ask most humbly for it and vow to strive to earn it until the day I die. What I beg is that I might forgive my dearest friend. Please, give me the strength to do so, dear Lord. Let us both, she and I, forget what has happened and be as we’ve always been. For without her, I am lost.



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