Angelica Delfino takes a special interest in the lives of her three nieces, whom she affectionately calls the daughters of her heart. Sensing that each woman is harboring a troubling, possibly even toxic secret, Angelica decides to share her secrets—secrets she had planned to take to the grave. Spellbound, the nieces listen as Angelica travels back six decades to reveal an incredulous tale of forbidden love, tragic loss, and reinvention. It is the classic immigrant story upended: an Italian widow’s transformative journey amid the most unlikely of circumstances.
Peck. Peck. Peck. It was unnerving to watch Bellastrega attempting to type on a computer keyboard. But if Angelica were to make any comment, the younger woman would pause and smile her enigmatic smile. Or she might rise and make her way to the kitchen where she would brew one of her green teas. Nothing—at least nothing Angelica had observed in the past eight weeks—upset Bellastrega.
When the tall, striking blonde with the smallest of suitcases had knocked at her door, Angelica had known they would get along. And like everything else she had orchestrated in her life; Angelica had not been wrong. Within days of arriving, Bellastrega had reorganized the household, implemented a healthy eating regimen, and given the octogenarian peace of mind.
At last week’s checkup, the specialist oncologist had frowned as flickers of uncertainty appeared in eyes that rarely showed emotion. Taking off his glasses, he had fumbled for words. The rogue cells had not magically disappeared, but there was a reprieve of sorts. Or at least, that’s what Angelica had gathered from the inarticulate sentences and the incredulous look on his face.
Time, that was all Angelica needed. Time to tie up all the straggling bits that remained. But if Bellastrega didn’t finish typing the letter, the process could stall indefinitely.
“It’s done.” Bellastrega pressed print and watched as the two-page letter emerged.
Angelica breathed a sigh of relief as she rose and walked toward the desk. Two months ago, she could barely get out of bed and needed a cane or walker to move about. At first wary, Angelica had listened and followed Bellastrega’s advice. Espressos had given way to green teas, and the white devils—flour, sugar, and bread—had been replaced with whole grain alternatives. Affirmations and morning stretches had improved Angelica’s mood and strengthened her legs. On milder days, the two women took short walks around the neighborhood. Had Bellastrega arrived six months earlier, she could have reversed the diagnosis and given Angelica years—possibly even a decade—of extra life.
Angelica’s sisters resented the newcomer and refused to give credit where credit was due. Instead, they came up with an alternative truth: Angelica had hired a strega, a witch who would betray her employer, steal her valuables, and leave in the dead of night.
When Angelica tried to reassure them, they raised several questions. What normal person decides to move to Northern Ontario in January and show up on a stranger’s doorstep? Who was this woman? Did she have a husband or children? Who were her people?
Who were her people? Angelica tried not to laugh at this last question, one that Italians of her generation often asked when strangers appeared in their lives. It was as if an imaginary bubble existed around each family, and very few people were allowed to infiltrate it. But most of all, the whispers of strega annoyed Angelica. When she had shared this information with her companion, the younger woman laughed and admitted to possessing psychic powers.
Taken aback, Angelica struggled with this tantalizing morsel she would not dream of sharing with her sisters. In their minds, psychic would be translated into witch, and the suggestions that Angelica terminate Bellastrega’s employment would increase in number. Instead, Angelica decided to embrace the younger woman’s gifts. And so Bellastrega—beautiful witch—was born as Lynn Miller faded into obscurity.
A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Joanne Guidoccio writes paranormal romances, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.
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