Forced inside by the weather, Nedda’s wooden clothes rack sat like an emaciated skeleton in front of the fire. The incessant rain lashing the tiled roof didn’t bother her, but the intermittent wailing of the dam’s sirens sent her clucking to her husband — that ugly great oaf Enzo, lounging in his armchair.
‘How many times has that sounded now? Shouldn’t you telephone to check if everything up at the dam is okay? Maybe if you showed some initiative, they would give you that promotion?’
Enzo shrugged and Nedda imagined shoving her husband’s shaggy head into the fire — the fire she started, with wood she cut and lugged up the narrow staircase to their tiny apartment. The apartment Enzo promised was only temporary until his advancement to head engineer. That was over thirty years ago now, and she’d long given up waiting for his promised promotion from lowly dam worker to engineer.
Nedda turned the radio off, just as the host announced that Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night’ was number one in the charts, for the seventh week in a row. She tilted her head, certain she’d heard something over the opening bars of Sinatra’s hit.
‘Was that a wolf?’ she asked, as she crossed herself. They rarely heard wolves anymore, but she’d always considered them an evil omen. Enzo didn’t answer.
The first raindrops hadn’t bothered Nedda, gathering in tiny pools, caressing wanton leaves and splashing stones. But the rain kept coming, chasing her inside, falling in unending rivers of wet, drenching the earth until it became like an overfull sponge, forcing the water elsewhere.
The siren died away, and Nedda shook her head to clear an animalistic rumbling between her ears. She turned to prod Enzo’s prone figure, but he was at the window, his belly spilling over his trousers as he opened the shutters.
‘You’ll let the rain in,’ Nedda yelled, tugging the laden clothes rack away from the rain.
Enzo didn’t answer, too busy leaning out into the void, his gut pressing against the ancient window frame, his attention drawn by something other than his wife.
‘What can you see?’ Nedda asked, raising her voice to compete against the roar forcing its way into their living room.
Living near to the dam never fazed Nedda. It was convenient for Enzo’s work, and for the husbands of her friends. But tonight the darkness disguised the torrents of water streaming from the crumbling dam, pounding against the stone foundations of every house in their street.
The building shuddered, throwing Nedda against Enzo. She grabbed onto her husband. Any complaints about his snoring or lack of advancement swept away by the churning water.
‘What do we do?’
‘There’s nothing we can do,’ Enzo replied, holding her tighter.
Nedda looked into her husband’s eyes, mirroring his actions as he crossed himself.
‘Mary protect us,’ she whispered, tucking her head into Enzo’s shoulder
The building shuddered again, and a groan from the waterlogged foundations forced its way up through the elderly walls. The fire spluttered as the burning wood lurched from the hearth.
Enzo stumbled as the floor tilted and Nedda cried out as her husband’s body crushed her against the wall, gravity holding them in place.
Enzo’s grip tightened around Nedda’s own middle-aged waist.
‘Now we pray,’ he said.
Their prayers followed them as the building collapsed, throwing them into the swirling maelstrom as their beloved home became nothing more than dangerous rubble, destined to fill the picturesque Arno.
Nedda screamed for Enzo as the water engulfed her, filling her mouth, cutting short the prayers she’d known her entire life. They would not help her now.
And up in the Valle dell’Inferno, the Valley of Hell, a lone wolf howled at the moon.