Hannah TintiUSAWriting2011

While I was at Civitella Ranieri I worked on my third book, a novel-in-progress which explores time and the fragile attempts we make to hold onto specific moments and memories. What I didn’t expect was that my own time at the castle would become so rich and so full. I will be forever grateful to Ursula Corning, the Ranieri Family, Dana Prescott, Diego Mencaroni and the wonderful staff here at Civitella. I leave with finished pages, new friendships, delicious recipes, a thousand beautiful pictures, and a creative well full to the brim, which I know I will draw on for years to come.

Excerpt from Novel-in-Progress

The robbery in New Breton was supposed to be an easy take. The place was closed for the winter, one of those great houses in the mountains, where magnates brought their summer guests from the city to sit on Adirondack chairs and run their toes through bearskin rugs and listen to the loons calling to each other at night and feel like they were a part of nature. But in January there was no one for miles, and the lake froze so deep you could drive a truck over it, and there was all that silver unprotected in the pantry, wrapped in velvet so it wouldn’t tarnish, and also some jewelry, and maybe a painting or two, and clocks, clocks everywhere—for it was said the fellow who owned the property would get nervous when he didn’t know the time, and there was supposed to be one in every room, and there were a lot of rooms, nearly fifty or more. Who knew what else they might find, if they were lucky.

The fellow Sam Hawley ran with then was named McGee. They’d met on the railroad outside of Missouri. They’d pulled a few jobs together already, nothing too large, just enough to tide them over until they moved on to the next place. But McGee had ideas of buying a boat and taking it down the Hudson. He’d grown up on that river and it was all he talked about now, the lighthouses set along the shore like streetlights, the currents so fast you didn’t need any wind. He was older than Hawley, close to twenty-five, with a full beard grown out to prove it. Hawley wasn’t even seventeen then and still unsure of himself and so he let McGee make the decisions.

He should have known, though, he could feel a pinch in his guts as soon as they walked up onto that grand stone porch, the one overlooking the lake that wrapped all the way around the front of the great house. It was almost as if the bullet was already lodged there in his back, but Hawley was too green and didn’t know how to trust his body yet; it was just something that carried him around, and so he just held up the blanket while they broke the window and eased his body through the frame and out of the cold.

The furniture in the main hall was covered with white sheets. The shapes were strange and made shadowy figures scattered around the fireplace. On one end there was a table that stretched the length of the room, big enough for more than thirty people to eat together. Hanging over it all was a chandelier made from antlers, the horns tied together in the middle and reaching out like the roots of a tree. McGee pulled down a few of the cloths and revealed a grandfather clock by the stairs, a stuffed bear near the kitchen, some ducks in flight over a window seat, and set above the mantelpiece, a lumpy head of a female moose.

“I bet he shot that one himself,” McGee said.

“Maybe,” said Hawley. He was the same height as the bear. He touched the fur and was surprised how soft it was. The bear’s eyes were hard and fixed, its mouth slightly open. He could see where the skin had been cut and glued around the snout, which was made of leather and wax and slightly twisted, as if someone had tried to pinch the nostrils closed.

The men took in the grandness of the room, their cold breath puffing out in clouds and disappearing into the rafters. Then McGee wiped his nose and pushed through the swinging doors to the kitchen. The back rooms were cavernous, built for a team of servants, a stove with sixteen burners and racks of copper pots hanging from the ceiling, four sinks, a walk-in freezer, a butcher block the size of a bed, and rows and rows and rows of knives. In the pantry they found the place settings, and it was better than they’d thought—forks and spoons for a hundred people, and not just in silver but also in gold, an assortment of complicated utensils for every type of food—salads and snails and fish and steak and sherbet and soup and even butter—Hawley had never seen anything like it before.

He filled the bags they had brought. Then he found some pillowcases near the laundry tubs and filled those. There was a back door and when Hawley stuck his head out he could see a fenced off garden and beyond that, a path to the garage. He wondered what kind of cars the owner of the house might drive, but he was too nervous to check. He dragged the bags of silverware back to the window where they’d started. Then he waited for McGee, who was upstairs rifling the bedrooms.

Hawley tried to imagine what the place was like in the summer, full of guests drinking and laughing, playing cards or listening to music maybe, their chairs pulled around the fire, the windows open and a warm breeze coming off the lake. There would be people outside on the porch, too, smoking and talking in the moonlight. Maybe some his own age. Maybe a girl. Hawley imagined her there, leaning against one of the pillars like it belonged to her, wearing a silver dress and her hair fixed with a comb. And then the girl turned around and caught him staring, and she was slipping through the doors and moving towards him with a low smile, his heart thumping like a bunch of swallowed words, and then it grew louder and Hawley realized the sound wasn’t coming from inside him—it was the clock on the mantelpiece, on the other side of the room. The one underneath the moose head. It was ticking.

The clock hanging by the kitchen door was going too, and so was the grandfather clock by the stairs. How did he not notice before? These machines needed to be wound each day, and someone had been winding them. Someone had the keys and was checking every hand in the house, keeping time moving forward so that not a minute was lost.

Hawley heard a thundering of footsteps overhead, and then McGee rushed down the stairs, the pockets of his coat bulging. “Time to go,” he said, and grabbed one of the pillowcases, then turned the lock and threw open the door to the porch. Hawley could hear someone coming in the back entrance, then footsteps hurrying through the kitchen. He snatched up the remaining bags and followed McGee outside. It had started to snow again, the flakes coming down fast and sideways as they leapt over the railing and hurried away from the great house. Hawley heard a voice shouting behind them, and then came the blast, and a pain shot through his guts, in the same place he’d felt before they’d broken the window, which made him wonder for a moment even as he was sprinting across the lawn with all the adrenaline of a man being chased for his life, and then the hurt flew up and caught him by the throat and he dropped the bags and crashed into the trees at the edge of the forest.

Hawley woke up in a shed full of goats, strangely warm. It was dark. McGee had him spread out in the hay, and was in the process of sterilizing a pair of gold sugar tongs over a kerosene lamp. Hawley could smell the blood.

There were four goats and they were all watching him, their heads between the slats of their pen, somber and still, their ears twitching back and forth, their strange eyes glittering in the amber light. Hawley shifted and a thunderous ache threaded through his back and crushed his lungs.

“Would have been better if you stayed out,” said McGee.

“Where are we?” Hawley choked.

“Not sure,” said McGee. “But far away enough, for now.”

“I need a doctor.”

“I am a doctor, didn’t I tell you before?” McGee turned the tongs into the flame. “Certified.”

Hawley looked down at his shirt. He’d gotten it for his birthday last year. It was the first time he’d ever bought himself a present. He’d seen it in a store in Poughkeepsie, right after they’d had their first good take, and he hadn’t even tried it on, he’d just brought it up to the register and paid. He’d never felt so good. They went out to dinner and ordered half the stuff on the menu and ate it all, and then they went to the movies and sat through some half-baked comedy. They laughed pretty hard anyway, they were in such fine moods, and then they went to a bar and there was a pretty girl behind the counter and they tipped her heavy and she filled their drinks and even bought them a round, and then Hawley remembered his new shirt and he brought it to the bathroom and changed and it fit him just right and when he got back to the bar there was a candle stuck in a piece of pie waiting next to his glass and McGee and the girl sang Happy Birthday.

There wasn’t much left to the shirt now. The buttons had been torn loose in front and the sides were soaked through with blood. McGee ripped the seam to get at Hawley’s back. “The bullet’s stuck in your ribs,” he said.

One of the goats started bleating softly, like its throat was sore. Hawley pressed his face into the hay and thought of the girl from the bar. He’d had so much to drink that night he didn’t remember leaving, but he remembered her name. Laura. He’d gone back three more times but she wasn’t working and he’d been too embarrassed to ask anyone when she did.

It was her face he’d imagined on the porch of the great house. Her smile coming through those doors and crossing the room. Her hand reaching up and pressing his arm, just as she had that night in the bar, when she leaned over and said, Nice shirt, and then asked Hawley what he’d wished for.

And that’s what he tried to picture now, the two of them here together in the dark with nothing but the glow of the lamplight between them. Her fingers peeling away the cloth, her fingers wiping the blood, her fingers pressing hard on the skin of his back, and not the terrible moment when he’d realized all the clocks were ticking.

“This is going to hurt,” said McGee. And then he slid the tongs inside him.