Short Story Contest
Cecilio turned up his windshield wipers
and thought about the old adage, “It only
rains in Rome when clouds have reason to
weep,” then chuckled, telling himself it
wasn’t a cab driver who thought that one
up. At least he had no reason to weep, as
today brought lucky pellets of water and
swelling clusters of stranded pedestrians
who hailed him one after another, spinning
his taxi meter into solid profit.
He had argued with Magdalena this
morning as she warned him that
neglecting to fix the muffler and not
renewing his license last week was asking
for trouble. But he was feeling better from
his bout of flu now, and when he woke to
bruised clouds gathering above the city he
knew that many people would need cabs;
this one day alone could make up a week’s
Now from his aging vehicle with the shield-
shaped logo on the door, he saw yet
another group huddled together in the
loading zone by the St. Lorenzo Hotel,
ready to vie with a vengeance for the next
Then suddenly he saw her.
A young girl stood alone on the corner,
still a block from the taxi zone. He wasn’t
sure if he should slow, stop, or go on.
She fumbled with a bundle held in the
crook of her arm, but when she looked up
she waved to him and he pulled to the
curb. She dashed over, opened the back
door and ducked in.
When she pulled the door shut, a
miniscule little cackle from the bundle told
him that the baby was small—much too
small to be out in the rain.
“Where to, Signora?”
“I only need to go a short distance. And it
is Signorina,” she added defiantly.
“Well, Signorina,” he replied, “Your marital
status, or lack of it, makes no difference
to me. So where to?”
Before she answered, tiny little whimpers
increased into full-blown demands and in
the mirror he saw the girl reach in her
handbag and bring out a bottle.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked
again with a sigh.
“Uh…to the convent. Near St. John
“The one on Via Flores?”
“I guess so. You’re the driver so you
should know where it is.”
“Ah, the young,” he said to himself. “But
their money is as good as anybody else’s.”
Cecilio wove past the loading zone of the
hotel and then accelerated to close the
space between him and a car ahead. It
was going slower and slower, and his
shouts of “Idiot!” only echoed in the
confines of the taxi. As he swung past the
car he leaned on the horn but the driver
continued scanning a map in his hand and
took no notice.
Then Cecilio thought of the tiny passenger
in the back. He must remember that more
caution was called for. As he glanced in
the rearview mirror he saw that the girl
looked out the window anxiously, or was
at least trying to. The glass was as
clouded as her face but she could see
enough to know that a pedestrian was
trying to hail him.
She called up through the partition. “No! I
don’t want to share with anyone.”
“I wasn’t going to stop. Let me do the
Before he got very far a Vespa pulled from
the curb; the driver wore no helmet and
paid little attention to the slick street.
When he skidded a few feet toward the
cab they both slammed on the brakes.
Cecilio rolled down the window intending
to send forth a colorful protest but the
Vespa driver beat him to it with an
obscene gesture, started up the motor
again and sped on.
The passenger said nothing and neither
did Cecilio. He glanced back once more
and saw that she still fussed with the
blanket, then brought one hand to her face
and pressed it hard against her mouth.
He pushed back the glass partition.
“Signorina, are you ill?”
She answered impatiently that she was all
A few minutes later, as they pulled in
front of the convent, the girl didn’t wait for
Cecilio to open the door for her.
“I’ll be right back,” she told him. “Wait
She pulled the blanket over the sleeping
infant’s face and stepped out into the rain.
He rolled down the window and called
after her. “It looks as if they’re locked up
for the night. Do you want me to come
with you until you find out?”
She yelled back and he thought he
detected a little panic in her voice. “No,
no. I told you to wait where you are.”
Her shout disturbed the infant, but as the
girl tore across the sidewalk and down the
wide flagstones the little cries faded,
muffled by the blanket that protected it
from the rain.
Cecilio didn’t want to watch from the
inside of the cab because he’d have to roll
down the window and his new seat covers
would get wet. He pulled his yellow rain
jacket tighter and stepped outside to
watch her hurry for the convent entrance.
Just before she reached it his eyes fell on
a black metal box attached to the big
wrought iron gate…and at that moment
the full impact of what was taking place
Despite the rain it was not a cold evening
but chills pervaded his entire body.
He stood rigid, every nerve in combat with
what was about to take place.
“Oh, no! Not that!” he said aloud.
He had brought her to a designated place
where babies could be left in a small,
insulated cradle covered with metal
protection. Someone inside the convent
would hear the triggered alarm and
remove the infant. Complete privacy. No
questions. No prosecution. Just a human
life left in a box for government custody.
Cecilio couldn’t move, couldn’t cry out to
her, could do nothing but watch her lift the
top, place the pink bundle inside and close
the ventilated lid. It took only seconds
and she was dashing his way again.
He looked at her face as he opened the
taxi door for her. She seemed to have an
eerie calm about her as she told him to go
back to the same corner where he had
picked her up.
Cecilio drove on as directed, keeping open
the partition between them and thinking
how the quiet in the cab suddenly seemed
out of place. After what just happened one
would expect thunder, lightning, or at
least an increase in the intensity of rain.
But it was falling the same way—
relentless and gentle in the rhythm of the
windshield wipers and an occasional sound
of a horn.
As they passed the coffee house where all
of the umbrellas were folded down, he
heard her emotion gradually break free in
the back of the cab. First, only little
snivels, soft and subdued, and then a
gradual crescendo into wracking sobs.
It was not his place to deal with her and
he had no idea how he could. But the
combination of rain pelting the windshield
in front of him and distraught cries coming
from the back seat compelled him to pull
He reached for a thermos on the seat
“Signorina, would you like a little
She lifted a hand in protest and motioned
for him to drive on.
“I’ll be all right. My mind was made up.”
“But even when I first picked you up I
could see that you were distraught. If you
feel now that…that you made a mistake, I
can drive you back.”
“Go back? Oh, no…the alarm must have
“But it will take a few minutes for the
sisters to respond. Maybe I could get you
back in time.”
He knew he was treading where he had no
right. The passenger’s stated destination
should be his only concern. He watched
her fish a tissue from her bag with a
trembling hand, then wipe her wet cheeks.
Finally, in a weak, unsure whisper she
said, “I…I’m so confused…but if you want
“No. The decision is not mine. I must hear
it from you.”
After her weak nod he pulled out into the
street and made a U turn.
The drive back was mayhem, both because
of traffic and the thoughts that hammered
through Cecilio’s mind. Should he have
interfered? The baby was probably already
removed from the box, which would create
more strife for the young mother. If he
kept speeding like this he would surely be
pulled over. Still, he did not let up on the
accelerator but swung around a delivery
truck and honked a warning to a Vespa
about to pull from the curb.
He heard nothing more from the back seat.
She was probably trying to grip onto
something while being flung about.
He came to a screeching stop by the front
gates of the convent again. At last the
rain began to subside. As before, there
was no sign of anyone about. The girl
stepped out of the cab and before crossing
the flagstones, she asked Cecilio to wait
again. She might need his help this time,
He squinted into the short distance, and
his heart sank. Even from where he stood
he could see that the lid was back, waiting
for the next occupant.
When she reached it, she clutched the
gate and her fragile arms began to give
the wrought iron barrier violent shakes.
Then she had only enough energy left to
cling to it in desperation.
Cecilio started to go forward toward her,
A nun appeared from the inside, unlocked
the gate and went over to the girl. He had
no idea what was said but his passenger
suddenly looked toward him again, and ran
back to his side.
“They can’t let me have her. Not yet. The
sister says that once the baby is removed
from the box no one can just appear and
claim to be the mother. I’ll have to prove
“But that will be easy!” Cecilio answered.
“I’ll tell them I picked you and the child up
“I already told her that,” she interrupted.
“But we could be working together for all
they know because…because she
explained that there are so many terrible
things going on with children now. It
sounds crazy but I have to go through a
whole legal procedure. Hospital
papers…DNA testing…all of it.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “You’ll get
her back,” he said.
She stared at him a moment and her voice
was steady now.
“It’s good, I think. I mean that they
wouldn’t let my baby go without knowing
for certain that I’m her mother.”
Her delicate lips curved upward and she
placed an instinctive kiss on his cheek.
“I must go. I’m spending the night here,”
she told him. “But my daughter will be
taken to the hospital so I won’t be able to
see her again until it’s all settled.”
He looked over her shoulder at the
entrance where drenched flagstones took
on a yellow cast from the lights shining
above. The nun was waiting inside the
gate. Cecilio thought it ironic that as the
girl’s tears abated, he had to curb his own.
All he could bring himself to say was that
her purse was in the back seat.
When he gave it to her, she opened it but
he would hear of no money. They simply
embraced silently and she turned to go
back to the waiting nun.
Then all at once she stopped and called
back. “If I need to get in touch, who—”
“Cecilio. Cecilio Sagotti,” he said, running
up to with her with his card.
“Cecilio…” she repeated.
It occurred to him as the girl disappeared
behind the gate that she forgot, or
perhaps purposely did not give him her
own. Even so, he told himself, it was not
her name that mattered. Only her decision.
They say that human memory cannot go
farther back than two years of age.
Driving through the last rivulets of rain,
Cecilio knew this was not true. All the
time tonight that he had been driving
illegally, speeding through the rain and
getting involved with a passenger’s
business, he had vividly felt the knitted
softness of another blanket. A plastic
bottle positioned upright against a baby’s
neck. The sense of black metal walls
surrounding him, tiny hands flailing while
his infant voice had cried out for rescue.
Cried out, and then stopped when he was
gently lifted into a life provided by the
generosity of strangers.
A good life, too—Magdalena and the
children had seen to that, and yet he had
carried a burden of resentment all these
years. Tonight, for the first time he
thought he understood the agony of his
own mother when she had placed him in
the metal box.
Maybe that’s why the rain has stopped at
last, he told himself. All he could do was
smile now, thinking that he, the new
mother and the clouds had no more reason
to weep. Not even when smoke poured
from the tailpipe and a siren sounded
After journalism and creative writing classes in
college Mary Nelson continued to turn out poetry
and short stories while raising a family. Then in 2000
she took a hiatus from those genres to write and
publish two historical novels under a pen name.
Recently she decided to return to short stories and
tested the waters by entering the Gemini 2011
contest. Being among the finalists has convinced her
that the muse is still active.