Vignette 10: Write from the perspective of a mother who is separated from her children during the eruption. Does she search for them despite the danger around her? Does she eventually try to save herself?
I could tell something was happening, but I didn't know what. Mothers just know. I assumed we had upset the gods, and they were punishing the town. I had no idea what would become of our precious city.
My eyes shot open in the dark. This was different. The last few days were only tremors. This was much more than that. The earth shook violently again. It was time to rise and check on the children. My husband slept soundly, so I decided to let him rest for now. I walked past the children's bedrooms and found them sleeping soundly, although I couldn't figure out how one could sleep through that last violent shake.
It would be breakfast soon. I left early to go down to the fountain and take water. By the time I arrived back home, the sun was coming over the horizon and everyone in the house was starting to rise as well. I prepared breakfast - bread, cheese and some vegetables that were left - before calling everyone to eat.
Chatter at breakfast was minimal. Everyone was tired of the shaking. It was disturbing the animals, and it made it more challenging to get work done. However, it did no good to complain about it, so they tried to act normal.
After breakfast, my two boys left for school. My husband would have some people over to discuss business and he headed to the atrium to receive them. I took my dear Lucia, the youngest of my three children, with me to do some spinning. While I couldn't explain why, I was more happy than usual that she could stay at home with me. I suppose it had to do with the bad feeling I had had since I woke up.
My little Lucia is only 8, so I guided her while she spinned her wool. Once she had gotten started, I began spinning a thread on my own. We worked like that quietly for a while, until around noon one of our slaves entered the room. I had to calm her down before she could tell us what she had seen, so distressed was she. Apparently, a large dark cloud had risen from the mountainpeak in the distance. Marcus, my husband, and his guests were still discussing what this meant. The slave had come here on her own, so I told her to go back and wait for news from my husband.
Lucia overheard most of the conversation and was afraid. Maybe she would simply have been curious under different circumstances, but the shaking of the earth these past days had her on edge. I calmed her down and distracted her by continuing with our work.
The slave returned a little later with a message from Marcus. The men he had been meeting with had returned to their own homes to check up on their families. While the large cloud was unusual, he was confident we would be perfectly safe if we just stayed inside. I felt uneasy about this and wanted to take a look at this cloud for myself, but I didn't want to scare Lucia. She was continuing spinning what looked like a fair amount of yarn. She seemed to have gotten the hang of it. Her forehead was wrinkled in concentration, eyes fixed at the spindle, giving her an almost cross-eyed look, and her mouth lay open.
'Lucia,' I patted her shoulder gently, thinking up a quick excuse, 'You're doing really well with that yarn! I just remembered Aurelia wanted something off me, I'll just go to her. Is that alright?'
'But she's coming by for dinner isn't she?' She looked questioningly at me. Aurelia was our neighbour and good friend. Along with her clan, she joined us at our dinner banquet. Her daughter Camilla is 9, close in age to my Lucia, so naturally they're very close.
'Yes, of course dear. I just wanted to give her something. Won't be long. You carry on, you're doing so well!' Lucia put her head back down and carried on, addicted. I hurriedly left the room and went out into the courtyard. Usually, on a plain summer's day such as this one, I could see the tip of Mount Vesuvius. This had been the case, the past couple of days but now, it lay hidden amidst a thick dark grey cloud. I felt my insides fill with a sense of impending doom. The pine tree shaped cloud was large, and beginning to edge over some of Pompeii.
'Cecilia,' I turned around, my husband was walking out into the courtyard.
'Marcus, we have to get the boys. Just look at that cloud!' I couldn't help but let out a hint of panic in my voice. The grounds beneath us gave a sinister tremble. Marcus held me and looked down at me authoritatively.
'It's been like this since the start of August,' he began. He looked puzzled, as if unsure of what to do next. I felt I couldn't override his decisions, but a little hint may be easier on his ego.
'Have you spoken to Gauis?' I asked. Gauis was Aurelia's husband, he was in the business of building and maintaining the temples in the area. If anyone knew how the gods were feeling, it would be him.
'No, not since the other day. I should speak to him.' He decided, 'I'll go now.'
'And Lucia and I will stay here? Should we not take the boys out of school?' I asked.
'Cecilia,' Marcus gave me a stern look, full of disapproval of my exhibiting a mother's instinct, almost as if it were petty and unnecessary. 'I will speak to Gauis, if he felt it necessary to take Atticus out of school, I'll reconsider.' And he walked out, his toga billowing out behind him. I returned to Lucia, she was still spinning.
I tried to continue our spinning as well, but neither of us could concentrate. My boys—were they frightened at the cloud? Were they looking at the mountain with their classmates? I felt a surge of frustration with Marcus as panic rushed through my veins. I settled myself down enough to smile reassuringly at Lucia, but inside, a dark cloud loomed large and heavy. It enveloped every thought and feeling, suffocating and thick. I knew I could not simply sit here and do nothing. Even moments of terror have a way of changing the course of our lives. This was one of those moments.
It had already been four hours. The tremors had grown more intense, and my heart was crushed by panic. Lucia had gone to fetch us more water, but hadn't come back for a long while. Such is the way of children, I said to myself, and assured myself that she met a friend on the way and had stopped to chat, even though my legs screamed at me for standing still. I wanted to speed out of the house and search for her immediately. I wanted to go and get my boys out of school. I wanted to take my family and flee far from this place. I wanted the tremors and the clouds and the terror to stop.
I peaked my head outside and saw the cloud had grown thicker, blacker. It was closer to the city, stretching itself out farther and farther by the minute, yet never growing thinner. This was too much. I felt it in the fires of my dreams, I heard it in the wind. Even if Gauis says that this is nothing to worry about and the gods aren't angry, I know they are. I know that if I don't move now, if I don't find my children and escape now, something will take hold of us. I don't have to be a mystic to see the danger here. I need to find them. I need to save them.
As my mind became consumed by my mission, I called out to a slave to continue with the dinner preparations. My legs lifted and fell faster. My eyes frantically searched for Lucia among the throngs of crowded people. I finally made my way to the fountain. She was not there.
"Lucia! Lucia!" My voice resounded through the streets. Other mothers were scattered through the crowd, also calling out for their children with hoarse voices. Some of the men were scowling at us, some mocking us, some looking just as terrified as we. Somewhere, I heard a child crying, but the voice was not Lucia's. "Lucia! LUCIA!"
I turned my head towards the direction of her exclamation, searching the faces to my left.
"Mother! Over here!"
A small hand stuck itself out through an opening in the crowd, followed a little head of black hair and a body in street clothes. "Lucia!" I run over to her and pick her up in my arms, sighing with relief.
"Mother, what's wrong?"
"Everything is going to be alright, dear," I reply. I don't want to worry her and quickly try to compose myself. Now that I see the response of the others in our neighbourhood, I make up my mind. Surely Marcus can't continue to ignore it! We have to leave and I'll convince him. I know that while he disapproves of showing too much affection, he also cares much for our children.
"Come, we're going back home," I tell Lucia. She protests that she didn't get enough water yet, but I dismiss it. "We'll do with the water we already have, alright?"
I am calmer while we walk back. I am still worried about the boys, but at least I have Lucia beside me. But my calmness doesn't last long as the grim, dark cloud hovers over the city and then starts to fall down. For a moment I stop, staring at one of the grey flakes I caught in my hand. Ash..
Lucia seems to have picked up on my anxiety -and of course she also sees the ash- but I firmly shush her and pull her along, walking twice as fast.
Making our way through the crowd proves to be a difficult challenge, but I am determined to arrive safely with Lucia at home.
"Mother, what is that falling from the sky?," Lucia asks.
I pretend not to hear her - mostly because I do not want to answer her question - and keep pushing through the crowd, walking faster with every step. I can see the house just ahead, and I am hoping that Marcus has returned home with the boys after finally agreeing to take them out of school.
We finally reach the door, and I push it open. "Marcus? Lucius? Philo?," I call out as we walk into the house.
"We are here in the kitchen," Marcus calls out.
I rush into the kitchen, still dragging Lucia behind me. She is now out of breath and trying to understand what is happening around her. I pull her into my arms once we get to the kitchen and rub my hand across her back in an effort to comfort her fears.
"Marcus, the ash is getting thicker. What are we going to do?," I ask him softly. The children have experienced enough. I don't want them to hear the fear in my voice, too.
"After speaking with Gauis, I have decided it is best that we depart from Pompeii immediately," Marcus says.
Lucia looks up at me with big eyes. I can see the fear beneath their beauty. Lucius, the older of the two boys at 14, looks at Philo, 12, and teases, "I told you not to make that graffiti on the side of that wall near the fountain! Now you made the gods angry, and we have to leave our friends!"
I could see where this was going, and I knew I had to put a stop to it.
"Lucius! You do not talk to your brother that way. This is not his fault," I chastise. "Boys, we do not have the time to behave this way. We must move quickly. We must stick close together and not lose anyone."
Marcus looked at each of us, one by one, as though he may not have much time left to spend with us. He finally takes my hand in his and leads us toward the door. Looking back at our home - the place we built our life and our family - one last time is sad, but I know we must press forward.
Marcus pushes open the door, looks back to make sure we are prepared and steps out into the crowd. We are close behind him as we move forward, and I keep one eye on the children as we follow. I can't be seperated from my family again.
The crowd is moving slowly as Marcus pushes through. It seems like everyone has decided to leave the city, and I wonder how many of us will actually make it. Will we have enough time to get away or will the ashes consume us?
So many thoughts are racing through my mind as we make our way through the crowds. Suddenly, the sound of an explosion followed immediately by screams. The crowd panics as we all turn to see where the noise came from and how we would be effected by it.
The fear I was feeling only intensified when I saw the source of the explosion. Mount Vesuvius was shooting fire into the air. The crowd became extremely unsettled and confusion set in as people became seperated from their families and friends.
Chaos was intevitable as everyone scrambled to find a place to hide. I looked to Marcus and was shocked to see him exhibiting signs of panic. When he noticed my stare, his look turned official again, and he instructed us to keep moving.
We picked up the pace, but, as we did, I could feel the temperature heating up, and I was afraid we would not make it. I turned to look back once more. The scene before me was like nothing I had ever seen. Chaos. Turmoil. Terror. I turned back to Marcus and followed him out of the city.