Unmasking Elena Montella

By: Victoria Connelly

Prologue




There’s magic in the heart of Venice but not everyone can find it.

In Dorsoduro, there is a little mask shop called Viviana’s. It’s like many of the mask shops in Venice with its pretty window display of bejewelled faces; its scarlet walls are covered in the same jolly jesters and sparkling sunbeams, and a little bell tinkles merrily as you open the door. But the masks in this shop are different. It isn’t anything you can see or touch; it’s something that you feel - the curious connection between a mask and its wearer that cannot be explained.

Rows of alabaster faces await their fate - a date with colour. And what colour! Rubies, sapphires, silvers and golds, cerises, amethysts and jades – richer than a jeweller’s window and far more precious.

There are beautifully feminine feline masks decorated in rich damasks and studded with sequins and pearls, and sombre, tubular-nosed plague doctors who stare down eerily from their home below the great black beam. Each mask seems to have a life of its own - a life first born in the imagination of its creator.

Stefano Cazzaro.

He’s working in the shop now. What else would he be doing? For him, there is no life outside Venice, and Venice, for him, is Viviana’s.

‘Viviana?’ he calls, and his wife soon appears, holding an espresso for her husband. ‘It’s from Cassandra,’ Stefano announces, waving a letter that has just arrived.

‘Oh!’ Viviana says, ‘I liked her. How is she?’

‘Married.’

‘Wonderful!’

‘And pregnant.’

Viviana claps her hands to her mouth. ‘It worked, then?’

‘Of course it worked!’ Stefano says with a little chuckle.

‘And who is this one for?’ Viviana asks as she watches her husband’s paintbrush glide gently over the fresh golden skin of a new mask.

‘Elena,’ he says.

‘Is she coming soon?’

‘She’ll be arriving next week.’

Viviana looks anxious for a moment. ‘Will it be ready?’

‘Will it be ready, she asks me! Of course it will be ready! Since when have I not been ready for a visitor?’

Viviana laughs and leaves him to it.

Once again, Stefano focuses on the little mask before him, his bright eyes narrowing in concentration as he holds his paintbrush like a magic wand. He loves this moment best of all. He could take his brush anywhere and create all kinds of wonders. There are such possibilities!

For a moment, he thinks about Elena.

‘She’s in a terrible muddle, isn’t she?’ he says.

The mask stares back up at him, its hollow eyes seeming to understand.

‘I think she’s going to like you,’ he tells it, holding it up to the light for inspection. ‘Yes. You’ll be ready for Elena,’ he says. ‘But will Elena be ready for you?’





Chapter 1




Elena Montella woke up with her heart racing. She’d dreamt it again - the same dream that had been tracking her down and haunting her for days now. She shook her head, trying to free her mind of the image of herself stood in the church in a wedding dress. It always started so beautifully with music and flowers and smiling faces but, somewhere amongst the vows, it started to turn ugly.

‘Elena. Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?’ the vicar would ask.

‘I do,’ Elena would say, her voice low and reverential.

‘And do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?’

‘I d-’ she’d pause. ‘Pardon?’

‘And do you take THIS man to be your lawful wedded husband?’

‘What?’

The vicar’s eyes seemed to spear her with their intensity. ‘Well?’ he’d say impatiently. ‘Who’s it to be?’

Elena would turn around and see three grooms lined up behind each other.

‘Come on, Elena!’ one of them would shout.

‘Yeah! Make up your mind!’ the second would yell.

‘Are you sure it’s me you want?’ the third would say.

‘What’s going on?’ Elena would scream.

‘You tell us!’ one of the grooms would bellow, and it was at this point that things really started to get out of hand. Fists flew across faces, bouquets bashed heads, bibles were stuffed into bemused mouths and it would all end in a huge food fight - the congregation chucking wedding cake around in lieu of confetti. Elena could never quite explain that part. But she had a pretty good idea what the rest of it meant.