Agostino, struggling to escape a frenzied nightmare, awoke to a choking swirl of thick brown and beige dust. His wife, Bernardina, lay motionless beside him in the bed, the upper quarter of her body beneath a slab of broken stone. Stone rubble and plaster pinned the sheets to the two of them. Broken bricks and pieces of shattered glass covered the floor and the overturned dresser beside the bedroom door, torn almost completely free of its hinges on the twisted and cracked frame.
“Bernardina! Bernardina!” Agostino tugged at the stone on his wife’s body to no avail. It was far too heavy for him to move it; he could not make it budge. And he knew his efforts were fruitless, anyway. Bernardina was dead. As he stared at his wife, the dim light from the bulb in the hallway suddenly popped. Darkness. Utter and complete darkness.
The earthquake has struck with no warning. It was as if there was no beginning to it; the shaking was enormous and instantaneous. The world around them simply imploded; there had been no time for fear, no time even to awaken to experience the devastation taking place around them. Agostino and Bernardina had been sleeping and then, in an instant, Agostino’s nightmare ended, only to be replaced by another one, far worse.
Two days after the horror that took his wife’s life, Agostino remained trapped in the debris, a prisoner in a tiny pocket of air that had been a bedroom. He heard the distant sound of heavy equipment laboring to remove the thirty foot deep pile of wreckage under which his pocket of stale air kept him barely alive. Occasionally, when the equipment fell silent, he heard faint voices: “Qui è un’altra. Ella è morto.” And then, at the announcement of having found another lifeless body, the voices hushed as the rescuers observed a moment in honor of the victim.
Agostino had almost given up hope when the rasping sounds of metal against stone and the growl of a diesel engine intruded into his stupor. A loud groan escaped the debris where the bedroom door would have been. Light poured into Agostino’s pocket prison as the dust from the machinery entered his lungs, causing him to cough weakly.
A rescuer shouted he thought they had found a live victim. “Penso che abbiamo un vivo!” Suddenly, a swarm of men invaded Agostino’s pocket. They put Agostino on a stretcher and carried him out into fresh air, where he could breathe again. But Bernardina remained behind, a victim who soon would be placed in a body bag and carried solemnly into daylight.