Song and Dance
“Papa, is Zia Lita a witch?”Angelina asks quietly, but not quiet enough.
The afternoon meal eaten out back at the summer table is a noisy family affair. Angelina’s question stops the chatter. Next to Papa, Mama’s tiny hands stop in mid air along with the forks and spoons of the aunts, uncles and cousins.
Awkwardly, eyes glance at Zia Lita. Her black brittle hair pulled back tight in a braided bun accentuates her skinny long nose she habitually pushes up with the palm of her hand. There she goes again. What? Does she think that will change the hook from down to up? No, it leaves a line below the crook of it.
Zio Gio, Papa’s older brother chokes on his half chewed wad of spaghetti. Zia Minna slaps her husband’s wide back.
“Enough already,” he spits out between coughs.
Zia Lita’s big brown eyes dart around the table. The family averts her gaze, except Mama. Her eyes steadfastly focus on Zia Lita who skillfully avoids Mama’s calculated glare.
With Zio Domi, Lita’s husband late for supper, Lita looks expectantly at Nonni, Angelina’s grandmother for support.
Angelina wonders if maybe this is a question she should have whispered to Mama and Papa late at night. But she knows that their room is not always a safe place for quiet talks or anything else.
Just last week Nonni traipsed in their room when the house was already snoring. Unabashed in her white nightgown with her gray wavy hair draping around her face and shoulders, she carried a lantern in one hand and her ever-sacred Borsari Violetta de Parma perfume in the other. She acted like she owned the place, which she does with Poppy.
“Franko! Nero been fighting with the wolves again. That dog of your Papa’s is turning into a killer. Figliolo, I have a bad feeling. You keep your eye on Angelina. She always with that animal. Oh Lord, how those wolves stink the air!”
Spray. Spray. Spray.
“Ma. What time is it?” Papa asked groggily.
Laying between Mama and Papa, Angelina stuck her head out from under the covers. “Is Nero alright?”
“Si, si. Nothing can kill that dog. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Spray. Spray. Spray.
Angelina watches the perfume glisten in the candlelight. Drifting toward her she captures it in her little palm. What does it matter if Nero chased the wolves? Why Nonni have to wake everyone? Couldn’t this wait until morning? No, everyone has to suffer together, all night long. Has she really tried to kill Nero? No, just old words. She opens her palm to her nose and smells deeply.
Sniffing the air, Nonni sprays again until the powdery sweet violet, rose, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, hyacinth, musky scent overwhelms the room and Nonni is convinced that the wolves wild smell is sufficiently masked.
Just when Angelina believes her grandmother, all 4 feet 11 inches of her, will leave them doused in peace, she comes and leans over papa. Her gray hair cascades down Papa’s face. She puts the perfume bottle on the bed and caresses Papa’s face. “Mi babino. Ti voglio bene. Buona notte, mio figlio.” Nonni kisses his cheeks.
“Buona notte, Mama, ti voglio bene,” Papa whispers back.
Angelina peeks at Mama. Her dark brown hair lays in waves on the crisp white bed linen. Her tightly fisted hands cross her swollen belly. Her brown eyes are closed. Mama’s full dark lips have disappeared into a thin white line. Papa bravely reached over and touches Mama’s arm. She does not flinch. She does not move her stiff body. The tension escalated until their bedroom door clicked closed. All three remain still and listen as the moonlight cascades through the small bedroom window.
Zio Gio’s bedroom door creaks open. “Giovanni!” Nonni shrieks.
“Ma! What the hell you doing in our room? What if… geez Ma, what is that smell?” Zio Gio asks.
“It’s the wolves!” Nonni exclaimed.
Mama’s eyes now open looks at Papa and loudly whispers, “Frankie, do you want me to tuck you in, mi little bambino?” With a wicked smile, she winks at Angelina.
Relieved, Angelina giggles. Embarrassed, Papa turns his back on both of them. She watches her father’s shoulders jiggle from contained laughter.
In the morning the perfume lingered in the air enmeshed with the morning coffee. “Did you sleep well?” Nonni asked as everyone gathered, a tad grumpy, in the kitchen. “No, Ma, we did not sleep well.” Geo mumbled as he kissed her cheek, “but we smell good.”
Angelina drank her mini coffee mug and escaped out the back door to fine Nero. He sat, tail wagging, waiting for her. Reassured, she climbed on his back and gave his thick black fur a tight hug as they romped in the yard. “Want to play fetch Nero?” She hopped off, found a rock that fit her tiny hand and tossed it as far as she could over the back hedge out of the yard and into the wheat field. Nero ran to find it while she ran and hid. He always found her. Always.
She did have to scold him when he unexpectedly began to growl and bare his brackish teeth. Angelina looked to see if the wolves had snuck back into the yard again, but it was only Zia Lita catching chickens for dinner.
“Nero, basta!” Angelina scolded. He looked at her, teeth hidden again and licked her face. Angelina watched Zia Lita chase the chickens around the yard. She wasn’t very good at it. She looked like one of the headless chickens herself, skinny legs and all.
Lita’s loosened hair framed her face and her sweaty cheeks glistened in the morning sun. She finally managed to snatch a chicken and swung it under her arm while holding its neck tight in her other hand. Lita catches Angelina smiling at her while Nero licked her cherub face. With heartbreaking sadness she gazed at Angelina and for a moment Angelina thought Zia Lita was pretty.
“Do you want help with the chickens?” Angelina asked. She is good to hold the chicken down while someone chops off its head. But, she has to keep a close eye on Nero. He loves to chase the headless ones. Nonni says he has a taste for blood and will eat them raw.
Zia Lita hesitated. She looked at Angelina then at Nero and shook her head no. Zia Lita walked away with the chicken legs kicking up a fuss under her arm pit. She glanced back quickly at Angelina and the hint of beauty was gone. She looked like she does now. Constipated.
It doesn’t help that Zia Lita always wears black. Mama says she is in mourning. Angelina looks across the table at Zia Lita and decides that mourning is not a good place to be.
“Francesco, slap your insolent child!” Spit crosses the table as she speaks to Papa.
Papa protectively leans over Angelina and rests his lips on her head. He breathes her in, stroking her long wavy brown hair spilling down her small back.
Angelina turns and cups her fathers face in her tiny hands and speaks close to his lips. His mustache tickles her, but she does not giggle. She looks deep into his soft brown eyes. His lopsided smile and his crooked nose warms her heart. Earnestly she whispers loudly, “Papa, don’t listen to the witch. She mean. Even Nero don’t like her.”
The early evening breeze stills and the leaves from the mulberry trees encircling the yard dangle silent. The horses, chickens and roosters remain quiet. The frogs cease croaking in the garden ditch. The smell of the fresh cut hay hangs stagnant in the air while the sun droops lower in the sky.
In the awkward silence Angelina hears something. A muffled sound? A whimper? Releasing Papa’s face she searches the table. No, it is not a whimper. It is her uncles and Poppy smoldering in laughter. Their large napkins muzzle their mouths. Their eyes dance as they look at Angelina adoringly.
“Well he doesn’t?” She says giggling.
Disappointed, Nonni tsks her sharply. She is not smiling or laughing and neither are the other women. Mama, on the other side of Papa frowns at her too. But her eyes are soft. That is a good sign.
Nonni elbows Poppy. He shrugs, but Nonni firmly nudges again and clearly nods toward her. Reluctantly Poppy stands up and clears his throat.
“About time someone puts that child in her place!”Lita hisses.
He glances impatiently at Lita. She closes her mouth in a pout. His eyes shift to Angelina. “Angelina, Zia Lita is not a witch. She is Zio Domi’s wife. She family. We take care of family. You need show her respect. You say sorry to her.”
Francesco interrupts his father. “Pa, she is just a child. She didn’t mean-”
Poppy raises his rough calloused hand to silence him.
The back door opens and Zio Domi bursts into the backyard.
“Domi! Where you been? You late for supper!” Nonni scolds.
Relieved, Poppy sits back down and winks at Angelina.
“I know Ma, I know!” He greets everyone with a nod. Dominique kisses Nonni’s cheek. Civilly, he kisses Zia Lita’s cheek. She bristles and looks away.
Affectionately he jabs his brothers as he walks around the table. He stops behind Angelina lifting her into his arms. She tries to avoid his day-old beard, but he rubs it against her cheek laughing. His hat doesn’t hide his dandruff peppered curly gray hair and it certainly does not hide the smell of it. Angelina covers her nose. Zia Lita’s eyes slice the air between them.
Domi ignores his wife. “How is our little angel tonight?”
“Zia Lita is angry with me.”
Dominique laughs and loudly whispers to her.“Is she? Well, she’s always angry at me.”
“You need Nonni’s perfume.”
Zio Domi laughs, “Are you saying that I smell like a wolf?”
“No. You smell worse.”
“Nothing new there.” Geo chimes in.
Dominique places Angelina back in her chair with a pinch of her cheek and a wink. “I see. Well, before I bath,” he turns to Poppy and Nonni D, “I have news, important news.”
Dominique stands behind Papa with his vest open and his dusty shirt top button undone. Angelina crawls into Papa’s lap. Dominique takes off his hat and circles the brim in both hands. He smiles crookedly, but his eyes dart nervously around. “I have found our little brother a position,” Domi announces.
She hears the gasps, yells and claps of the brothers and their wives. Dominique’s hands stop circling the hat brim. Angelina feels Papa’s arms stiffen around her. He has a strange look on his face. So does Mama. Zia Lita smiles. It isn’t a happy smile. It is a crooked smile. Angelina wants to ask Mama why Zia Lita is smiling strange, but Mama’s eyes are closed and she flexes her jaw.
Her nails from her clenched hands cut into her palms. Her eyes and mouth open, like a puppet. Papa reaches under the table and squeezes Mama’s fist tightly. That closes Mama’s mouth. Anxious, Angelina watches Mama lift her shoulders back and lift her head high. Angelina does the same. Mama’s big brown eyes are dark slivers. Angelina hears Mama breath deep and long.
“Francesco has a position, Domi. He is overseer at this farm, the D’Agostino farm. He works this farm just as you and the others do, even more. This farm belongs to the family, all of the family. Why you decide, Domi. What gives you the right to decide who goes, who stays?” Mama’s unwavering voice fills the air.
Dominique defensively squeezes Papa’s soldier with one hand and stammers, “As the oldest son it is my responsibility. The farm belongs to Pa and Ma. I, we need to make sure it stays in the family. Right now we need to make sacrifices to make sure that happens.”
Zia Lita nods her head in agreement with Domi and adds, “It is not your place to question my husband, Rosaria.”
Luigi, Papa’s third brother speaks to Mama gently. “Rosaria, Franco will explain to you. Franko, haven’t’ you told her about the tax increase?
“What needs to be explained. It’s in the papers, on the streets. She knows. She understands. She just don’t like it. Too bad. Franco is the youngest. The decision is made.” Zia Lita concludes coldly.
“Who decide Lita? Who? You?” Mama argues.
“Enough. It is done. Domi, tell us about the position. Will he make enough to help pay the taxes?” Zio Gio impatiently asks.
Mama’s lips go thin. Her eyes go small. She glares at Papa and nods for him to say something.
“Yes, as the mill manager he will make enough to help with the taxes.”Dominique answers with pride.
“The silk mill?” Minna hesitantly asks.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mina. The silk mill brings in their own managers and besides D’Agostino’s do not work for them.” Geo asserts.
Papa shrugs Dominique’s hands from his shoulders. “Then which mill needs a manager?” He questions. Papa suspiciously looks up at Dominique and asks, “Exactly which mill would seek managers outside their own family?”
Domi nervously walks around the table and sits next to Zia Lita.
“Domi, which mill?” Poppy asks.
“The flour mill…. in Montalto Uffugo.”Dominique responds. Those around the table gasp.
“Montalto Uffugo! You crazy Domi. My baby not going to Montalto Uffugo! That too far away. Over the mountains. You killing me. There no family there. You split the family apart! They can’t go all alone. Who help with the babies?” Nonni starts to wail. The women go to her.
“What’s his salary?” ZioUgenio asks.
“We will discuss that later.” Domi says coldly.
“When does he start?”Luigi asks.
“They want him immediately. Domi responds.
“When they leave?” Zia Lita asks.
“Franko and I will leave tomorrow to make arrangements.” Domi answers her.
Nonni mumbles through her sobs, “Rosaria can’t travel. I not see my new grandbaby!” She wails as if she is at a funeral.
Frightened, Angelina looks at the family.
“Mama, why can’t Nonni see the baby?”
“Because we are moving far away.”
“Why? Why can’t we stay here with the family?” Angelina begins to panic.
Papa looks at Domi and Lita. Disgusted he talks through his teeth. “Gratzi Domi, look what you have done. Are you happy now Lita?” He turns and pulls Angelina on his lap. “Angelina, bambina, it will be fine. It’ll be an adventure. Maybe we go on a big boat on the ocean.“
“Si, Angelina, you, me and Papa, we start a new life. No one knows us and we owe nothing to no one.” Mama turns her glare at Domi. Shame flushes his cheeks.
Zia Lita smirks at Angelina, Papa and Mama. “Papa, why the witch…why Zia Lita smile now?”
“Some people feel less pain when others feel more.” Mama says knowingly. She rises to clear the table. She leans back to stretch her small protruding stomach that extends out toward Zia Lita. Zia Lita stops smiling.
Nonni dabs her eyes and orders, “Rosaria, sit. Sit. You no need do dishes tonight.” The aunts grab the dishes and haul them to the back porch and the large aluminum tub.
The brothers, lean toward Dominique. They pepper him with whispered questions.
Mama looks at Papa and nods toward the house. Papa nods back. He whispers to Angelina, “Come, let’s take a walk.” Still confused she takes Papa’s hand and follows Mama on the stone path toward the houses back door.
“Franko, you and I go tomorrow to make arrangements.” Yells Zio Domi. Papa ignores him. “Did you hear me Franko?” Zio Domi yells again. “We have to leave early. Pa, tell him.”
Angelina turns back and sees Poppy. His crushed face looks older and so tired. Angelina releases Papa’s hand and runs to Poppy.
“Angelina, come.” Papa firmly says.
“Poppy, I sorry. I won’t call her a witch no more. Don’t make us go.”
Poppy holds her face in his hands and kisses both cheeks as tears stream down his face. “Mi Angelina. Mi bebe. You need to go with your Papa and Mama. There is nothing I can do.”
Angelina, crushed by what Poppy tells her slowly looks at each family member around the table. Ashamed, they look away.
“But no matter where you go, you remember, you are Angelina D’Agostino.”
Angelina wipes Poppy’s tears away. She kisses his mouth. “I will remember.”
Her eyes like daggers focus on Zia Lita. “I will always remember.”
She turns away and proudly walks back to Papa.
Poppy takes Nonni’s hand and squeezes it tight. Nonni bends her head and wails louder. “My babies! My babies!”
Domi puts his head into his hands. “What else was I suppose to do?”
The brothers and their wives console one another.
Angelina follows Mama and Papa through the back door. They walk past the inside kitchen then through the large family room. Angelina looks at the bookshelf and tables. She touches the chairs and sofa in passing. Nothing feels familar any more. Everything is foreign and strange.
Mama’s hands shake as she removes their shawls from the hook along the back wall. Was that hook always there? Papa opens the front door for them. It squeaks. Did that door always squeak?
The three of them walk out of the house with the sun facing them head on. They can hear the chatter from the backyard, but they don’t listen to Nonni’s wails or the brothers talk as the door firmly closes behind them.
“Where we going?” Angelina asks.
“Who else is going?’ Angelina asks.
“No one else. Just us.” Papa answers softly.
Nero follows the three of them. Hand in hand they walk in silence past the large fig trees lining the farmhouse lane. Angelina touches the wood on the rope swing that she tumbled from just yesterday. The rope splinters still itch and prick in her palm. She violently scrapes the last one out.
At the last fig tree Papa stops. “Angelina, Nero needs to stay here.” he firmly says.
“Why?” Angelina asks.
“He belong here.” Mama answers.
Reluctantly, Angelina hugs Nero tight. She points to the house. Nero whines but obeys. He walks back and sits by the rope swing.
The locusts from the fields buzz as Papa, Mama and Angelina walk the next mile in silence. Sometimes a sob escapes punching the air out each other.
Timidly Angelina speaks. “They make us go because I called Zia Lita a witch.”
Mama gasps. “Tesoro, No, no.” Mama kneels down and faces her. “This has nothing to do with you. No one is angry with you.”
“Zia Lita is angry..”
“Zia Lita not happy with Zia Lita. She’s an angry empty woman. She don’t know what it feels like to love… anyone.” With Angelina in her arms Mama breaks down and gently they rock back in forth. “This is not your fault. This is not our fault.” Mama gently cries with Angelina. The road pebbles crunch as Papa kneels down by them. His warm strong arms encircle them. “Franko, Franko, what will we do? How can we take her away?” Mama despondently cries.
Angelina hugs Mama tight. With a trembling voice Papa states, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Angelina hears Papa’s voice crack. It is too much. Bathed in their sadness, Angelina, reaches up and dries Mama’s face. “What you mean you don’t know. We are D’Agostinos, Mama. We are D’Agostinos.”
Faintly music from Reggio floats on the night air reaching the small shadows of the grieving little family. “Mama, can you hear it? Can you, Mama?”
Angelina stands up between her parents. With her chin held high she exclaims, “The music. Maybe this town, this Montalto Uffugo has music too. Maybe we find a nice white house where Nonni can’t walk into our room and Zia Lita’s emptiness won’t make us sad no more. Then they can’t send us away. We send them away.”
“Angelina, be careful what you ask in the wind. It carries our words forever,” Mama warns.
Papa adds, “Our words ask for things we want, but they don’t look like what we thought.”
“Maybe. Or maybe we go and we work hard and some day we own our own land that nobody can take from us.” Angelina continues. “Maybe this new place is like Reggio. Maybe we will fall asleep to music every night, Mama. We can hang our own hook and plant our own garden and have our own squeaky door and, and…”
Papa adds hopefully, “Have our own dog.”
Angelina stops. Sadly, she looks longingly back at the distant farmhouse. She closes her eyes tight. The tears squeeze between her dark long lashes. “No, I don’t want another dog.”
Angelina begins to run toward Reggio.
“Angelina! Wait! We go together!” Papa yells. They run and catch up to her as she leads them into town and toward the music.
Strolling through the hills past the houses that rise haphazardly through the narrow streets, the three of them quietly watch the town folk prepare for the evening. Enthralled, Angelina jumps at each yell and shriek. She breaths in the garlic as it floats in the air lingering on her tongue. Her mouth waters with the fish and pasta sauces simmering in each kitchen pot. Each house and family live so close they could toss meatballs to each other from their rickety chairs and three legged tables.
“Papa, look how tall that house is.”
“Si. The families build up as they grow big.” A large woman leans out a window and yells at a young threadbare boy hiding in the shadows of the house.
“Antonio! Where your new shoes? You loose your new shoes you no come home. They cost money. You got money to buy new shoes? If you loose them you go live with your uncle up north!”
An older disheveled boy grabs a pair of shoes hidden in the threshold below the angry woman. He runs toward Papa mimicking the woman’s high pitched squeal . “T’onio! You got money, Mama’s boy? Cause you don’t got shoes!” The shoeless boy with thin breaches hopelessly chases the bully. Papa steps out and grabs the shoes from the little thief. Angry, the boy turns and clearly recognizes Papa. He decides to keep running. Papa hands the shoes to the desperate child. Grateful, the boy takes the shoes. “Gratzi signor D”Agostino. Gratzi.” He disappears back down the road toward the woman who still leans out the window.
A group of men huddle together on most every cobblestone street. They all seem to share a private joke and a bottle filled with dark liquid. Angelina hears their name whispered as they pass. With Mama’s shawl draping over her head she looks like an angel. She nods and offers a slight smile to those who look her way. Angelina places her shawl over her head and tries to walk like Mama. Mama’s hand rests in the cradle of Papa’s elbow as he holds Angelina’s hand on his other side.
“Who she think she is?” An older girl nods toward Angelina.
“I don’t know, but she walks like a little queen.” Another little girl says admiringly.
Angelina swallows her smile.
Some men greet Papa respectfully, “Buena notte, Signour D”Agostino.”
Ceremoniously Papa taps his finger to his hat, “Buena notte”. With Papa leading, a path clears through every crowd they pass and on every road they walk. Around each corner Angelina discovers more people and more music. The sounds often blend, but occasionally they don’t and then the music hurts her ears. In every direction, from the balconies to the street corners, from the roofs to the wagons rolling along the streets, the musicians with their accordions, guitars, and tambourines play and the young couples or not so young erupt without warning into dance. Mesmerized, Angelina does not know where to look next. She never knew people lived like this so close together. “Papa, are they one big family?”
“No, they are not. Sometimes they act like it. They get into each other’s business and then trouble starts.” Papa answers.
As they round another corner the ocean lies before them. The sun hedging toward the horizon illuminates the low hanging clouds in shades of pink and yellow. The fishermen gather their last nets of the day on small teetering boats. Mothers yell for their children to come home. Church bells ring for evening mass and the music echos inward, penetrating Angelina’s heart.
Papa takes them toward the ocean and claims one of the few empty benches under the limbs of the bergamot trees surrounding the promenade. The air is thick with the sweet fragrance of the blossoms.
The musicians, with their backs to the shore exuberantly play. Entranced, Angelina gawks at the young musicians and the music they play so effortlessly.
“Papa, why you not play?” Angelina asks.
“Si, Franko, why not?” Mama turns and takes Angelina’s hands. “It was right here when I saw Papa for the first time. He rarely came to town, but when he did all the girls would come to dance. They wanted to believe he came just to play for them.
“Maybe he came just to see you.”
“He came to sing.”
Embarrassed, Papa asks her, “Rosaria, how you know why I came?”
“How I know? Everyone know. And now look at you.’ She winks at Angelina. “I wonder if the girls will come to town tonight.” Mama teases.
“Don’t talk nonsense. Nobody come to hear me sing. You make this up. ”
“What you mean, I make this up? Then what happened to them all? What happened to the girl who married the farmer? I hear they are moving far, far away. You better sing tonight real loud so she will hear you no matter where she go.”
Papa pulls Mama onto his lap and nuzzles her neck.
“Play for us tonight. Perfavore, Papa.” Angelina requests.
Longingly, Papa glances at the musicians and their instruments. One of the guitarists nods to Papa and offers him his guitar mid song. Mama slides off his lap, smiles and nudges him to go.
“I will look foolish.”
“Perhaps, just don’t sound foolish. After all you are Francesco D’Agostino.” Mama teases.
“Keep your eyes open in case that girl shows up. I may save a dance for her.” He brushes Mama’s cheek with his hand.
Papa strolls over to the guitariest and accepts the guitar gratefully. Placing the guitar by his ear he strums. Satisfied, he joins in.
Angelina places her shawl on the bench and pulls Mama’s hands draging her out to dance. Even with the extra weight of the baby, Mama gracefully shows her the quick steps of the dance. It is difficult for Angelina to keep up, but she jumps and moves in circles as the music spin faster and faster.
laughing, they pass by Papa several times. Once around again, Angelina feels his hand around her wrist. He pulls her to him handing her a tambourine. Confused, she strums the leather cover like a guitar. Papa laughs and shakes his hand in front of him. She extends the instrument and shakes it. The sound tickles her. She listens to the music and tries to shake it in rhythm. She shakes it in front of her, at her side and even over her head with both hands. The dancers and spectators laugh and clap for her. Angelina sees the other tambourninisto hit it against his hand and hip. Angelina tries to do the same, but her little hip can’t seem to move right. The crowd roars.
Mama dances, twirls and laughs. Her hair escapes out of it’s tight bun. She looks so young and free. Their tears and sadness forgotten in the music, lies just below the surface. Papa’s eyes sparkle while his fingers dance down the strings. The song ends with the last strum of the guitar and the last key of the accordion played in unison. Exhausted, Angelina’s little arms hang at her side. Mama takes her hand and returns the tambourine to its owner.
Angelina acknowledges him, “Grazie, Signore.”
“Prego, Signorina D’Agostino” He replies. The music begins again, a slower song. He gently joins in.
Angelina and Mama walk back to their bench. Content, they both sit down, close together.
“Mama, he called me Signorina.”
“Because you are a Signorina.”
“I am, aren’t I.”
“Yes, I believe after today, it’s official.”
“How did that man know my name?”
“Because you are the daughter of Francesco D’Agostino.”
“I am also the daughter of Rosaria.
Mama laughs, “yes, you are.”
“Mama, do you sometimes feel so happy that you think your heart is pushing up through your head making your hair grow?”
Mama laughs out loud. “Yes, bambina. I sometimes feel that happy.” Mama reaches over and caresses Angelina’s cherub face. She strokes her hair.
“Look, your hair is growing right now!” Mama exclaims.
Giggling, Angelina glances back at the musicians, but Papa is gone. Worried, she stands tiptoe on the bench. She finally sees him in the crowd and relaxes. He comes toward her holding a sweet role and two glasses of wine. He hands a glass and the roll to Mama. Then out of his pocket he hands Angelina two pieces of hard candy.
“Franko, you spoil her.” Mama says. Papa smiles and shrugs.
Excited, Angelina bites right into the candy. It shatters into tiny pieces that get stuck in her teeth. She picks them out with her tiny fingers.
“This is so good! Want some, Mama?” Mama shakes her head.
“No, grazi. But try to let the next one melt slowly. It will last longer.” Mama suggests.
The second piece Angelina pushes against the side of her mouth where it sticks and slowly dissolves. Mama eats her sweet roll and they share the wine. Papa with his hat resting crooked on his head and his vest and shirt unbuttoned sits back and smokes his pipe. Angelina points to the sun almost touching the horizon in the west and the harvest moon rising in the east. “Look Papa, the sun and moon can see each other.”
“Yes, they can. And on those special nights when that happens, it means one thing. Come Angelina, let’s go swim.” Papa says.
“No, no swimming tonight.” Mama states.
“Can we at least walk to the water?” Angelina asks.
“Of course we can. We can do anything we want tonight.” Papa says.
The sand is loosing the day’s heat quickly. Already, families and fires dot the beach. Guitars strum familiar and unfamiliar songs. Voices sing and blend from one campfire to the next.
Papa, Mama and Angelina sit on the beach close to the waters edge. Papa takes off his shoes and socks.
“What you doing?” Mama asks.
“I think I am taking off my shoes and socks.” He replies.
“I see that. Why are you taking off your shoes and socks?”
Angelina watches her father begin to roll up his pant legs.”
“Because I don’t want to get them wet.”
Papa winks at Angelina. She takes of her shoes and socks too.
“Young lady, what do you think you are doing?”
“Whatever Papa is doing.”
“Si, Papa. I told you. She love you forever.”
With his pants rolled up to his knees he grabs Angelina and runs to the ocean edge..
“Do not get that child wet! I do not want her to get chilled,” Mama laughingly scolds over the waves crashing on the beach.
Papa grabs Angelina’s right hand and foot and begins to swing her out toward the ocean. “uno, due, tre!” he yells.
Angelina laughs. “No, Papa. No!” He places her safely back on the beach. “I thought you wanted to go in the water?”
“I do. But you heard Mama.” Angelina wades carefully in holding her dress high with one hand. She turns and with her free hand she splashes water toward Papa.
“Why you little urchin!” he laughs.
“I thought you wanted to go swimming?” Angelina smiles. He runs toward her as she runs down the beach. He easily catches her throwing her into the air. Mama smiles as she watches Papa hold Angelina in his arms. Angelina points to a seashell. He puts her down and the two of them examine it, deep in discussion. They stand and slowly make there way back to Mama.
“What did you find?” Mama asks.
“Nothing. Mama, are you warm?” Angelina hints.
“I’m just fine. Actually, I feel a little chilled.” She stands up and starts to back up away from the ocean.
Papa grabs her and swoops her off her feet and heads toward the water. Her feet kick and her arms flail.
“I am too heavy with the baby!”
“You are not.”
“Franko, if even one part of me touches that water, you will regret it!”
“I hope so! What? You don’t love me no more?”
“Mama, don’t you want to at least touch the water?”
“No, I don’t.”
Papa stands in the water up to his ankles. “Ok. I put you down.”
“Franko, not here!”
He walks out further. “Here?”
“I am not going to kiss you in the middle of the ocean.”
“We are not in the middle of the ocean. We are on the shore of the ocean where you stole a kiss from me over five years ago. Kiss me again now so I know you still love me.”
“Mama, kiss him!”
“I did not steal a kiss. You kissed me.”
“She don’t love me no more, Angelina.”
“You might be right, Papa!”
Exasperated, Mama gives Papa a peck on the cheek.
“You call that a kiss?” Papa exclaims.
Mama looks hard at Papa. She takes his head in her hands and slowly and gently kisses his lips. Smiling, Angelina turns and looks toward the promenade.
“Angelina! She still love me.”
“Si, Papa. I told you. She love you forever.”
They slowly walk back to the promenade holding each other close.
The three of them sit on their bench all night. Eventually the crowd thins and the families and couples begin to head home. Papa lovingly eyes Mama. She is rewrapping her hair into a braided bun. He reaches out and stops her. He loosens the braid and her hair falls down over her shoulders.
“There she is. The girl I love even more today then five years ago. Come dance with me, amore mio.” Papa says.
Mama looks at him pensively. She glances at Angelina’s head resting in her lap. Angelina, fading fast, feels Mama slide out from under her. Angelina struggles with her heavy eyelids as the shawl covers her from shoulders to feet.
Angelina sees them somewhere between slumber and imaginings. They sway together to the solitary haunting rhythm of the guitar. Their arms hang entwined at their sides as they dance as one. Mama’s arm reaches up encircling Papa’s neck. He places his hand on the small of her back, gently holding her close. Their lips do not touch, but they breath the same breath. Their hearts beat the same beat. Their eyes see their reflection. The lanterns extinguished, the guitar strums one last note in the path of the moons shadow.
Her lashes rest together.
The sun blinds Angelina. “Papa!” She sits in his arms. “Don’t forget.”
“Forget what?” He asks smiling with tears in his eyes.
“I will not forget, I will be back Sunday as promised. And you don’t forget your promise.”
“Si. I will help. Silly promise. I always help her.”
“Do you really?” Mama asks reaching out to embrace Papa and Angelina.
“Yes, I do. And after you get back we will go dance again, the three of us, si?”
“I can not give you my word on that, little one.” Papa kisses her and puts her down next to Mama. He reaches out and caresses Mama’s face. Mama smiles and reaches up and covers his hand.
Dominique kisses Zia Lita on the cheek. Zia Lita’s mouth twitches. She looks straight ahead.
Both Papa and Zio Domi kiss Nonni D on her cheek. She holds Domi’s face then Papa’s.
“You take care of each other. You brothers!”
“Si, Ma.” They both respond.
Poppy patiently waits to take them to the dock. He holds the reins while Domi and Papa climb into the wagon. Poppy flicks the reins and the horses move forward.
Angelina and Mama wave their handkerchiefs. Zia Lita does not wave at all, but Angelina sees her big brown eyes puddle. She not so tough, Angelina decides.
Angelina, can’t stand it any longer. She runs after the wagon.
“We will miss you too Zio Domi!” Angelina yells. Zio Domi looks back and slowly smiles. He blows her a kiss. The wagon disappears down the hill leaving dust billowing in the breeze. Angelina can not see the wagon and soon she also can not hear it. Sorrowfully she sits down on the porch. Mama sits down by her. The others comfort Nonni as she stumbles into the house heart broken.
“I know. We no like Zio Domi, but…
“Angelina, Papa still loves his brother. He is just hurt and disappointed in what he did. He made choices for us. No one should do that.”
“What about Zia Lita?” Angelina quietly asks.
“I feel sorry for her. Sometimes I forget to feel sorry so I feel angry.” Mama strokes Angelina’s hair. Standing, Mama takes her hand. “Come. We have no time to waste on such things.”
Angelina looks down the empty lane. Quietly she says, “Just a few minutes longer.”
Mama relents. “A few minutes, then wipe the sadness away, it does no good.” Mama brushes her soft hand across Angelina’s face and leaves her with Nero.
The house feels empty. The aunts avoid Mama, but not Angelina. They can’t get enough of her. Angelina is tired of their attention and her cheeks can’t take anymore.
In the late afternoon Mama releases her. “Go play with Nero. He don’t understand where you been.” She doesn’t have to be told twice. She heads to the kitchen but finds Nonni standing by the back door sniveling. She turns to go toward the front door but hears the Zia’s coming toward the kitchen. Angelina covers her cheeks and quickly slides behind the pantry curtain. She just can’t take another pinch! Soon the kitchen is full of the women. Angelina is trapped. She just wants to get outside to play with Nero before Mama comes to her senses and gives her another chore. Hidden she impatiently listens to them talk about nothing at all.
“I no feel good about this.” Nonni snivels .
“You always say that.” Zia Lita says indifferently.
“She say she going with him now. She needs to wait until the baby comes.” Nonni states emphatically.
“You can’t talk sense into that one.” Zia Minni said.
“First she angry that Domi finds Franko a position and now she can’t wait to leave!” Zia Maria whines.
Nonni begins to wail.
“Mama you must stop this. You get all worked up. They aren’t dying. They just going to be gone for awhile until things get better.” Zia Minni impatiently states.
“You don’t know what I see.” Nonni cries.
“What you see?” They all ask.
“Bad things. I have bad feeling. I never see them again. I never see the baby. What if she lose the baby!”
They all gasp and quickly look at Zia Lita. Then just as quick they look away.
“She won’t. She built to make babies. She not all skin and bones like me.” Zia Lita says sadly.
Nonni reaches out and touches Zia Lita’s face. “We fatten you up. You make many babies.”
The women pass the pantry. “What we going to do with their room?” Zia Minnie asks.
“Nothing. It’s their room for when they come back.” Nonni states firmly.
“I thought you said you never going to see them again?” Zia Maria questions.
Angelina sneaks out the back door.
Mama doesn’t waste time. They polish, wash and pack everything they own. If Mama isn’t washing, she is sewing and if she isn’t sewing, she is packing and if she isn’t packing she is visiting. People drop by the farm with food, flowers and sorrowful faces of death.
“What? They act like this a funeral and I can’t cook no more.” Nonni D. complains. “Humf! She call that meet balls? No wonder her husband so skinny!”
In the late afternoons, Mama sends Angelina outside away from the house, pinching fingers and idle tongues. Relieved, she runs through the farm with Nero at her side until the dust sparkles in the last rays of the setting sun. Angelina swings on the rope swing listening to the night blanket another day. She sees the first star slowly draw itself in the twilight sky. The front door squeaks open. Pursing her lips she ignores whoever has been sent to fetch her. She doesn’t want to hear her name or their high pitched voices. She doesn’t want to hear anything. Not even wagon wheels on the lane from Reggio. She is anxious for Papa’s return, but she now understands when he comes back they will not stay.
By Sunday, Mama has everything packed and ready to load on the wagon. There is nothing left for Angelina to do but wait. Poppy gets in the empty wagon.
“Can I go with you Poppy?”
“No, bambina. It could be a long wait.”
Poppy flicks the reins and the horses head back down the lane to Reggio. He sadly waves good-bye to her. She does not wave back.
She wanders through the farm and ends up back in the front yard with Nero under the shade of the large fig trees. Nonni brings a quilt and a plate of bread and cheese. They sit together with Angelina’s head in her lap. Nonni gently strokes her hair. Angelina looks up at her. Nonni’s silent tears wet her soft long hairs of her face and darkens the spots of her skin. Short gray strands escape her bun and spiral around her head. Nonni does not pinch her cheeks. She tenderly rubs Angelina’s own tears away with her rough hands until Angelina falls asleep. Nonni holds her close, rocking her gently in the shade of the trees.
Angelina awakens in the afternoon with only Nero by her side. She stands and walks toward the swing hanging low from the first tree. She lays forward across the board and rocks back and forth watching the silent empty lane from Reggio.
Bored, she tosses rocks and sticks and Nero retrieves them over and over until his tongue hangs with every pant. He laps up the irrigated water at the base of the trees. Revived he brings her another stick. She does not take it. She walks to the front porch passing the rose bushes that butt against the house. The bees are busy today. She knows she should stay clear of them, but she doesn’t care. She stands by the bushes with her face close to a rose with a bee busy pointing it’s stinger in and out.
By late afternoon Angelina and Nero rest on the front porch floor boards. She lays on Nero’s stomach swishing flies away, waiting.
In the early evening Mama opens the front door and finds them both still laying together.
“Angelina, it’s time for supper.”
“Papa will be hungry when he gets back. I will wait for him.”
Resigned, Mama comes onto the porch and sits on the bench. She motions for Angelina to sit next to her. Reluctantly she stands and sits next to her. Mama guides Angelina’s head to her lap. She softly strokes her hair and rubs her back.
“Mama, maybe we could go to town and meet Papa there.”
“Papa wants us to wait for him here.”
“Will he come back? He never been gone before. Maybe he went to Merica. They say those that go to Merica never come back.
“You listen to too many old words, Angelina. People say stupid things when they don’t know anything.
“Maybe Papa have another family. Maybe he has a little boy somewhere. Maybe… ” Mama lifts her hands from Angelina’s back.
“Angelina, stop it. Why you think such ugly things? I’m going to go eat supper.” She stands to walk away. “You’d feel better if you’d eat something.” She walks away. Nero follows Mama. He must be hungry too.
Alone on the porch she watches the mosquitoes find their supper from her exposed face and hands. She pulls her legs up under her dress and pulls her arms inside her sleeves. She bends her head against her knees to hide her face and listens. She hears the frogs, locusts and night sounds and even the voices of the family float on the evening breeze. But there is no sound from the road from Reggio.
She doesn’t remember being lifted up or carried to bed, but that is where she finds herself with the morning sun streaming through the window. She looks over at her father’s pillow. The familiar dent from his head embedded in the pillowcase and a few loose curly hairs on the clean bedding brings a smile to her face. Excited, she jumps up, slips on her dress over her nightgown and runs downstairs to the kitchen. She can hear him before she sees him. Relief and fear floods her heart. She stops before the kitchen doorway. Nonni talks and Angelina instinctively covers her cheeks and slides behind the pantry curtain. Carefully with her small hand she moves the curtain allowing her right brown eye to peer out. Seated at the table are Mama, Papa, Nonni, Poppy and Domi. Surprised, she hears her father’s impatience creeping into his voice.
“No Ma. She is coming now.” Exasperated, Papa puts his head in his hands.
“But the baby!” Nonni exclaims.
“Ma, it’s their baby. She don’t want to wait. She wants to go with Franco now.” Dominique firmly says.
“I don’t care what they want. The road too rough.”
“They go on the boat, Ma. They go on the boat to Scalo.” Domi gently explains.
“I don’t know Scalo. What is Scalo? We don’t know nobody in Scalo. Scalo funny name. Bad feeling about Scalo.” Nonni states.
Mama sits quietly next to Papa. She glances up and sees Angelina’s eye blink behind the pantry curtain. Mama’s finger moves ever so slightly at Angelina. Angelina closes the curtain.
“Is Scalo in Italy?” Nonni asks.
“Si.” Domi states.
“You sure? How I know you no sneak off to America?
“Why would we go to America?”
“I don’t know why. Why Fredricko Delgatto sneak off?”
“Fredricko go to America?” Papa asks.
“Si. Si! His Mama came by with nasty meatballs. She say Prime Minister Crispi make him leave.”
“Crispi no know Fredricko. How he make him go?” Poppy questions.
His Mama says Fredricko say Crispi make us all big country, but we not all big family. Crispi from Sicily, but he not care about us. If he care, Franko not need leave home.”
“Ma, why you listen and believe everything you hear? Crispi good for Italy. He united all of Italy.” Papa warns.
“But he no unite Italians. Why Italians in south pay all taxes and none pay in north?” Domi interjects.
“Enough already.” Poppy says quietly.
“Si. Enough. How far from Scalo to Uffugo?” Nonni asks.
“Two days. We bought some horses and wagons. They will be waiting for us.” Domi explains.
“Us? Who us? You go with them?
“Si. He go and settle them. How long you gone?” Poppy asks.
“You find a house?”
“Big house.” Domi states.
“Big house? How she gonna run a big house by herself? She gonna have a baby. I go too or maybe Lita.”
“No. No, Mama, we can do it. Angelina, she help me.” Mama says firmly.
Angelina pokes her head out from behind the curtain.
“I help Mama. I a good helper. We no need Zia Lita, right Papa? Cept who Crispi from Sicily? Is he why we have to leave?”
Papa’s face lights up. Angelina runs onto his lap.
“Papa, you late.”
“Late? Me? I don’t think so. I came home and no one was waiting for me. So I picked up this big sack of flour on the porch and carried it in and threw it on the bed!”
He tickles Angelina. Nonni sadly smiles at her son and Angelina. Pain pricks her eyes. She forces herself to look away. Poppy gently reaches over the table and takes her hand. She lets him hold it.
“It settled.” Nonni says.
“It settled.” Poppy says.
Still before dawn, Angelina’s eyes open. She lays very still. Mama breaths steady and deep. Papa does not. His elbow drapes over his eyes as tears slide down his cheek and into his ear. He pulls in his elbow to stop them, but they don’t stop. Angelina wants to cuddle up, but something stops her. Papa does not cry. Papa does not cry.
Pushing the palms of his hands into his eyes he clogs the tears. He wipes his hands on the bedding. Turning on his side he glances at her. Her long lashes hide her prying eyes. She breaths steady. Reassured that she still lingers in pre-dawn’s deep sleep he looks beyound her to Mama. He gazes at Mama for a very long time. His quivering chin subsides and his jaw muscles flex in and out. His soft brown eyes embrace every inch of Mama’s long pulsating neck. Her smooth olive skin glistens from the heat of their three bodies. He lingers on her full dark lips slightly parted with every out take of breath. His lips slowly curl into a sad smile. Reaching out he traces Mama’s lips with the end of his finger.
Mama wakes and smiles sleepily at Papa. ‘Buongiorno amore mio” he whispers.
Mama’s brow creases in worry. Papa’s moist eyes reveals all that he hides. She reaches over and wraps her fingers in his curly hair and smiles encouragingly, “Today we leave.”
“Si. Today we leave.” Papa says with a forced smile.
Papa kisses the palm of her hand. Mama begins to get up, but Papa gently holds her hand to stop her.
“Stay and rest a little longer. It will be a long day. Kapish?”
“We have to pack the bed.”
He glances toward Angelina. Her lashes close tight. Mama smiles understandingly.
“I’ll get the horses ready for my sleeping sack of flour.” He gets up and pulls on his pants. His shirt is half way buttoned and when he bends down and kisses Mama gently on the lips she touches his chest with her palm and slides her hand to his cheek. Their eyes are locked and they hold each other within the silent sacred space. Mama reaches up and dries the moisture still lingering under his left eye. Papa touches her cheek tenderly then leaves the room. The door closes with the familiar click.
Mama pulls her in. Angelina snuggles close with her back against her. She can feel the baby nudge her.
“I’m sleeping Mama.”
“No, you are not, little one.”
“How you know I’m not sleeping?”
“Cause I know, plus you talking.”
The baby kicks Angelina’s back.
“Did I kick you when I was in you?”
“Si. You kicked a lot. I could tell then you would be strong.
“Did you think I was a boy?”
“Papa thought you were a boy, but when you were born and he held you… he fell in love.”
“And this one? Do you think it’s a boy?”
“No, but don’t tell Papa. He want a son to take care of us when we old, like we do for Nonni and Poppy.”
“Hmph, girls can do that too.”
“Maybe, but they don’t. Some day you get married and leave.”
“Then I no marry.”
“What? Why? You no want to give me grand babies?
“I don’t want to leave you and Papa.”
“Everyone leaves Angelina.” Mama hugs her tight. “I can’t rest no more.”
“Me neither, but,”
“My cheeks hurt.”
Mama laughs. “I am sure they do, bambina, but I am also sure there willl be cheek pinching today, but tomorrow, no more.”
Breakfast was ready and everyone tried to act like it was just a normal day, but they failed. Everyone was too nice and too quiet. Nonni took forever with the dishes and their was no arguing about anything. How she wished someone would raise their voice or laugh or sing. She watched as their bed was broken down and put in one of the wagons.
The whole family sits in the wagon waiting to escort them to the dock. The trunks, bedding, table, chairs, dresser and rocking chair are packed securely in the wagon. The saddled horses hold Papa and the uncles. The aunts ride in the extra wagon. Poppy and Mama ride in the front of their wagon. Nonni is not there.
“Ma! We are waiting on you.?” Domi yells toward the house.
She finally comes out dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. She walks to the wagon and Poppy jumps down and helps her in the back where she sits in the rocking chair.
Angelina walks the road with Nero at her side until the last fig tree.
“Nero! Stay!” Poppy orders.
“Poppy, can’t he walk with me a little longer?”
“No, bambina. Say good-bye.”
Kneeling, Angelina hugs Nero tight. She looks into his deep brown eyes and he licks her salty face. She picks up a rock and kisses it. Then with tears in her eyes she slowly throws it as far toward the house as her 5-year-old arms will let her. Nero runs toward the house. Angelina turns and runs toward the wagon. Poppy reaches down and lifts her up. She climbs in the back and sits on Nonni’s lap. She sees Nero run toward her with the rock in his mouth. Poppy’s hand is held high. Nero stops by the fig tree, tilts his head and drops the rock. He sits and yelps once. Poppy’s hand is firm and high. Nero lays down waiting under the last tree in the lane.
Sitting on Mama’s lap, Angelina’s eyes are locked on the dock. She had hugged and kissed everyone good-bye, even Zia Lita. Nonni’s constant wailing rings in her ears or maybe it is those annoying white and gray birds fluttering overhead. She sees Poppy put his hat back on his head as he customarily does when he greets those he meets in passing. She sees him gently lead Nonni back to the wagon. He helps her up and looks one last time toward the parting ship. He climbs up and flicks the horses. The wagons head back toward the farm. They become smaller and smaller, until they look like the little rocks she throws to Nero.
Mama points to them as if she can’t see them. She watches them become a line of rusty dust. The ship moves north and the coast juts in and the coastal community, her home, is gone. She tries to peak beyond the jutted mountain, but she can’t. The ship sails on passing by little towns cuddled in the coast. Angelina does not know them and they do not know her. Slowly her eyes close as the ship rocks her to sleep in Mama’s arms.
The noise does not wake her. The smell does. Rotten fish. Her cheeks prick as saliva floods her mouth. Her stomach lurches and her head pounds. Her forehead beads up in sweat and her ears ring in a muffled hollow tone. She looks up at Mama too scared to open her mouth, her little hand covers it to stop whatever is trying to come out. Mama quickly moves her to the edge of the ship. Angelina, terrified, fights her. She does not want to be thrown into the ocean. She opens her mouth to scream, but she does not scream. Mama’s left arm holds her tight while her right arm holds her hair back. Between heaves she looks up and sees the dock the ship is bumping into. She hears the ship hands shout to one another as they move together, like a dance, in and out and around. Ropes fly and words fly and those pesky birds fly. Soon wooden planks bridge the ship to the dock. No one even notices her or the fish that eat what now floats in foam on the waters surface. She has nothing left inside but her stomach doesn’t seem to know that. Mama stands her up on the deck and wipes her mouth with the hem of her dress. Tears spring to her eyes and she clings to Mama.
“It is all right now, Angelina. It is all right.
“Where is Papa? Where is Papa? I want to go home!”
“I know. I know you do.”
Mama makes her sit down on the deck. Confused, she looks at Mama who now bends over the ships bow. Angelina does not look, but she can hear Mama and she knows. She curls up in a ball on the deck. She hides her face in her knees and silently cries.
” Don’t forget. You are Angelina Di’Agostino.” She whispers to herself.
To be continued….