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Friday, June 11, 2010


Her little boy is bouncing on his father’s knees and reaching out for the platter of pasta-fagioli she set down in the middle of the table.

“He’s going to get burned!” She shouts

The scream wakes her; though, in this post-dream moment she continues to savor the thought, taking her Natalino onto her lap to nurse, protecting him, watching him turn this way and that, as he reacts to his father’s laughter. “Now, stay put little one, eat and be done with it. I have things to do.” Her arms cajoling him, lulling him to nurse a little longer, waiting for him to finish nursing and join his father's lap again. His father will take him back, and rock him to sleep, with a few notes of a favorite song, a few swings of his strong arms.

She can't help adding pieces to this dream.

They moved in his mother’s house, in the room Mingu had shared with his two brothers; strings and wires, leather belts and shaving vessels, old shirts, boots and work clothes strewn in every corner. She lived out of her one suitcase, counting the days when she could move to the house her father was getting built for them, the house that will have her smells; flowers and sprigs of basil growing on window sills; baby powder in the air; scents of olives and grapes after each harvest.

This is temporary, she told herself every morning as she made the bed.

Expectations were simple and understood: take care of your husband; keep the house clean; don’t complain, daily recitations stamped into every movement, every utterance, as predictable as  the rosary, a quiet and numb ending of each day.

Days had their own rhythms. Wake at six, carry on the daily chores, and go to bed at the end of daylight.  Electricity had just arrived to their part of town, and everyone had one or two light bulbs in their houses. But days still started with daylight, and ended when night arrived.

Mingu started his day at the wash basin filled with water warming on the fire. In the evening, before supper, she watched him scrub his hands and neck of musty -ripe grapes, the smell of their land. She had liked that smell. Now, she had strange sensations, couldn’t even stand with the hot towel to help him dry up.

“Your family needs to settle things.” He said on the night he returned from talking to her father.

“What do you mean?” She tried to focus.

“I told your father that I need to be paid for the last couple of seasons. I talked to him at length, hoping he’d just say, Mingu, you are now in charge. It’s about the future of the place. We can start by bottling our own, you know.” He turned to her. She was crying. He continued, trying to reassure her.

“ I could go to work at the cooperative.  I wouldn’t be far from here. I wouldn’t even need a horse. I could do that work.”

“What did Father say?”

“He didn't. He has been too tired to think ahead." He looked at her and noticed that she had dozed off, before he had finished explaining his family's finances. Her fists were tightly crossed in front of her.

Donna Maria Rosaria’s rattled out of the house to attend early mass every morning before any body was awake. Lina then woke Graziella up. They all ate bread and grape jam most mornings, unless a vendor stopped by with goat milk for sale, and then Lina would have hot milk and sugar for her toasted bread. She looked like an infant, savoring the richness of the panna, the hard crust formed on top of the hot milk, full of sugar, and savored like ice cream.

Graziella packed fried peppers and tomatoes for her husband's lunch, with a loaf of bread and a chunk of salami, the same dish almost every day. For supper, she put a pot of beans by the ambers in the fireplace, to cook all day, a base for a minestra or a pasta dish. Twice a week, she visited the butcher. On Fridays, she waited for the fishmonger to arrive at the piazza with the night catch all the way from Bari or Naples.

She wished she could chat freely, about Naples, about life by the sea, about the shops and the museums she enjoyed so much as a girl.  But she was a married woman now, wearing a head covering for modesty, keeping her blonde hair in a bun under the covering, and didn’t do idle chatter. The only money she had was what Mingu gave her weekly to purchase groceries. She felt guilty over these thoughts, knowing full well that those fancy things were not in her life any more.

At the Loggia, Gemma had planned the cooking and general help for the family. Things were delivered to them, from various people in town. She could charge her purchases to her family account, she was told by the merchants. But Mingu had insisted she paid cash for everything she needed. Often, she had to settle for less than she needed. Donna Maria Rosaria went with her everywhere, insisting on what cuts of meat to purchase.

At home, she had enjoyed her biscotto and coffee, or eggs and toast. Don Paolo had his coffee first thing, then returned to eat a proper meal around ten. The young ones had Panini with a variety of meats, one to eat on the way to school, and one to eat during their break. Gemma had managed this for years, a different breakfast for everyone. Nobody had any idea of how much things cost, how important it was not to be cheated by merchants who could smell someone who didn’t know one veal cut from another.

Graziella was getting an education living under Donna Maria Rosaria’s roof, an education that her departed mother never had a chance to give her. She ought to be grateful for the constant advice she was getting, but she became less and less cheerful each time they went shopping.

“When it’s time for you to have a baby, you’ll be in good hands!” Her mother-in law hinted, guessing from Graziella’s behavior, that she was having morning sickness.

Graziella told nobody. She didn’t want to chance anything. Especially, chance a flurry of envy from who knows where.

One evening, Graziella heard mumbling and noises, and thinking something was wrong, she walked in her mother-in-law’s room to find her in tears. Lina was awake, sobbing quietly.

“Are you feeling all right?” She inquired.

“Be careful, be careful!” Donna Maria Rosaria mumbled, in a trance.

“What? ”

“People are watching. They can see everything.”

“No need to worry. ”

“Through the walls. People can see. I tell you ,nobody is safe. They can see everything you do, everything you wear. There are spies all over the place.”

Graziella had not seen anything like this, this strange and worried look on the woman's face. She went back to bed, and woke Mingu.

“Your mother is worrying about people spying.”

“She’s talking about imaginary waves .”

“I told her about the German doctor that took the picture of his wife’s bones, through her skin, the story we heard from Dr. Fabrizi?”

“Is this what she is worried about?”

“Yeah. She thinks this occurs everywhere. She is confusing spies with machines. She thinks Mussolini had spies when the boys were inducted in the army.”

“An how do you know that?”
"The Cooperative got notice that people could only work eight hours; everyone can only work eight hours or we get shut down. There are spies that report you, people you thought you could trust.”

“Mingu, I want to move to our new place. I don’t care about not being finished. I need to be in my own house.”

He reassured her it would not be long.

On Sunday, after Mass, they went to the Loggia for dinner. When Dolora noticed Graziella not eating, she confronted her.

“Are you sick or pregnant?”

“Don’t say anything now. I want to wait until I can be sure.”

“You can’t keep any food down. I’m worried.”

“Don’t. It won’t last long. I talked to Donna Maria Rosaria about this.”

“What? ”

“In general. I wanted to know the symptoms. Fortunately, she goes to church every morning when I start throwing up. By the time she returns, I’m much better.”

“Move back to the Loggia. You need someone to look after you.”

“It won’t do. I want my own place. " She said with a sigh; then, "Could I have some dishes?”

“Just go and choose.” Dolora snarled at her, adding,  “Keep the good dishes here. You can borrow when you have a special occasion.”

“Now, promise not to tell anybody about the baby. Promise you’ll come to town and visit me when I’ve moved.” Graziella said.

“Sure. When do you think that’s going to happen?”

“Soon. Soon.”


  1. Interesting...the misunderstanding of xrays. It must have been a strange thing to comprehend.

  2. Just had another mammoth catching up session reading posts galore - I get hooked every time!

  3. What amixture of archaisms and modernity with a dash of politics to come under Il Duce. I'm thoroughly hooked.