An excerpt from my novel in progress, E’ Vivere… “It is, to live…” a spin-off of my memoir Nightfall in Verona, follows. Taking shape: the story of a young American writer who having fallen in love on a summer trip to Europe, can’t bring herself to leave her lover and rejoins him in southern Italy. Through a series of events she discovers the chokehold the ‘Ndragheta– the Calabrian Mafia– has on the region, and after a car bomb kills four members of Libera Gio’– the grassroots anti-mafia young people’s alliance– that she cannot pretend all is well and merely live an idyllic expatriate life. The novel is written from the point of view of its principal– Mimi Caruso– in the first person.
Copyright 2010 Jenne’ Andrews.
“I went down to the bistro to see Luca and ask him if the mailman had dropped off letters from Reggio or for that matter, Colorado. He had seen me half-faint at the murder in front of the cafe, and he had come to view me as someone to keep an eye on, to nurture.
Ah, Jenni. Buongiorno. We kissed each other’s cheeks.
Bene. Letteras che?
No… piu tarde—perhaps later.
I sat in my customary corner, arranging my notebooks, loading my fountain pen with a new cartridge. I wrote furtively in my journal, making little notes, developing a bit of a code for matters I needed to keep to myself.
There was the rumble of a truck coming up to the cloistered village and Luca went outside. I looked out the window to see him talking to the driver. Che cose, I wondered.
Then, from far out of the sea I saw the fishing boats coming in in the middle of the day.
The gate of the truck was dropped and a dolly was brought out. Large plastic casks labeled “Cala” for Calabria, were unloaded.
I stayed inside. I saw the mariners come up on the beach. Carlo was with them. I stayed back, calming myself, centering myself in the moment, urging the frightened voice within me to keep its peace.
I forced myself to sit with my back to the window and to write. I wrote aimlessly, starting a letter to my mother. I could hear the methodical loading of the casks into the boats, one by one.
Then the sound abated and it appeared that the boats had gone back out to sea.
Luca came back into the bistro. I did not look at him.
He went into the back room and then came back out and with a damp rag, began to wipe down the tables.
Luca, Mozart prego.
I reached into my pocket for lire. I desperately needed music; it would calm me.
It was a joke between us, that he kept Mozart and Bach on the jukebox for me. I was about to tease him.
Then, I felt myself cramping.
I went into the bathroom. I was sweating.
I sat down in the coolness of the bathroom and took long and deep breaths, stilling myself. I had been braced for this, but not ready for it.
There, in my underwear, was fresh blood. I knew what had happened; I was slipping the fetus. At only a few weeks pregnant, there was a small clot, a tiny and amorphous shape that had slid from me.
I cleaned myself up with damp paper towels and packed myself with tissue. I left the café, walking up the terraced steps to the villa, to our flat.
I turned the radio on and lay down, propping my feet on the pillows.
Let it come then, let it all bleed itself away and wash itself from me. Let tears come and run down the sides of my face into my hair, to the pillow.
As I cramped and bled I focused on the wildflowers in the vase on our table. I stared hard at them, as if I could make them one with me and take within me their color. A dream was slipping from me, a dream gone back to grass, to its unfathomable origins, in the way that a star explodes into being and then abruptly burns up and falls through infinity like a cinder.
A great weight of stress and distress dissipated and I fell asleep, dreaming far into the afternoon. In half-sleep, struggling to come to, I heard the door open and close, and a footfall.
In the dream I had fallen over the side of a ship. I was dressed in a long muslin dress and a corset, and petticoats that absorbed water so that I sank. I fought my way to the surface and sank again.
I finally let myself go, down into the layers of blueness; opaque fish swam around me, their eyes bulging, fins quivering. I smiled, euphoric, reaching out to touch one. Then everything was dark.
Amore. Mimi– Amore.
A voice from far away. A tender and anxious man’s voice, half-familiar.
I woke within the dream, pulling myself back from the taffeta darkness of oblivion, fighting my way toward the wrinkling light signaling the surface. My lungs burned; my heart pounded.
Carlo sat next to me, smoothing my hair.
What is it, a terrible nightmare.
You’re back early.
Yes, I’m through for the day—we came in early.
He kissed me.
I half-sat, the room reeled, and I fell back.
What is it. What is it. Are you ill?
I nodded. Please, Water. And..please bring us some wine.
I thought we could go to Reggio tonight to have dinner– I called…
He saw me pull off the sheet, and lift my skirt to check the packing, reaching for more tissue, pulling a towel under myself.
He rushed to my side again. Amore. Che cosa.
Tu sai. You know.
He frowned, comprehending, looking into my face, at my disheveled hair.
He took me into his arms and rocked me against him. Amore. Mi dispiace. Che dolorosa.
No perdiamo noi, he whispered to me. We are not lost.
I have lost the child.
Si. Ma…. We have time. This was a surprise….
Si. My words were faint and unreassuring to myself.
There was less cramping, less flow. I sat up again, this time not as dizzy, and swung my legs over the side of the bed.
I’m better, amore. Truly. But the baby…
Tears leached out of my eyes again.
Amore…. Quelli cosi sono in li manini di… These things are in the hands of…
Si io so. Di Dio.
He held me tightly. I know this is no comfort. I was happy for us. But we move through these things as one, si? We go on. We celebrate life even when it knocks us to the floor.
Yes. I thought of the box of baby clothes but it was too late—he saw me glance at the box. He picked it up and put it back in the closet.
Should we go to a doctor in Reggio. I’ll borrow Mario’s car.
No. I’ll be all right. I said nothing about this having happened to me before, in a past life.
Amore. . He got up, pacing. I feel helpless. I want everything here to be wonderful for you, for us. Now there has already been so much.
I beckoned him to me and he sat next to me.
In the Calabrian dialect I said to him that he was my world, that there would be another time, that I would get answers, that perhaps it was for the best. I said I had been worried about the ‘Ndrangheta if I had a son. Would he not feel the allure of the omerta in the very blood of the boy children who would be his playmates?
You are a brave woman, my darling. You are comforting me.
Yes. This is our dance. One day you reassure me, and then I comfort you. Then I heard myself say, “We won’t need a wedding dress, then, yes?”
He froze and his handsome face occluded with grief as if he were about to sing an aria from Pagliacci.
He turned to me and lifted my chin. Is that why you said yes, because of the baby?
No. No. But I thought it is why you asked.
Ah, no. Amore. I asked from il mio cuore, the heart, loving you and wanting to make a life with you for the short forever that is ours, the hours of the day lily, the boats on the water.
His effusiveness made me laugh; I was recovered enough to take his hand and go to our table. We sat together; I drank juice and ate a piece of bread, and then we sipped wine together in the late daylight.
I want you to talk with my sisters. Tell them. They’ll keep your confidence. But you need to speak with some women, si?
That would be good I said.
We cleaned up the flat and changed the bed, bundling up the laundry. I showered and changed into a fresh sundress and a shawl, binding my long hair to the back of my neck with a long tortoise shell hairpin I had found in one of the boxes—simple, old, functional and beautiful, as was the case with so many of my finds in the hidden rooms of the villa.
We whirled along the seacliffs in Mario’s Fiat, back along the Costa Viola, where lavender seas stretched away to Sicilia. I unbound my hair and let the wind blow it back. We joked and laughed, distracting each other, on the road, claiming the liberty of our love in the moment. It was for the best, this I knew. But thought of the loss of that person we had made together seared me.
Out on the sea was a tiny red boat with its sails trimmed, wandering, ruled by the gusts that furled up the water into white caps. Into that boat, in my mind and heart, I lay down a tiny and swaddled bundle, something to be given back to time and circumstance.”