BY HOLLY BRUNS
Copyright is held by the author.
SHE TELLS stories of growing up in Italy, now that she’s old. Her cracked voice gets massaged through tired lips into whispers of a time long gone. And to anyone who will listen, he’s there in her stories now. Sometimes he’s just an anecdote to a larger tale, but sometimes he figures prominently and she allows herself to speak his name out loud: “Giordanno.” There are favourites, memories she goes back to over and over again.
Number one: She’s at the beach with Elizabetta as dusk is settling into evening. They’ll be late getting home, which means her mother will be upset. Still, she stands with her feet buried in the sand while water licks her ankles and the fishing boats come in from the mist. A tired, weather-beaten prow pulls up beside her and from over the gunnel, he plunges into the sea splashing water down the front of her dress. They stand like this for a minute, face to face, brown eyes locked onto brown eyes. Wet.
Snow driven sideways by the northern wind appears to swallow up the bare, white trees outside her bedroom window, and through used up bones, now that life is losing its little joys: kneading bread, kissing babies, ironing a clean seam into a pair of her son’s pants, her husband. She feels this is okay — this final indulgence.
Number two: Against her mother’s wishes she has run down to the beach in the early morning darkness to meet him. Alone, they scamper across the rocks and out to where the waves whip the sea into foam and they can sit, obscured by the remnants of a once fiery volcano. He shows her how to thread a smelt onto a fishing line. His hands are rough and chapped by the sea. Her fingers are still slender and smooth in their youthfulness. Sunshine squeezes through the horizon with the promise of another day.
Visitors come and go in the hallway outside her room. The snow has stopped, but the view remains as white as the room where she sits. Her memories, stronger now, pile up between the walls and add to the secrets of others who have come and gone before her.
Number three: It seems the whole village has come down to the beach. She scans the crowd and there is her mother, still dusted in flour from the morning’s baking. Then she finds him, she finds those large, brown eyes one last time. He nods to her, turns, and walks to the end of the beach where his fishing boat is hauled up onto the sand. She watches as the back of his head disappears amidst everything that is familiar.
“Antoinetta,” her name and the not yet familiar voice of her husband draws her back to herself. A confident arm wraps around her waist and steers her away from the rail as the ship plows, head first, away from the beach and out onto the open sea.