Children of Liberty(2)

By: Paullina Simons


The adjutant showed her. On the map in the blue, black oval marks were circled in red. “We try to avoid those.”

“How?”

“By navigating away from danger. We have a map.” He tapped on it impatiently.

She left. “What if you don’t know where the danger is?” she called to him. “What if you don’t have a map?”

“Well, you wouldn’t set out on a voyage without knowing where you’re going, would you?” he called back to her, young and smart-alecky.

The ship seemed to stay on course due straight, though it was hard to tell. The bay below looked the same as the sky above, like granite. There was a whipping wind, and the waters were choppy.

Gina’s mother started throwing up again. The journey had been relatively uneventful except for the vomiting. Mimoo’s stomach couldn’t endure what Salvo and Gina bore with no problem. It’s hard to be old, Gina thought, bringing her mother a fresh towel, a new paper bag. Yet Mimoo was so brave, at nearly forty-five heading west into the possibilities no one could see.

“It’s unseemly for you to be this excited,” Salvo said to Gina, watching her skip across the gun deck, inhaling the ocean air.

“It’s unseemly for you not to be excited,” she replied. “The sails are set and filled with wind, Salvo! Why did we even set off with your attitude?”

“Why indeed,” Salvo muttered.

“It’s what Papa wanted. You want to go against the will of your father?”

“It isn’t what we planned,” her brother said.

Gina didn’t want to admit to grumpy Salvo that her own excitement waned when she couldn’t see where she was going. She had imagined it differently—there was going to be abundant sun, twinkling lights, perhaps a sunset over the skyline, tall buildings to welcome her, a dramatic invitation into the new life, an arduous voyage that ended with a landscape full of color. She hadn’t expected gray fog.

She remained on deck at the railing, looking for a sign, hoping for a sign.

Just like Papa had dreamed, his remaining children would build a different life in the awe-inspiring vast land. While Mimoo pinched pennies, Papa taught his children to read so they wouldn’t be illiterates. And then he taught his children English. If only Papa hadn’t gone and died. Never mind. Gina could read, and she could speak a little English. Her wavy hair was getting tangled standing on the windward side of the open waters. Mimoo had ordered her to tie it back up, but there was something undeniably appealing in the image of herself in a light blue dress, standing like a reed with her long, tanned arms like stalks on the rails, her espresso hair flying in the drizzle and mist, all against the backdrop of steel gray. If only someone could paint a picture of her searching for America while the wind was wild in her hair. It pleased her to draw this picture in her mind. Sure, we might crash against the rocks like Salvo predicted, but this is how I’m going to stand in my last minutes, proud and unafraid.

Gina didn’t really believe they would crash. She believed she was immortal, like all the young.

Eventually she got cold and went back to sit with her family. Like three sacks they sat huddled, their hands folded on their knees, her mother holding the rosary beads, worrying them between her fingers, her mouth mutely moving over the words of “Ave Maria” and the invocations of God. Mary, pierced with the sword of sorrow … Maria, trafitto dalla spada del dolore. Her mother said that loudly enough for Gina to hear, so she could respond with pregate per noi. But Gina was not in a praying mood. So she tutted under her breath, saying nothing, and her mother tutted, not under her breath, and moved closer to Salvo who took his mother’s hand and echoed, pray for us.

“Do you think she is grieving, Salvo?” Mimoo asked about Gina, though Gina was sitting right there and could hear.

“Of course, Mimoo. She just hides it. She grieves where we can’t see.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Mimoo. “When you mourn, everyone knows. You can’t keep such secrets.”

After a short glare across their mother at Gina, Salvo kept pointedly quiet. Gina knew that Salvo knew his sister could indeed keep secrets. She hid her first crush (no easy feat in a town where everyone knew everyone else). Hid her tasting too much wine at the Feast of the Holy Theotokos. Hid not going to confession every week. Made a big show of pretending to go, then didn’t. Was that in itself a sin? Hid her terrible grades. Even hid not knowing English as well as her father believed she did. Pretended she knew it better!

All the things Gina had to keep to herself, she kept to herself. Like her anxiety now. She was worried about the stark contrast between the anticipation of their sun-filled arrival and the ocean of blindness the ship was actually navigating through. She went to find the co-captain again.

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