Children of Liberty(7)

By: Paullina Simons


Gina blinked. “What? No—just the opposite, Salvo. Look at it!”

“Papa told me about Milan. He said it was like this.”

“Well, if Papa wanted us to go to Milan, that’s where we would’ve gone,” snapped Gina. “He wanted us to come to America, so here we are. Oh, it’s wonderful!”

“You’re crazy.” He got up to get away from her, to take his place by his mother’s side. “Mimoo, she likes this!”

“Leave her be, Salvo,” Mimoo said. “Your father would be happy to know she likes it.”

Reproved by his mother, Salvo scowled at Gina even more resentfully.

Gina didn’t care. Her gaze was turned to the city.

The hurdy-gurdy man with the barrel organ played “Santa Lucia” from Gina’s native land. She was surprised she could hear it over the clomping and braying of the horses, the screeching from the electric trolleys she’d heard her father talk about, but never seen, the rush-hour swarms of people, the vendors yelling in Italian selling garlic and tobacco, the ringing of the church bells on the corner of Salem and Prince, perhaps announcing it was six o’clock and time for Mass. The trolleys didn’t move, the horses barely—the congestion was intense, and Gina feared any moment a fight would break out because people stood so close to each other, while the horses did their business right on the cobbled street which businessmen in shined shoes crossed to get home. Italian signs over the shops were everywhere, the boy on the corner proclaiming that he had the Evening Post, and the paper was Italian also. Everything smelled not just of manure and garlic but also of sour fermented wine.

It was the greatest place Gina had ever seen. She was smitten with it, bowled over. With her mouth open in happiness, she gulped the air as their dying steed moved forward a foot a minute. She had time to dream about the goat cheese and the sausages swinging from the hooks outside the storefronts. Another boy with a cart was selling raw clams with lemon juice, but shouted in English.

“What is this thing, clams?” she called to Ben and Harry.

Mimoo slapped her arm. “You are not having raw anything from a filthy street corner. Not even a carrot.”

“I’m just asking, Mimoo. I’m not eating.”

“Don’t even ask. And stop speaking first to men you don’t know. It’s neither polite nor proper.”

Tutting, Gina turned away and saw why the church bells had been ringing. It was a wedding. Six white doves were tied to two waiting horses and a white carriage.

“June is a very popular month to be married,” said Ben from the driver’s seat.

Harry scoffed. “Then how do you explain that it’s July?”

“Why else would you get married on a Thursday evening in July? Churches are booked. They’re fitting in the weddings when they can.” Ben gazed benignly at the bride and groom coming out of the church doors. The man with the harmonica was playing and singing “My Wild Irish Rose.” Gina and Ben had nearly the same expression on their faces as they watched the procession, the white doves being released, flying away. Mimoo and Harry carried entirely different expressions—hers sorrow, his stress. And Salvo wasn’t even looking.

“Is this horse going to move?” Salvo asked Ben. “Ever?”

“We picked a bad time to travel.”

“Maybe we should get out and walk.”

“But Salvo,” said Gina, “you don’t know where you’re going.”

“Better to move than sit here.”

“We’re almost there,” Ben said. “Just one more block, one right turn, and we’ll be on Lime Alley.”

“There’s got to be a better way to ride across town,” said Salvo.

“Across town?” Ben said. “Did you say across town?”

“Oh, no, mon dieu!” Harry exclaimed to the sooty heavens.

“Listen my children and you shall hear,” Ben recited loudly to no one in particular, “Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere/ On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five/Hardly a man is now alive/Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Gina listened intently. “What is this poem?”

“No, no,” Harry said to her over his shoulder. “Don’t interrupt him. Or he’ll just start from the beginning.”

Ben did start again from the beginning. It passed the time, though Gina faded in and out of listening. She kept hearing Italian being shouted down the streets, kept breathing in the smells of tomato sauce, watching women fishing with their hands for wet balls of fresh mozzarella, it was so familiar and reminiscent of the things she knew, and yet so strange. Though she was tired and hungry, she didn’t want any of it to end. Papa would’ve liked it, she whispered to herself under the strains of Ben’s, “A cry of defiance, and not of fear/A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,/And a word that shall echo for evermore!”

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