Children of Liberty(9)

By: Paullina Simons


“Well, Harry wouldn’t know anything about that,” Ben cheerfully chimed in, hurling one of the trunks onto the landing. “Because he, unfortunately, is neither.”

2

Harry and Ben and a reluctant Salvo left to go get some dinner, while Gina and her mother nested in the two small rooms by putting fresh linen on the dining table. Mimoo ordered Gina not to take too many things out, since they would have to repack them before they left the following morning. Gina unpacked too much anyway. She was hoping her mother might change her mind and let them stay. “I’m not a child, Mimoo,” she said quietly, while fixing her hair, hoping her mother wouldn’t hear, but wanting her mother to hear.

“You are still a child,” said Mimoo, who heard everything. “And I want to keep you that way—for your father—as long as possible.”

“Papa would want me to be happy, no?”

“No, be a child first. Happy much, much later. If ever. Put on a cardigan this instant. Don’t let the men see you at night with bare shoulders.”

“But it’s hot, Mimoo.”

“What did I say?”

“It’s stupid! I’m hot.”

“Gina!”

How Gina wished her papa were here.

Ben was right: the third-floor rooms did allow Gina a glimpse of the waters just beyond Lime Alley. After Mimoo lay down, a perspiring Gina in an itchy cardigan went to sit by the window, waiting for the men to come back. She stuck her head out, to better inhale the scent of the sea, to see more clearly the sight of the water, to catch the breeze that might cool her. She didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want to even blink for fear she’d miss something. When she was sure Mimoo was asleep, she threw the cardigan off.

The two rooms were clean and comfortable. They had two beds and one sofa. While hauling trunks up the stairs and showing them the apartment, Ben had said proudly that Harry’s father’s renovated houses were the first residences in the North End to have standardized iron pipes for running water that was pumped in from the streets. The toilet and bathtub were just down the hall, Ben told them. “You don’t have to go downstairs and outside to use the privy.”

Gina realized she was hungry. It was after seven, and the smell of food permeated the stairwell. Lard grease, onions, the smells of fried tomatoes, garlic, basil, all of it was comforting to Gina, yet novel and desirable.

“Did you remember the wine?” was the first thing Mimoo asked from the sofa when the three men returned with dinner.

“I took care of it, Mimoo,” said Salvo, showing her the two bottles of red he carried.

“Did you buy one for Pippa?” Pippa was Angela’s aunt, and Mimoo’s cousin. Pippa liked her wine.

“No, I forgot.”

“He forgot.”

“We’ll buy another one tomorrow.”

“Where are we going to get one tomorrow? Do they sell it at the train station? Now we will arrive empty-handed.”

They brought back pasta, sauce and Italian bread. Harry wouldn’t hear of Mimoo offering him money. He turned away from her purse. “It’s not necessary,” he said.

“Harry is right,” Ben said, “it isn’t, but perhaps next week we can come to Lawrence to visit and have dinner in your new home?”

“Oh yes, please!” Gina beamed.

Harry cleared his throat, Salvo glared and Mimoo pretended she had gone suddenly deaf.

“Take the money, Harry,” Mimoo said. “Take it.” He still refused.

It got stifling in the apartment with four adult bodies and young Gina (in her cardigan, which Mimoo glared her into putting back on) crowding around one old table. They lit just two candles, to make it no hotter, and fitted around as best they could in the parlor room. The men took off their hats and jackets, Gina opened all the windows, but it didn’t matter; she rolled up her sleeves to the elbows, and her bare forearms glistened from perspiration; she fanned herself with a newspaper and Atlantic Monthly magazine as she ate, sitting flanked by her mother and brother.

Mimoo was too tired for conversation, Salvo too cranky for it, and Harry too reticent. Only Gina and Ben chatted agreeably, though he was more reserved than before. She spoke to him mostly in Italian, and he answered her mostly in English. Soon Mimoo left the table to go lie down in the next room, and Gina breathed out, relaxing a little. They spread out at the wooden table. Now that Mimoo had gone, Harry was next to her and Ben across from her. She wasn’t afraid of Salvo. Annoyed by him, yes, but not frightened. She threw off her white cardigan and took a long drink of water, ignoring Salvo’s malevolent glares.

“So what’s wrong with Lawrence?” she asked Harry, turning to him, trying to get him to talk, to glance up. But he didn’t raise his eyes from his plate, not when he was sitting so close to her. Salvo was eyeballing all three of them like a hawk. He was so exhausting, her brother.

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