Canicatti, Sicily | July 6th, 1943
Outside of the church, Rosalie ripped away the black veil that was attached to her ridiculous black hat, freeing her thickly curled back hair that just barely grazed her shoulders, and stuffed it inside of the hidden pocket in her black dress. Breathing in through her nostrils, and out through her mouth, she deeply inhaled the cool night air, and used the sleeve of her black blouse to wipe away any lingering tears still dampening her cheeks.
Before descending the ten foot-wide stairs of the church’s main entrance, she surveyed the departing funeral goers as they dispersed in separate directions, vanishing into the night. She recognized most of the faces because they were mainly town locals who would frequently visit the vineyard she worked at to buy bottles of wine and cheese, but she hardly really knew any of them, and they hardly knew her. Every time she would interact with someone from town, they would always talk about her father, and how he was a Canicatti hero who was protecting Italy from the forces of evil.
She would never bad mouth her father, no matter how badly she wanted to. She would always smile back, slightly bow her head, and thank them for their loyal admiration. The truth is, she had grown quite sick of the constant praise for her absent father. She was tired of hearing how all of these strangers held so much love for a man who struggled to love his own children. Her mother was the true hero of the family. She is the one who gave everything to make sure her children, especially Miceli, had everything they needed, and yet, she never received an ounce of praise for her heroics as a devoted mother. It was always about Clement. The soldier. The fighter. The liberator. The people loved him. Maybe, if he ever decided to stick around longer than a couple of months, he could run for town Mayor. Surely no one would oppose him.
The thought of her father becoming town Mayor made her stomach twist and roil. Her spine arched forward, and both of her hands instinctively clasped her belly. She was going to be sick.
“You alright, sis? You’re as pale as a ghost. Here, have a smoke. It will help settle your stomach.”
She lifted her head slightly, and saw Corrado walking up the stairs in front of her. He was rolling up a plastic bag of fine, loose tobacco with his hands while sucking on the end of a half smoked cigarette. Once he reached the top step, he pinched the cigarette between his thumb and index finger, and offered it to Rosalie.
“I don’t smoke,” Rosalie said.
“Neither do I,” Corrado responded, smirking, “It will help the nerves, and deter the sickness brewing inside of your belly.”
She looked at him with disgust, and distrust. She hated the smell of cigarettes, and she detested that her brother enjoyed it. But maybe he was right. The one thing Rosalie hated more than smoking cigarettes, was throwing up.
“Trust me,” Corrado said.
She didn’t want to, but she didn’t have a better option. She reached out her left hand and tugged the cigarette out from between her brother’s finger tips. She wrapped her lips around the butt end, and inhaled the toxic fumes deep into her lungs. The menthol felt cool as the smoke tumbled down her throat, and danced around her stomach. For a brief moment, she smiled as her nausea seemed to disappear. She couldn’t believe that her brother was right, and she damn sure didn’t want to praise the act of smoking cigarettes. Luckily for her, her throat quickly began to burn with vengeance, forcing her to cough uncontrollably.
She dropped the cigarette from her fingers and ran over to the railing. She leaned over the side and continued her coughing fit, trying to catch her breath and compose herself. Spitting out clumps of black saliva in the process.
“You bastard,” Rosalie spat out at her brother, “That didn’t help.”
Corrado bent down and retrieved the still burning cigarette. He placed it back between his lips, took two long drags, burning it all the way down, dropped it back to the ground, snuffing it out with his heel, then exhaled the thick cloud of light gray smoke into the evening air.
“Is your nausea gone?” He asked.
Rosalie stared him down, yet remained quiet. She didn’t want to give her brother the satisfaction of being right. So she continued to cough, and cursed him for making her throat burn.
“Do you have any water?” Rosalie asked.
Corrado felt bad for causing his sister more discomfort, so he quickly ran inside of the church, found one of the altar boys and returned to his sister with haste. He handed her the tall glass and Rosalie quickly emptied the cold liquid into her mouth. She finished with a hearty, satisfying sigh of relief and handed Corrado back the glass, followed by a sturdy punch to the shoulder.
“Glad you’re feeling better,” Corrado said.
“You promised me you were going to quit.”
“I know sis. I am trying. This tobacco isn’t even mine. I finished my last pack before the mass began. I was able to barter this bag of tobacco off of one of the townsfolk who attended the funeral.”
“Barter? You’re a horrible negotiator, Corrado.”
“I appreciate the support, sis. But it was actually a smooth transaction. The guy is a regular at the music shop and told me that I could have his tobacco if I agreed to replace the reed in his marranzano without charge. I am going to meet him at the shop now.”
“How do you plan on explaining this transaction to Mr. Bova? The last time you bartered free services, he nearly fired you.”
“Mr. Bova doesn’t need to know. He’s also not there today. He closed the shop in respect to Miceli’s funeral. Plus, we have hundreds of marranzano reed’s in the shop basement. He will never notice its absence.”
“If the shop is closed, how do you plan on getting inside?” Rosalie asked.
Corrado rummaged through all four of his suit pant’s pockets until his right hand emerged with a shiny, silver object clutched between his fingers.
“Last week, Mr. Bova gave me my own key to the shop. He told me that he will be traveling to Rome in a couple of weeks, and will be staying for a month, possibly two. So he wanted to start preparing me to tackle the duties of managing the shop.”
“He must be a fool if he is going to trust you to watch over this shop while he’s gone,” Rosalie said sarcastically.
“I’m all he has, sis. He can’t afford to shut down the shop for such an extended period of time. He also said that if I do a good job, I will be permanently promoted to full time manager. He’s an old man sis. He can’t run the shop forever. If I can impress him while he’s gone, who knows. Maybe he will leave me the store once he retires.”
“Sneaking free services behind his back in exchange for tobacco doesn’t seem like the best way to impress him, Corrado.”
“Like I said. He doesn’t need to know. And this will be the last time. I promise.”
“Just like you promised to stop smoking?”
Winking and smirking from ear to ear, Corrado responded.
“Be careful, brother. The more promises you break, the weaker your heart becomes.”
“Mom was always right, Corrado. Do not mock her.”
“I know. But she’s gone. She left with father. It’s because of them I struggle with keeping my promises. Father made a living breaking the promises he made to us, and now mother is doing the exact same thing. Why haven’t we heard from them? They promised to write to us once they reached Casablanca. It’s been six months, Rosalie. What if something happened to them? What if they’re dead?”
“These are our parents you're talking about, Corrado. Father. The soldier. The protector. The hero. And mom. The lioness. The watcher. The Goddess. There’s no way they’re dead. Mother would never allow that to happen.”
“Then why haven’t we heard from them? Why weren’t they at the funeral?”
“I don’t know, Corrado. But I’m sure they had a good reason. After all, there is a war brewing out there. Maybe they’re laying low for a while. Maybe they got locked down somewhere where mail is being held until it's safe to send. We have to trust their judgment, and keep our faith in them no matter what. If we don’t, then yes, they might as well already be dead.”
“Father has been dead to me for a long time,” Corrado said.
Rosalie could feel the pain in her brother’s voice, and paused a moment before asking her question.
Corrado knew what he wanted to say, yet he remained silent, and nervously fidgeted with the bag of tobacco in his pocket. He loved his mother more than any other human being on the planet. The thought of her death cripples him internally and externally. He shoved the dark thoughts as far down as he could and allowed the cool evening breeze to slap him back to reality.
“I better go. I told Giovi that I would meet him at the shop in twenty minutes.”
“I should go too. I told Vicenzu that I would stop by the vineyard after the funeral to help him fill a large order of wine for a customer in Messina.”
Corrado turned from his sister and began to descend the church stairs, but before he could make it down the top tier, a firm hand latched onto his right elbow.
“I love you, brother. Be safe. I will see you when you get home.”
Without turning around, Corrado slightly angled his head sideways, and responded to his sister.
“I love you too, Rosalie. I’ll see you later.”
She let go of his elbow and watched as her brother hustled down the steep flight of stairs, weaved through a crowd of anxious pedestrians, then finally disappearing around a poorly lit street corner.
She couldn’t help but worry about her brother. Even though she was a year younger than him, she had always been the more rational of the two. She knew that he was justified in hating their father, and was equally justified now in believing that something terrible might have happened to them during their travels to Casablanca. With the devastating loss of Miceli, she could understand Corrado’s lack of hope in the world, and in humanity.
With the whereabouts, and fate of their parents shrouded in mystery, she needed to keep a close eye on her brother. He had always enjoyed being a reckless child, but considering that he was now grieving the loss of his cherished younger brother, that mixture could lead to unforgiving circumstances.
Every instinct in her body told her to follow Corrado. To make sure that he wasn’t lying about meeting some guy at the instrument shop to repair the reed on his marranzano. But she did not want to become that sister. She did not want to try and fill the impossible role of parent. She needed to trust her brother, and she needed her brother to trust her. So she let him go, and finally descended the haunted stairs of the church.
Once on the sidewalk, she turned left, and headed south, towards Milici Vineyards. Vicenzu Milici, and his two younger brothers owned the impressive thirty acre vineyard, and were responsible for providing Sicily with the bulk of its wine, meats, and fine cheeses. She had been working for them for the past two years, and was now in charge of creating menus for wine tastings, as well as pairing their wines with different foods which they then sold as concepts to local restaurants. Her dream was to one day own her own vineyard and restaurant, and be the head chef and sommelier of her own establishments. She was a hard, and good worker, and was right on track to achieving her goals.
The vineyard rested about three miles from Canicatti center, so Rosalie decided to stop at one of the corner cafes to fuel herself with a hot cappuccino, and a handful of sweet pastries. Around the corner from the cafe, was a bike shop, where she normally rented the bicycles she would take to get to work faster, but not tonight. Tonight she wanted to walk, because she too was grieving. So for her, raspberry, lemon, ricotta, and dark chocolate pastries, cappuccinos and a nice, quiet walk was all she required.
With her belly filled with delicious sweets, and the warm embrace of the caffeine, she paid her bill with a few coins, and began the hour-long walk to work.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters