Tired of waiting, I paced from the front room to the kitchen. Hurry up, Ma. What’s taking so long?
I pulled the curtain aside. Franco and Smitty raced up and down the dusty road. Anxious to join them, I gazed over my shoulder at the kitchen wall. The long arm on the cuckoo clock crept one tentative lurch at a time. I slumped into a chair again. Ma!
My baby sister, Caterina, stacked and whacked her blocks on the sloping linoleum. She jabbered baby talk, drool sliding down her chubby chin and onto her chest. I peered at the clock again. Tick. Tock. My chair creaked; I couldn’t sit still. A hint of last night’s spaghetti sauce and Ciabatta bread still hung in the air.
Urgent fists pounded on the front door. The baby’s jaw shot up. She clutched a red block in mid-air. With heart thumping and ears burning, I raced to see who it might be.
Mrs. Fournier, from across the road, shifted from foot to foot on the veranda, clasping and unclasping her reddened hands. A bleached cotton headscarf, worn in the bandana style, covered her hair as always. I didn’t know if she even had hair. Her face chalk white, she chewed on her bottom lip. “Excusez-moi…Maman, Rosalia?”
“Shopping. She’ll be home soon. What, Mrs. Fournier?”
“Téléphone—not worry, mon enfant, you only eight—où…?”
“At the P&G, I think. You want me to find her?”
“Non—Oui!” She nodded, head bobbing like a tethered balloon. “Vous allez. Rapide.” She clapped her hands like a school teacher.
“I can run fast, Mrs. Fournier. You look after Caterina?” I pointed to the baby, grabbed my sweater and ripped across the lawn. Telephone. Never good news. Where would Ma go first?
A few minutes later, my lungs burned and my side pinched. Pebbles from the gravel road attacked my bare calves. A penny loafer flew off. I staggered and pitched forward onto the sharp stones, sprang up and shoved my foot back inside. My scraped hands burned. I rounded the corner and tore up the concrete sidewalk on Godfrey Street, the main street in town.
Mrs. Kowalski and Mrs. MacDonald blocked my way. They regarded me with interest as I danced around them.
“You need to use the bathroom, dear?” Mrs. MacDonald stooped over me as far as her arthritic back would allow.
“No. I’m looking for Ma. Did you see her in the P&G maybe?”
“Yes, Rosalia, she’s there.”
“Saturday busy. Everything is okay?” Mrs. Kowalski the nosey one asked, her eyes sharp and probing as a crow’s.
“Thank you. Bye.” I rushed up the sidewalk to the end of the block, through P&G’s door and smack into Ma in line to pay. She swerved against the supporting pillar beside her. The carpetbag partially-full of groceries, swung at her side. The edge of the wooden handles collided with my hip.
“Ma, Mrs. Fournier says come home quick. She’s home with Caterina.”
“What is it, Rosalia?” My mother’s eyes, bright a moment before, faded and her face took on the washed out color of our neighbour’s kerchief.
“I don’t know. She said telephone. You think it’s about Daddy?”
“Excuse. Excuse.” Ma pushed her way to the counter and grabbed the checkout lady’s forearm. “You take, Giselle.” She heaved the cloth bag, handles clacking, to the cashier. “I come later pay. Go home now.” Customers who’d moved back to make room, patted her back and shoulders. Smitty’s mother was one of them. Lips pinched tight, she closed her eyes and nodded.
I clutched Ma’s hand; we rushed through the door. People stepped out of the way. I tugged her arm all the way home for three endless blocks, her body stiff as the Tin Man. I peeked at her face. I hoped the news wasn’t bad. “Come on Ma. We’re almost home.” Lips moving without sound, she stared straight ahead.
I dropped her hand and sprinted ahead up the stairs to open the door. Ma staggered in behind me. Mrs. Fournier grabbed her arm as soon as we crossed the threshold. The bedroom door slammed in my face. I hunched forward with my ear to the door.
End of Part 1
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