“Piet!” Peter was dragged unwillingly out of his book by the sound of his grandmother’s voice.“Pietro!”She was calling from the kitchen, where the smell of supper wafted forth, permeating the house with the scent of rosemary and bacon and garlic.
He’d helped Es and Vee pick tomatoes all morning, and now he just wanted to rest and read a bit. “Si, Nonna?”
“Vieni qui. Come in here and finish pinning the hem of Esterina’s dress” She said in the tongue of her native Rome. Nonna knew precious little English, and spoke even less. Almost exclusively, she spoke Italian. Peter’s father didn’t allow his children to speak Italian, even among other immigrant families. Even at home among themselves. “We’re an American family now,” He’d say, his accent heavy and his language halting and hesitant. “We belong here. Don’t give anyone a reason to say you don’t.” For the most part, they all even went by American versions of their own names. There was one exception to this rule, and that exception was when Nonna was involved in the conversation. Nonna wasn’t going to change, and nobody expected her to.
“Va bene, Nonna.” He got up from the leaning overstuffed chair, cringing and inspecting his hands. They looked filthy, but after the vigorous scrubbing he’d given them, the coal dust that remained blackening his nails and his knuckles was evidently there to stay. If it didn’t come off then, it ain’t gonna come off on Es’s dress. He grabbed the ragged, dust-blackened sheet that lay crumpled on the floor and hastily tossed it back over the chair, carefully arranging it so that it would protect the threadbare brocade from coal dust tracked into the house by his weary brothers returning home.
He stood, catching his breath, feeling the healing stitches in his hip and side pull and pinch. He couldn’t say he particularly missed being in the mine, but sitting at home with the women and children embarrassed him, made him feel weak and useless. The gasses and dust from the explosion had damaged his lungs, and he was short of breath and a little lightheaded. Still, he was alive in a warm house that smelled like red gravy and bread, with people he desperately loved. He’d get his wind and his strength back, and things would return to normal eventually, and he’d look for work. He headed for the kitchen.
Es stood on a chair, having carefully slipped into the pinned dress Ma was in the process of making her. She’d grown into a pretty young woman, with long, nearly black hair and luminous brown eyes. Peter wondered if the new dress had anything to do with the Fazzone boy she’d been seeing. I hope not...but if I was bettin’...
Her face broke into a smile when she saw him. “How do you feel today?”
He smiled back, shrugging, and sat down in the chair besides the one she stood upon. “Oh, like I might want to do some pinning.”
She stuck out a foot and nudged his shoulder gently with her toe. “Yeah, you look like that’s what what you want.”
He chuckled, grabbing the pincushion and sizing up the unhemmed bottom of her dress. “Va bene, allora. Stand still so I can do this.”
“You want some bread with gravy, Piet?” Nonna asked him without turning around. She stood at the stove, stirring the enormous pot with a wooden spoon, releasing a cloud of fragrant steam.
Peter’s stomach rumbled. “After I’m done here, Nonna.” He said in Italian. “I don’t want to get Es’s dress messed up before Fazzone even sees her in it.”
“Maybe it’s not for him. Maybe it’s for me.”
He took hold of the gingham and deftly folded it to the outside, carefully leveling the crease with his fingers. He grinned to himself, not raising his head. “Right, Sweetheart. That you went out with him twice in the same week you bought this fabric was a complete coincidence.”
“Va bene, how’s this?” He pressed the crease he’d made against the top of her foot. That’s gonna fall right there.”
Peter scowled, jerking his head up so he could look at her. He held the crease firmly against her foot. “Whadaya mean, ‘higher’?
She rolled her eyes at him as if he were being intentionally thick. “I want it shorter. Make the hem higher.”
His amused distrust of Joey Fazzone started flaring into mild dislike. On one hand, it annoyed Peter that the Fazzones were shop owners instead of miners. He knew it was stupid and unfair of him to feel that way, but he couldn’t help it. On some level, the scars and stains and callus marking his skin and that of his brethren were trophies of having paid their dues, as being part of a brotherhood. On the other hand, he thought ruefully, inhaling deeply and paying attention to the aches and twinges of healing trauma in his own body. If she married him, she wouldn’t have to worry every time he left in the morning if she’d be a widow by nightfall. And who knows what I’ll be doing myself later on. I sure as hell ain’t gonna be working for Whitehurst anymore. Not after breaking his nose...and....well, I don’t remember trying to strangle him, but everyone says I did. In any case, I ain’t sorry. He shook his head, focusing on his sister Esterina’s face.
She raised an eyebrow, glancing at the crease he continued to hold to the top of her foot. “Well?”
Be nice if I don’t end up having to thrash Fazzone, wouldn’t it? Might work out if he minds himself around my sister.
He tweaked the crease with his fingers, dropping the hemline even lower over her shoes. Grinning wickedly he jabbed the pin into the fabric, holding it fast. “Yeah, Sweetheart, I think this is just about perfect, too.”