The shutters were opened and the upstairs airing out nicely. I’d cleaned up from breakfast and even managed a quick hop in a cold shower to knock out the cobwebs where they were hanging on for dear life. I needed to do something with the fruit I’d picked but I also needed to do something with the man I’d dropped the bombshell on. I picked up the ibuprofen bottle off the table – I’d just taken two myself to try and alleviate all of my own pulls and strains – and started in the direction of the lion’s den.
I stuck my head around the door and found him watching for me. I stepped into the room. “How’s your stomach?”
“Think you could handle a couple of these?” I asked showing him the bottle in my hand.
He grunted and I took it as an affirmative answer so I took out two and poured him a glass of water as he eased himself into a sitting position. He washed them back and then I didn’t know what else to say.
I was relieved to find out I didn’t need to start the conversation. Tony’s eyebrows came together and he said, “Sit down a sec. My head is finally clear and we need to talk about what’s happening.”
Sitting on the bed with him was a little more than I could handle and sitting on the bunk seemed too insulting after what I’d already said and done. I didn’t want him to think I was afraid because I wasn’t, not really; I was nervous though, definitely nervous. Compromising I sat on the floor beside his bed, leaning against it so that I wouldn’t have to look him in the eye unless I turned my head.
He wasn’t angry like I expected but was definitely puzzled when he said, “Explain to me what happened. Why isn’t the family here? And Bennie? I expected Leo to take off, that was the deal, but the rest of them … I ain’t puttin’ it together. What freakin’ happened to turn it all upside down?”
“You gonna let me get through the explanation without yellin’?”
He sighed. “That bad?”
“Depends on how you look at how things turned out I guess.”
He just looked at me so I turned my eyes back to the bunk bed. I tried to figure out where to start and then decided to go all the way back to the plane landing. That first week was easy as the three of us hadn’t had any real problems beyond the normal sorta stuff that really didn’t matter. But when I went past that point it got harder. My eyes lost focus and I musta cried a little because at some point I remember Tony pulling me up onto the bed with him and then both of us lying down, me in front and him in back holding me and telling me it was OK.
“You gotta get well Tony. I’m sorry I couldn’t figure out another way for things to work but Mr. … I mean your uncle … was so … crazy determined and just being awful to you and so angry at every little thing. And you know your aunt would follow him to Hades no matter what the consequences were; I can count on one hand the number of words she said and not one of them was don’t or stop. And Lucia and the girls wouldn’t leave their mother and Bennie wouldn’t leave Lucia and …” I was in a panic, sure that he was going to blame me.
“Shhhhh Ragazza. Shhhh. I get it. I still can’t believe he hit you and woulda done more if Leo and Bennie hadn’t pulled him off.”
Trying to find an answer, rationalize it, I told him, “Maybe some of that stuff did get on him or something. Maybe through the air conditioner vents in the car.”
In a hard voice Tony said, “Don’t make excuses for him Joey. All of them would have been the same way as him if it were true. It’s simpler than that. Uncle Nicky’s temper is famous … he’s just never turned it on the family before; first time for everything I suppose. He and my father were friends growing up, that’s how he met Aunt Belinda. Uncle Nicky always denied it but I’ve heard he was as bad as my father before he decided he wanted his friend’s sister more than he wanted … living that other way. He was reformed but it still was inside him.”
I shook my head, “It was more than just temper Tony. Something in your uncle … it’s cracked, sick. I hope maybe getting someplace he knows and getting quiet and calm will help him pull himself together.”
Tony musta heard my internal debate on it. “But you don’t think so.”
I shook my head and said, “I didn’t say that.”
Hesitantly I said, “I … I just don’t think there’s going to be a lot of quiet and calm in too many places for a while.”
Tony stopped talking for so long I figured he’d gone to sleep but when I tried to get up he had enough strength to stop me. “Don’t,” came his coarse plea.
After more quiet he asks, “You sure you’re OK? I ain’t said nothing about the bruises but …”
“I’m fine Tony, really. I was sore this morning but that’s mostly gone now.”
“Am I hurting you? Holding you like this?”
I forced myself to relax in his arms and said, “Probably not nearly as much as holding me is hurting you. You need to rest. You want me to put some more of that topical stuff on?”
“Better not. At least not now that I’m thinking clear.”
His quiet chuff of laughter tickled my ear. “Never mind Ragazza.” After a moment he said, “We got other things to talk about too, important things.”
“I know. I got a long list in my head but if you’re staying …” A sudden thought almost put me in a panic. “You are stayin’ aren’t you Tony? I mean … you aren’t going to try and go after them? Do you want to leave? Is that the important stuff you want to talk about?”
“Hush that crazy talk,” he said and I could feel him moving my hair out of the way. I needed to remember to put it up and not let it go all over the place like I usually let it unless it was in a net at the deli. “I ain’t goin’ no where. Why would I when you’re here?”
I thought about that for a bit and said, “Good. That’s real good.”
“We gotta talk about some things first.”
I sighed in resignation. “You’re gonna make this complicated.”
I could feel him trying not to smile. “Not yet I’m not … but soon.” He cracked a yawn and then when he tried to stretch he jumped like it hurt.
“Tony, you need to rest. You scared me near to death when you were so out of it.”
He sighed and got comfortable again, still not really turning loose of me. “I’ll rest, don’t seem like I’ve got much choice. But first we need to talk.”
“I already told you all I know about the family. I keep thinking they’ll realize their mistake and come back.”
Tony gave a slow shrug. “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.”
Surprised at his tone I asked, “You saying you’re OK with this?”
“No, but ain’t nothin’ I can do about it. They left.”
Beginning to wonder I said, “But … but they’re still family.”
A pause and then he said, “Some of ‘em.”
“Oh Tony.” I felt so bad. Tony was all about family and for him to say something like that … it was awful.
He sighed. “Joey, let it go. That’s the way I feel right now. Best I can do.” I tried to turn but he wouldn’t let me I wiggled and then felt a damp spot on my neck. Just one place.
I stayed quiet while he mastered himself and when he changed the subject I let him. “You have an inventory of what there is?”
“An inventory? Of like the stuff here in the house?”
“Yeah … like food and clothes and stuff. We can’t make a plan if we don’t know what we got to work with. You’d think with your finance degree you woulda thought of that.”
I sighed, “I did think of it, just haven’t wanted to face it. Let me up Tony so I can get a piece of paper and make some notes. I been putting this off, waiting for my family and you to get here I guess. We’ll you’re here now and … and it’s time to see what kind of shape we’re really in.”
“You shouldn’t a have waited Joey. What if we hadn’t ever gotten here?”
I so did not want to think about that so instead told him a little defensively, “I wasn’t a complete do nothing you know. Let me get the paper and I’ll be right back.”
When I came back I told him about what I’d been doing … cleaning the house, trying to save the stuff in the orchard, the chickens – he was surprised about the birds but then I reminded him how we’d come by then. He started asking questions. Some of his questions made me feel smart and some made me feel stupid.
“So you been doing that thing your mom taught Aunt Belinda … all that food preservin’ and stuff.”
“Yeah. But there is still a lot to go and all I can hear in my head is Mom saying ‘waste not want not.’ It’s driving me batty with the need to get more of it done.”
He was very tired but he kept at it. “You got any idea how much you done already?”
“You mean how much … oh wait you mean how much fruit turned into how much dried stuff?” At his nod I answered, “Not really but I might could give it a guess if I think about it.”
“Why don’t you wait and start measuring from here on out. Like how much fruit you put in that dryer thing and how much comes out in volume when it’s done. Then we’ll go back and see how much of the other stuff you did and be able to work backwards from there.”
I wrote it down and realized that would mean that I would have to keep everything separate until I could get caught up with the counting. Then he asks, “What about what was left here in storage and what was left from what you three arrived with?”
All I could tell him is, “Not a specific list but I can work it out.”
“It needs to be done. And we need to figure out what Leo left us. What was left in your parents’ truck?” When I didn’t answer he asked, “What? Something happened to the truck?”
“No,” I told him. “They moved your uncle and aunt’s stuff to the van where it had been in the truck.”
“What about the other stuff?”
“The other stuff? My parents’ things? That came out of the van.”
“Not that stuff … wait, have you even looked in the truck to see if there is anything in there?” That’s when I started feeling stupid. “Joey, how many times I gotta tell you? Never assume anything. You need to get out there and see what is in there.”
He sat up and acted like he was about to start the inventorying himself but he turned pale and his eyes got big. “Oh no you don’t,” I told him pushing him back down. The fact he didn’t give me any trouble told me he was weaker than he’d admit out loud and he’d pinched something to make it hurt again. “Tony, you gotta be careful. Here we are talking and you need to rest. You’re hurtin’ all over again aren’t you.”
Grimacing he tried to distract me by asking, “Does this mean I don’t get to move upstairs?”
I snorted. “Fine time to bring that up. If you want to, I want you to. But only if you promise to get some rest when we move you up there. You’ve given me a long list of things to think about on top of my own list and when I come up with more questions you need to be in shape to be able to help me figure some answers out.”
He gave me a look. “You sure Ragazza? I ain’t gonna be moving like an old man forever.” Despite feeling a little warm in the face, despite everything that had happened, despite everything period, even myself, I nodded. “Then after I … I rest a bit … we need to talk about complicated things.”