Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 21

Chapter Twenty-One

Unable to stop myself and not particularly wanting to I said, “I told you climbing up and down those freakin’ steps was a bad idea.”

Tony gave me a look that would have burned toast. He was setting at the table and his face was the color of day old bread. “I needed to see what you’ve been talking about. I can’t believe …”

He started breathing heavy and I put a glass of water in front of him, setting it down a little harder than strictly necessary. “What? You didn’t believe my inventory?”

“That’s not it Joey. Don’t get so …” I gave him a look and he held the word back that was almost ready to fall out from between his teeth. “Look, I just needed to see it. Perspective is important.”

More than a little aggravated I told him, “Sure. Well look at you now. You’ve gone up and down stairs, stuck your head into every nook and cranny in the place. Followed me out to the chickens and counted them and would have followed me to the orchard if I hadn’t refused to go. You’ve nearly ‘perspected’ yourself into a relapse.”

Getting a very innocent look on his face he said, “Does that mean I don’t get any dessert tonight Nonna?”

Being called grandmother made the idea of throwing something at him very appealing. I growled at him, “Tony, you’re taking your life in your hands right now.”

My foul mood wasn’t his fault. It was all worry and upset but he wasn’t helping things by making himself a handy target. I had to shoot a dog yesterday because it got into the chicken yard and killed three of the hens before I could stop it, one of them my best egg producer. Where it came from neither Tony nor I could guess. It was feral and scrawny – and dangerously intent on what it wanted – so maybe it was a dump job but Tony thinks it might be that it came from the city or escaped from owners that were on the road, with the chickens proving to be just too much for a hungry dog to pass up. I haven’t had any trouble with predators up to this point and hadn’t even thought of them – at least not the animal type – but stray dogs and cats could be a real problem. Winter will cut their population back but that is still weeks away; who knows if I’ll have any birds left by then.

But it wasn’t killing the dog, or even the loss of the chickens, that had really upset me. When we turned on the TV last night there was a different set of anchors and you could tell they were broadcasting from a different location. It took a minute to figure out but apparently the other broadcast had been from their New York affiliate’s studio and that they’d been forced to move to a Chicago studio because New York city had been attacked.

After they had shown pictures of the mass destruction and resulting fires all I could do was sit and rock and say, “I shouldn’t have made them leave. I shouldn’t have made them leave.”

Tony tried to comfort me and said, “You didn’t make them leave Ragazza, it was their choice.”

Upset to the point of yelling I said, “You could have made them stay. You would have known what to say to make them …”

“Shhhh.” He held me and I held on for dear life. I felt so guilty all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and just float away. It was like losing my parents and brothers all over again. However Tony wouldn’t let me assume the worst. “Joey, we don’t know whether they made it back to the city. Personally I don’t think they did, they didn’t have the fuel reserves to go that far. Even if they got close I doubt they would have been allowed to cross over and go back home if the bridges and tunnels were still closed.”

That’s about the only thought that has been comforting. Everything else running through my head is just one recrimination after another. Logically I know I did the only thing Mr. Moretti would have let me do without having to pull a gun on him or something just as drastic which wouldn’t have worked for any of us. On the other hand logic just doesn’t seem to be playing much of a role in the world lately; I want my cake and to eat it too. I know this makes no sense but where family – or nearly family – is concerned logic often gets tossed out the window.

I hate that today was Tony’s first day in nearly three weeks to be up and around in something besides his pajamas. Not that I hated him getting well, it was not being able to enjoy it the way I wanted to. Of course he would over do it on top of everything else. I wanted to celebrate the day and all we are winding up with is a longer list of things that have to be done, that can’t be done, plans that would be nice but currently unrealistic … and we are both suffering wondering who is alive or if any of them are.

Hesitantly Tony started, “Joey …”

I sighed. “I know Tony, I know. I need an attitude adjustment.”

With more patience than I would have had if our positions were reversed he said, “That’s not what I was going to say Ragazza.”

Mentally shaking myself for being stupid I told him, “Maybe not but we both know it is the truth. I might have reason to feel as I do but that doesn’t mean I’m justified in taking it out on you.”

In a gruff voice he pulled me to him and then into his lap. “Hush, you are just tired. I’m amazed at what you’ve accomplished by yourself. I saw it on paper but …” He shook his head. “I wish you would explain it to me so I could understand what is involved and appreciate it all the more.”

I finally found a smile. “Do not tell me you’ve suddenly taken an interest in cooking.”

He found a smile for me as well. “Hah, I like to eat and I want to help … so yes, if that is what both take then I’ve become interested in cooking. Is that so surprising?”

Moving out of his lap and into a chair I said, “Not surprising so much as … well, yeah I guess it is surprising. I know you usually get into new investments from the ground up but I think this will be a stretch even for you.”

He leaned back in the chair and said, “It’s a good thing to stretch your mind or you start getting complacent and miss opportunities. Seriously Joey, I had no idea how much you were doing.”

I was pleased and let him see it. “Yeah, but it’s … satisfying. I wish Mom were here; she’d have a dozen different ways to speed things up and double the output but she’s not and …” Shaking my head refusing to allow my grief to take control I finished, “… I’m doing the best I can. And realistically I’m going to get busier before I can really rest.”

In a one word command he told me, “Explain.” Tony didn’t mean to sound dictatorial he’s just been a person of authority too long to remember to rephrase things all the time.

With a smile that he didn’t understand I told him, “The apples will continue to come in into October if I remember Mom correctly; maybe even early November. I’ve already picked the last of the figs and black mulberries. Tomorrow I’m going to get a quince or two hopefully. The pawpaws are nearly ripe enough to pick. And …”

He laughed and asked, “What is a pawpaw?”

“A Kentucky banana,” I told him with a smile.

“Never mind, I shouldn’t have asked. I’ve already fallen for too many of your tricks.”

Still smiling I told him, “Seriously, another name for a pawpaw is a Kentucky banana. It’s not really a banana of course but you can use them in replace of bananas in a lot of recipes. They are actually a distant cousin to a cherimoya.”

Giving me a funny look he said, “I’m not sure I want to know what that is either.”

I shook my head. “You know, no one would believe me if I told them what a goof you are underneath that tough Godfather-like exterior.”

“Ha … ha.” Tony played up the look for effect but didn’t necessarily want it openly mentioned. In a bit of a pretend snit that nevertheless told me to knock it off he said, “Just continue please.”

“Fine,” I told him with a twinkle while planning to serve him a pawpaw at the first opportunity to see how he would react. “The muscadine and table grapes should be ready to start harvesting in a couple of days as well, with the wine grapes coming in before the end of the month if not sooner.”

I thought he’d be happy but he looked perplexed instead. “Tony?”

His face cleared and he smiled. “Sorry, just thinking. I’ve dealt with the import business before and I knew that there were harvest cycles of course, both here and abroad, but as an individual I never took into account what it would mean if we could only obtain items locally.”

Reassured that he hadn’t thought I was doing anything wrong I said, “Oh.” I added as a bit of trivia, “There was a locavore club at school.”

“A … a what?”

Savoring the remainder of the cappuccino I had allotted myself I replied, “Locavore. It means eating only locally produced items. You know omnivore, herbivore, carnivore … well locavore is just another ‘vore’. It isn’t easy to eat a balanced meal unless you do some serious planning when you only eat what is locally produced.”


Explaining I told him, “For the same reason that being a vegan, or eating a strictly raw diet, can get expensive. Going to the market every few days to get something fresh is a good way to spend a chunk of money … and on some of those diets – except the locavore that has its own set of problems – you tend to eat a lot of imports because to eat a balanced and varied diet you generally eat a lot of stuff out of season. I wish we had a garden.”

“Mmm, we should plan one over the winter and then in the spring plant one. Fruit is nice but I like my veggies too. Your mother and my aunt packed seeds as if they were planning on feeding all of five boroughs.” He gave me a hopeful look and then asked, “You do know how to do that right?”

I snorted refusing to be drawn into a long discussion on gardening I told him, “Before the garden we seriously need to think about going hunting. I have some canned meat but that’s not going to last forever.”

“Er ….”

Rolling my eyes I told him, “Yes Tony, I can shoot and eat Bambi. And thumper and any other animal I need to. Assuming we can find any that is. Dad complained about the area being hunted over year before last and if a lot of people have to go back to hunting to put meat on their table … I’m sure I don’t need to paint a picture for you.”

“No, which makes me even more nervous about you being out in the orchard alone. When people are desperate or stupid or both they can make very poor choices. They might think you are Bambi.”

Shrugging I told him, “They’d have to be pretty desperate to come all this way from town on foot. It has been weeks since I’ve heard a vehicle from the roads down below. They might have horses but again, this is pretty far for them to ride when there are public lands closer at hand. Perhaps they’ll come up here for wood but why transport it that far when there is bound to be stuff nearer town?”

Thinking Tony asked, “What about coal?”

I opened my mouth to automatically reject the idea but then stopped and gave it some serious thought. “Maybe. But not too many people still have coal stoves in their homes or coal inserts in their fireplaces. They’ve replaced them with greener … or what was cheaper … types of heating. Some of the old timers still have coal heaters if what Dad heard was true at the hardware and feed store but most who do supposedly also have an old coal vein on their property. You have a couple of veins of coal on your land you know.”

“Yes, your father showed me last winter. He asked if I minded the boys digging some out to use. By the way, how do we heat this house in the winter?”

“There’s a coal heater in the basement and a small one in my par … in what was my parents’ bedroom. The one in our bedroom … What?” I stopped because he had gotten a strange look on his face.

He cleared his throat and said, “Nothing.”

Shaking my head I told him, “That nothing was something, now give.”

Being cautious he said, “You said our bedroom.”

Not sure how to respond I asked, “Yes I did. Does that bother you?”

“No. Does it bother you?”

Still not sure where he was going I reminded hime, “I am kinda the one to do the inviting as I recall.”

“True,” he said with a slight smile. “But you haven’t said anything else.”

Thinking he was still goofing around I said, “I was kinda waitin’ until you were feelin’ better before I jumped your bones.”

Shocked Tony yelps, “Josephine!”

I wound up laughing so hard at the look on his face I nearly fell out of my chair. “Geez Tony …” I hiccupped I laughed so much. Getting another look at his face I told him, “I was just kidding! I’m actually waiting for you to explain the ‘complicated stuff.’” At another irritated look from him I asked, “What? Am I supposed to give you an engraved invitation first?”

He finally came down off his high horse and shook his head. “You deserve engraved invitations, and flowers, and a church.”

That stopped my laughter. “Oh Tony.” Rather than getting maudlin about it however I stiffened my spine and told him, “And under any other circumstances I would make you give me those things before any of the complicated stuff happened. But … but … I’m not sure how long it will be until we can have those things and …” Neither wanting to bring him down or make it seem like I am some floozy I still had to say, “My family are all gone Tony. Your family … your family I’m not sure about. And frankly I’d rather it be just the two of us rather than trying to hunt up a bunch of strangers that either wouldn’t understand or who could very well cause us problems. Are you saying that I misread things or that you want to wait until things are closer to normal?”

He snorted, “Being this close to you I’ll explode or do something stupid if we don’t get some things settled. I was relieved while you were in school and I didn’t have to face temptation day in and day out. But now that I’m feeling better …” He let it trail off so I could use my imagination. “I’ll wait Ragazza if need be but there are things I would like to lock down.”

I squeaked, “Lock down? You make it sound like a business deal.”

He shrugged, “In the old days that’s exactly what it would have been. But it’s just words. What I want is to know that … that I’ve waited for good purpose. That it is me you want and not just … oh … some idea your father put in your head.”

I slowly smiled because I knew I could tell him the truth. “Of course it is you. Even the few times I considered going out with someone else I usually ended up blowing it off because they couldn’t measure up. And then after we talked that night on the beach … I wasn’t ready but even had you gone on with your life I would have still measured every other man against you and my father.”

He sighed. “I wanted this to be different. Imagined it to be different.”

Confused I said, “Isn’t the girl supposed to say that?”

Sighing in frustration he told me, “Listen to yourself Josephine. You should want more than what I can offer. I have no job. I’m not sure I even have an apartment any longer should we desire to go back. My investments are out of reach if they even exist. I don’t know what kind of future I can offer you, certainly not the one I envisioned being able to provide. You should have me on my knees begging.”

Shaking my head I said, “And you are being much too emotional and Latin about this whole thing.”

“You should …”

“I should what?” I interrupted him. “Go into a decline because I can’t have what I used to imagine having? Can’t have some fairy tale wedding with the church, the cake, the rest of it? Because in the end, all I really want I’m going to have … you.” Then I stopped, feeling embarrassed. “I mean if that is the way you feel.”

Suddenly Tony grew a very wolfish grin. “What do you think?”

Throwing my napkin at him I complained, “Oh you. I never know whether I’m coming or going when we start talking about this stuff.”

Tony grew quiet again and then said, “I want you to wear my ring Ragazza. I want you for a wife not a … temporary partner. It bothered me to know I didn’t have any right to stake a claim on you. We do this, but however long we are together or however long it takes, when there comes a time we can say the words in a church we do that as well. Do you understand what I’m asking? Do you accept?”

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