Luisa Santucci, yrs 10-12
The front door is made of strong straight grained chestnut lumber and carries the characters ‘1726 FC’ etched deep into the gray stone lintel. Nipotino is only small. Too small to read and write. He wouldn’t know until decades later that ‘FC’ betokened Franco Croce, his grandfather and brothers’ name. Nonna kisses each cheek, she talks loud and fast, her harsh dialectal cadence, breathes hot into Nipotino’s cold ears.
Someone is sick. That’s why they’ve come. From home on their farm, onto the plane, onto the bus, to arrive here. This is the first time they have met. The first of only three. Thirty-two years later, Nipotino will have a new born daughter and it will be her first time meeting Nonna. The only time.
Later, Nipotino is gifted a bright tangerine tricycle. He has never ridden one before. Drunk with glee, he pedals through every room in the house and at the ankles of every zio and zia he can find.
Nonno is sick. He lays in bed all day, in a room upstairs. Nipotino lies by his side. Listening. Talking. Being told stories: of a greedy piglet who refused to listen to his mother and ate so much salami that he grew as fat as his shed; of a chicken who laid golden eggs; of the family who hid their sheep in the roof to avoid town taxes. Sometimes Nipotino climbs down from the bed to ride around in circles. Nonno laughs weakly at him as he grumbles softly like the engine of a mopehead, tracing an invisible road, swerving from invisible pedestrians. When Nonna climbs the stairs bringing with her the sweet aromas from the kitchen, she berates Nipotino cruelly for riding inside. Her rough scratchy hands hoist him up off the tricycle by his arms and onto the icy terrazzo floor. Her firm footsteps mask Nipotino’s complaints, as she lugs the tricycle downstairs, away from Nonno’s gentle reassurances that there was no harm done. Across the cobblestone kitchen floor, past the table where women bicker noisily whilst making yolk-yellow pasta, and out the narrow back door, Nonna marches far into the yard, gleaming tricycle in hand. Nipotino cries angrily trailing behind, his scrunched little fists beating against the back of her legs. Abruptly she stops outside the cellar door and Nipotino tumbles into her, leaving a sodden tear stamp on her dark handwoven cotton dress. Furious, Nonna drops the tricycle to the ground. Clunk. She wrenches the iron latch upwards, and the door swings silently open. Inside, prosciuttos hang claret and curing from the roof, apples rest red and saccharine on
shelves next to bottled tomatoes and sweet fermenting wine. Trembling with anger Nipotino shoves Nonna from behind and she stumbles into the cellar. He slams shut the heavy timber door and lets the latch fall. Silence. Then the terrifying thumping from within begins, rattling the door in its hinges. Hastily Nipotino mounts his tangerine tricycle and pedals away. Later that day, when Mama can’t find Nonna, Nipotino says he will help look and rides ahead of her calling out for Nonna. Soon the whole family is searching for Nonna. When finally she is found, her incensed barking can be heard from anywhere in the house and makes Nipotino quiver like a bug tangled in the delicate filaments of a spider’s web. Nipotino pedals arduously through the hall, out the open front door and down the cobblestones of the quant main street. His chest pounding knowing the beating he’s bound to get from more than just Nonna. Glancing over his shoulder he sees a raging Nonna chasing after him and he wonders how someone so old can run so fast. Helplessly, knowing he’ll be punished, he lowers his head, squints his eyes and flies down the street, a smile plastered to his face.