Read an Excerpt
Home to Italy
By PETER PEZZELLI
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2004 Peter Pezzelli
All rights reserved.
After the funeral they all went back to the house. It was a cold, bleak day with a raw north wind that drove a slow procession of dark, heavy clouds through the early November sky. Everyone headed straight for the coffee as soon as they stepped inside. Before long the house was filled with people, some who had gone to the cemetery and others who had come straight from the church. They settled in, chatting in quiet, somber tones while they milled about in the kitchen and living room. Little by little, though, life returned to their conversations. The food was put out in the dining room and soon everyone was talking and eating.
Peppi walked in. He had been out back by himself for a time, strolling slowly about, looking over the yard and gardens. The Peppinos' manicured lawns had always been the envy of the neighborhood. Most years, every leaf in the yard would be raked and bagged by this late date. The lawns would be trimmed to perfection and the gardens cleaned and covered with a layer of thatch for the winter. But this autumn the gardens lay untended and overgrown, and the leaves covered the long grass on the lawn like a red and yellow quilt.
Silence fell over the kitchen when Peppi came in through the back door. Everyone stopped and looked sadly at him.
"Eat, eat," Peppi told them, embarrassed that he had made them feel uncomfortable. "Go on." He gave a stoic smile and moved past them into the living room where he was greeted by the same awkward silence. He gestured for them to continue on as if he weren't there, then he sat on the couch. His cousin Angie slid in beside him and put her arm around his shoulder.
"Come stai?" she asked him.
"Eh," sighed Peppi. He gave a shrug and gazed down at the floor. "The yard's a mess, Angie ... everything's a mess."
"I know," she said, squeezing him close. "I know. But you'll put everything back in order and by next spring the yard will be as glorious as ever, the way Anna loved it. You'll see. The tomatoes, the grape vines, the flowers. It will all come back to life again. It has to."
"Sure," he said, still looking down. "Maybe."
"Hey," said Angie, giving him a shake, "almost forty-five years you had her. Think about all of them. You two had a good long time together, more than most of us get."
Peppi looked up at her. "It was a good long time," he told her, forcing a smile that faded quickly, "but it wasn't enough, Angie. It went by too fast."
Thinking back, it was all like a blur to Peppi now. In his mind he saw the years he had spent with his wife racing away from him. Snippets of memories, the day they had met, the year they bought the house, happy and sad times alike, all sped by like pages of an album flipping inexorably to its end. He looked across the room to the window. Outside the cold wind buffeted the house and swayed the trees, shaking from them the last few leaves that clung desperately to their branches. On the street, the dust swirled by with scraps of litter and dry leaves tumbling alongside. Everything outside looked dead to Peppi.
Angie squeezed his shoulder once more and got up. "Stay here," she said. "I'll bring you something to eat."
While she was gone Delores, one of Peppi's sisters-in-law, sat down beside him and took his hand. That's the way it went for much of the afternoon. The women took turns, sitting beside him, telling him everything was going to be all right, while the men kept to themselves, giving Peppi a nod every now and then to let him know that they understood.
Later, the sun was hanging low in the sky when everyone started to leave. There were hugs and kisses and everyone fretted about whether Peppi should spend the night all alone in the house. He just nodded and assured them that he would be fine. Some time alone would be good for him now.
Darkness had come by the time the last of Anna's family went home. Peppi closed the door and watched from the window as they drove away. With a weary sigh he turned and walked back to the living room, turning the lights off as he went along. He stopped at the archway to the living room and stood there for a time, letting his gaze drift about the room. Everywhere it alighted, everything it touched evoked a memory of his wife. Her knitting basket by the chair. The fashion magazines on the coffee table. The mantel above the fireplace where stood the miniature bronze of Saint Francis, the one they had found years ago in an antique shop on the Cape. The bookshelves lined with the collection of first editions, some quite rare, that she had acquired over the years. He gazed longest at her beloved piano in the corner, convinced he could still hear the echoes from the innumerable hours she had sat there playing for friends and family, or sometimes just for Peppi and herself. Anna played beautifully; she did everything beautifully.
Wonderful as they might have been, the memories now pressed down on Peppi like an immense weight, grinding out of him the energy to remain on his feet. His mind and body aching with fatigue, he stepped into the room, slumped onto the couch, and fell fast asleep.
Peppi slept for hours, dreaming all the while of nothing but the warm feeling of Anna resting in his arms. It was near midnight when the rattling of the wind against the window woke him. Instinctively, he reached for his wife, but all he found was a pillow. He let out a groan for his arm and shoulder were cramped from the awkward position in which he had been reclining. He sat up and rubbed them.
Peppi's stomach growled, for he had barely eaten a bite all that day. For a moment he considered going to the kitchen, but it hardly seemed worth the effort. He wanted only to close his eyes now and find his wife once more. He started to pick himself up, intent on going upstairs to bed, but the thought of Anna not being there with him, the cold absence of her touch, was more than he could bear. He sat there alone in the shadows, his mind suddenly whirling in a dizzying spin of indecision, helplessly wondering where he should go or what he should do. Mercifully, exhaustion finally overcame him. Surrendering to the darkness, Peppi stretched back onto the couch and fell promptly back to sleep.CHAPTER 2
Angie came by the next day to check on Peppi. She brought with her a little bag with two cups of coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. It was late in the morning and she was sure that no matter how tired he might be, Peppi would be up by now. When she rang the doorbell, though, Peppi didn't come to the door. Angie waited a few moments and tried again. She strained to listen for the sound of any movement in the house, but there was none. The bell had rung inside, of that she was sure, so she tried knocking, but still Peppi didn't come.
Her breath quickening a little, Angie put the coffees down on the step and squeezed in behind the azalea bushes below the front window. Pressing her face against the window pane, she peered inside.
"Peppi?" she called anxiously.
Still no answer.
Angie pulled herself out of the bushes and headed toward the house next door, intent on asking the neighbor to call for help right away. It was just then that she heard the scratching of a rake in the backyard. She stopped and listened harder. Yes, there it was, no question about it. Angie hurried to the back of Peppi's house and poked her head around the corner. Sure enough, there was Peppi, busy at work raking the yard. From the looks of it, he had already managed to bag most of the leaves. At the moment, his back was to her as he vigorously raked along the back fence to get the last few.
"Cosa fai!" Angie exclaimed at seeing him. "What are you doing?"
The sound of her voice so startled Peppi that he dropped the rake. He whirled around, instinctively throwing his hands up in a defensive gesture when he first saw Angie stomping across the yard toward him.
"What's the matter?" said Peppi when he realized that it was just his cousin and not some crazed assailant.
"What's the matter?" cried Angie. "You scared me half to death, that's what's the matter. Mannagia, I was just about ready to call nine-one-one and have them break down the door!"
"For what?" said Peppi.
Angie scowled at him and shook her head. "Oh, never mind," she grumbled, turning away. "I'll be right back ... and don't go anywhere!"
"Who's going anywhere?" shrugged Peppi as she walked back around to the front of the house. "And where would I go?"
Angie soon returned with the two cups of coffee in hand.
"Here," she said, handing him one. "I would have brought donuts, but I knew you had plenty of pastry left over from yesterday."
"Thanks," said Peppi. He pulled the lid off the cup and took a sip. It was another chilly day, so the warm brew was a welcome surprise. "Come on," he said, nodding toward the little stone table in the garden, "let's go sit."
The table was tucked in the back corner of the garden where the fence met the row of arborvitae trees Peppi had planted years ago when he and Anna first bought the house. High above the table, grapevines, now brown and dry, coiled around the arbor. The spot was sheltered from the wind by the trees and fence, and the sun warmed the curved stone benches that flanked the table. No matter what time of year, it had always been the most pleasant part of the whole yard.
"You gave me a scare, cugino mio," said Angie, sitting down. "For a minute I thought ..."
"What?" said Peppi.
"Nothing," said Angie. She took a sip of coffee and looked about at the yard. With the leaves all raked and bagged, the yard was already beginning to take on a semblance of order once more. "I can't believe you cleaned the yard so fast," she said, shaking her head.
"Eh," grunted Peppi, waving his hand, "the grass still needs to be mowed and the gardens ... the gardens ..." Peppi sighed wearily as he looked about at the weeds and the withered tomato plants.
"Leave it for another day," said Angie. "What's the hurry? You should be resting."
"Who can rest?" said Peppi. He looked up and let the sun shine on his face. Closing his eyes for a moment, he soaked in its warmth. With a yawn, he rubbed his eyes and ran his hand across the gray stubble on his face. He looked at Angie and smiled.
"Anna used to like sitting right where you are," he said. "She loved having lunch out here."
"I don't blame her," said Angie. "It's beautiful out here."
"I don't know," said Peppi. "I never did as much back here as I'd planned to. I meant to put more grapevines in, maybe a pear tree. Of course, back when we first moved here I always meant to build a little play area if we ever had children, but ..." Peppi looked wistfully about the yard. "Anna would have been a good mother," he said.
"She would have been a wonderful mother," agreed Angie. "She was so good with kids."
Peppi nodded and looked out across the yard to the kitchen window. His thoughts drifted back to a day many years ago, not long after they had first purchased their house. On that day, Anna had hosted a baby shower for one of her faculty friends from the elementary school where she taught music. Everything — from the invitations she had hand-written and the food she herself prepared to the flowers decorating the house — was done to perfection and the party had been a great success. The women all had a lovely time and the mother-to-be was thrilled with all the beautiful gifts. When the party was over her friend had thanked Anna profusely, her eyes wet with gratitude.
For his part, Peppi had made himself scarce during the festivities, and only showed his face near the end of the day when it was time to help carry the baby presents out to the car. Anna, he had noted with a smile, was beaming. There was nothing she enjoyed more than a successful party. Afterwards, though, when everyone had gone and Peppi was helping to straighten things up, Anna suddenly became very quiet. Without a word she went upstairs to the bathroom and closed the door. Peppi went to the bottom of the stairs, intending to go up to see what was wrong. But then, above the sound of the water running in the sink, he could hear Anna sobbing and he understood that it would be better if he simply left her alone and let the moment pass. Things like that happened from time to time.
Peppi shrugged away the memory. "Who knows what Dio has in mind, eh?" he said to Angie.
Angie took a sip of coffee and looked thoughtfully at him. "Nobody knows," she told him, "so you can't waste time trying to figure it out by yourself. You'll just give yourself agita for the rest of your life."
"I know," sighed Peppi, "I know. But now and then you can't help yourself."
After they had finished their coffees, Peppi walked Angie back to her car. Peppi was glad to have had the company, but now he was anxious to finish his work in the backyard. Angie admonished him once again to take it easy. Peppi promised to try, but as soon as she drove away he returned to the backyard and resumed raking.
Forgetting about lunch, Peppi worked outdoors until well into the afternoon. After finishing in the back, he raked the front and side lawns. When he was done he bagged the leaves and dragged them to the side of the garage. He would leave them there for a few days before putting them out with the trash. Satisfied that he had done enough for the day, Peppi brushed himself off and looked up into the sky. The sun had already arced far toward the horizon and the trees were casting shadows like long, dark fingers across the lawn. While he was busy raking, Peppi had worked up a considerable sweat. Now, standing still in the dwindling sunlight, he felt the cold gathering around him and the dull ache of hunger in the pit of his stomach. He picked up his rake and headed back indoors.
Peppi hesitated when he came to the threshold of the back door. How many times had Anna given him an earful for traipsing into her nice clean kitchen wearing his dirty work boots? Somehow or other, almost without fail, Peppi managed to forget to take them off. It had always been one of her pet peeves with him, but he never did it on purpose. It was just one of those things. So, while he would sit at the table nibbling on a snack, or as he stood at the sink guzzling down a glass of water, he was always taken by surprise when his wife burst into the room and let him have it. Sometimes, when he was truly filthy, Anna would order him to remove his clothes right there at the door and throw them into the laundry before letting him set foot in the house. At those times, Peppi would inevitably try to assuage her ire by playfully reaching for her with his naked arms. More often than not, Anna would give him a healthy shove and send him on his way to the shower. Sometimes, though, when she was feeling playful herself, Anna would smile knowingly, coil her arms about his neck, and let him take her in his embrace.
Now, as Peppi stared into the kitchen, he was struck by how quiet and dark and lonely things were inside. There were no dishes set out on the table for dinner, no warm aroma of food wafting from the oven to greet him. There was no jingling of silverware being placed or the clamor of pots being stirred. The radio Anna would listen to while she cooked stood silent on the counter and the apron she wore still hung from the peg on the wall. It seemed to Peppi that the departure of one life had drained all life from his home. There was no one left but himself to bring life back into it. It settled in on him that he was now on his own. What was left of his life was his to do with as he chose, to come and go as he pleased. Just the same, heeding a voice he heard whispering in the back of his mind, Peppi reached down and began to unlace his boots.CHAPTER 3
Over the next few days, people came and went. Relatives, friends, fellow parishioners. They'd stop by, talk for a little while, see if Peppi needed anything, and then be on their way. It was nice of them. As the days went by, Peppi continued his work in the yard. He mowed the lawns, trimmed the hedges, and raked out the gardens. He weeded all the flower beds and wrapped burlap around the more delicate bushes to protect them from the cold weather to come. It was a lot of work, but soon everything, at least on the exterior, had appeared to return to normal. Just as soon, the flow of daily visitors slowed to a trickle until one day no one came.
That day, Peppi chose to relax by spending the afternoon in the garage working on his bicycle. Peppi's garage was a bicycle lover's dream. From the rafters hung racing wheels of every description. On the wall Peppi displayed an old Italian-made bicycle frame, the one he had used as a boy growing up in the Abruzzo foothills. It was his favorite, a bright red Bianchi frame, the same type used by his boyhood hero, Fausto Coppi, Il Campionissimo, the champion of champions. A picture of Coppi, as well as one of Gino Bartali and dozens of others of all the great European cycling champions, adorned the wall above the work bench in the corner. There Peppi kept the collection of bicycle tools he had acquired over the years.
Excerpted from Home to Italy by PETER PEZZELLI. Copyright © 2004 Peter Pezzelli. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.