After Nola Bianca and Luca D'Andrea fall in love in an Italian mountain village, Nola abandons her plans to enter a convent and Luca works toward his dream of going to America. After they marry during Luca's furlough from his World War I army duties, Nola is determined to live a happy life with her new husband, despite her father's belief that she should have married Guido, the man who has loved her for years. When the war ends, Luca heads to America, leaving Nola and their two sons behind and with his promise to return in short order unfulfilled. Nola's love does not waver as she lives for Luca's letters. As years pass, Guido continues to profess his undying love and Nola is harassed by the village constable. Nola is thrilled when, after six years, Luca comes home. After he is warned he will be arrested by Mussolini's henchmen the next day, he escapes during the night, leaving Nola pregnant and alone once again. It is not until years later when she and the three children finally arrive in America that Nola discovers everything is not how she imagined. She emerges triumphant in the decision she must make.
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Aprons of Stone
A Novel Based on True Events
By Irma Linda Kump
iUniverseCopyright © 2015 Irma Linda Kump
All rights reserved.
The letter came from her husband on the last day in May.
Your crazy sister Sabina arrived in New York, and I curse her coming. Better she had died at sea and been fed to sharks than have brought such grief and humiliation to my brother. On the day that Mario arrived in New York to marry her, after a week on a damn train from Colorado, he found that Sabina ran off with a strange man. You caused this. You had that trollop write to my brother, knowing that I never liked her. Now, that puttana is somewhere in America at Mario's expense. He sent her a great deal of money for the voyage and her trousseau. It turns out the shameless slut is also a cunning thief. She should be hanged. I'm disgusted with both of you.
The next morning, Nola stepped from her doorway to join her sister Marianna in the line of village women on their monthly trek to the river with their laundry.
"Nola," whispered Marianna under her breath. "How could you come out looking like that? Your hair looks like a rat's nest. You know these women gloat when they think you're unhappy."
Nola did not answer her sister as she balanced a large, heavy basket of linens on her head with the aid of her hands. This forced her and the other women to parade with regal carriage down the steep, stone street steps of the mountain village to the river below. More women joined the procession as they emerged from both sides of the parallel rows of attached, two-story stone dwellings. The wide street steps between the houses created passageways for the women as steps and homes sloped down the mountain. The closeness of the shadowed buildings did not allow for much privacy, and inhabitants knew their neighbors' business. Gossip flourished and became entertainment for the secluded locals whose strict moral codes, severe class system, earthy lusts, and hard lives occasionally provided sequels to the village's tragic history.
Nola remained silent as she trudged down the stone steps, her face showing the weight of her burden. However, it was not from the laundry but from the wrath of her husband and betrayal of her sister.
"Nola, speak to me," Marianna whispered again. "Your silence speaks your sorrow."
"Marianna, you read the letter. How could Luca hurt me like that?" Her choke-filled words vanished into the thunderous roar coming from the river.
"I know that letter hurt you, but Luca's anger was toward our sister and what she did to his brother."
"I always knew that girl was crazy."
"Nola! Sabina is not crazy. Frivolous, perhaps. Spoiled."
"What she did was criminal, and you know it."
The hundreds of steps ended when the women reached the valley and a dirt road led them to the shore of the Orfenta River. Padding their knees with their long, full skirts and aprons, the women knelt and lathered their clothes over huge rocks scattered at the edge of the riverbank. Although separated in space, the women sang together the love songs of their ancestors, and as one song ended, someone started another so that there was a continuous flow to the music.
These women dressed in dark-colored skirts and blouses, cooked alike, and even baked the same crusty bread, borrowing the starter dough from one another when a mishap destroyed a batch. Nola did not always conform to custom, especially in dress and hair. She preferred lighter-colored linens and a softer bun rather than the heavy hues and severe buns that seemed to be the village uniform. This day, clumps of auburn hair flew about in disarray while she lathered a linen sheet on the huge, smooth rock. Around her, the women continued to work and sing while Nola anguished over her husband's scorching letter. "Oh, Luca," she whispered, "not even a loving word from you. That's what I need in your letters to give me hope." There had been no joyful salutation. Only "Nola" and the heart-wrenching words that followed
True, Luca had written to her, requesting names for Mario, who wanted to marry someone from their village. Sabina had seen the letter and insisted on writing to Mario. He wrote back, and they fell in love through their letters.
"That Sabina," Nola whispered as she sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. "She was born selfish." She looked up at the bright Mediterranean sky. "Please, God, don't let Luca desert me over this. Don't let me be the next sport for the gossip mongers." She struggled to pull out the rest of the heavy, water-soaked sheet to lather, and she remembered the last night that she and Luca lay on the cloth — five years ago, when he came back from America for a month's visit.
He had said, as he gazed at her body with those dark, penetrating eyes, "Nola, you rival those marble statues in Rome."
She had smiled and stroked his face. "You think I'm like stone?"
"Oh, no! Your flesh is like the softest, cream-skinned beauties of Rome."
"How do you know about ..." Luca had kissed her. The question, like many others she had concerning his two-year service in Rome and then later, when he was away in America, went unanswered and unresolved.
Nola gripped the sheet, recalling how she clung to her husband five years ago when the schoolmaster woke them in the middle of the night and warned Luca of an imminent arrest. "Luca," he had said, "the Fascists will arrest you in the morning for talking against Mussolini. You must escape tonight or face prison." After only one week's stay, Luca was gone, unable to take his family back with him to America as planned.
Each time Luca left her, she was pregnant: Carlo, conceived during Luca's military service in Rome in 1920; Gino, before Luca went to America in 1921; and Alissa, that fateful week when he returned, and left again, in 1928.
"Why must love bring such pain and suffering?" she asked the relentless river.
Her unhappy state brought to mind Glorita, whose husband in America deserted her after two years. Deprived of funds, Glorita became the mistress of Cristoforo Costa, the village lawyer. And like the other villagers, Nola looked forward to the latest gossip about the lovers. Now, for the first time, Nola had compassion for Glorita. She felt in league with her and understood the despair the woman must have suffered when her husband abandoned her.
"Mamma! You crying again?"
The child's shrill voice broke Nola's trance. She swung around the bank to face her four-year-old daughter who had run ahead of her to the river with the other children.
"Alissa! Why are you sitting there? Go play with your friends."
The child's mouth quivered. She sprang to her feet, glared at her mother, and ran toward the youngsters who played hide-and-seek near the power mill.
"Oh, Alissa. When will your father meet you to see how pretty you are?" In a fury, Nola pushed the sheet back into the river and plunged the large, heavy cloth in and out of the water with both hands until it was rinsed and she was spent. The women around her continued to sing, and as their song trailed to the end, someone started "Campagnola Bella," the passionate love song to a country maiden, which was a favorite of Luca's.
Meshed with the children's lilting laughter, the symphonic sounds of river and chorus rose in waves from the valley to the village above, soothing the old people sitting at doorsteps, the men working on sloping fields, and the older children studying in school.
Gradually, the singing faded as each woman finished her wash and carried a heavy basket of wrung-out linens to the overgrown meadow. Nola went the short distance with Marianna, whose brown hair had premature gray streaks that clashed with a youthful, round face. Marianna frowned when she faced Nola and said, "Oh, dear Jesus."
Nola pursed her lips. Folding a sheet in half lengthwise, she handed two corners to Marianna, avoiding her eyes. The sisters stepped backward until the linen was taut. Bending forward, they caved the sheet and snapped it back quickly, repeating the process a few times to smooth out the wrinkles. All around them, snapping sheets emitted the biting lye scent when they cracked like rifles fired in a battlefield. Then, only the continuous rumble of the river accompanied the chatting women as they spread their white wash over bushes, tall grass, tree branches, and rocky shore.
Marianna laid a fringed towel near the thorny jungle of a blackberry bush. "Nola, don't you see the women looking at you? They know you received a letter from Luca yesterday. They can tell that something is wrong."
The words stung Nola. She fought back tears while she hung her small cloths on the thorns of the bush.
A far-off church bell tolled the noon hour for the eight thousand Catholics in the village. The women finished spreading their laundry and gathered in groups for their midday meal. Nola went with Marianna to a secluded spot, untied her napkin-satchel, drank a little wine from her bottle, and picked at her cheese and bread.
Marianna's brows furrowed as she let out an exasperated breath. "You can't fool these women. Most of them are happy to see you miserable."
"Tell me, are their beds empty? Do they wait months for a letter?"
"My God. They only see that Luca sends you money." Looking upward, she clenched her hands and sighed. "Dear Jesus and Mary. Please. Answer her prayers."
"I yearn to be with Luca, but I must settle for his letters — for some loving words to sustain me. Yesterday's letter was nothing but gall."
"Luca made it clear in his letter that he was angry about Sabina. Do you blame him?"
"That Sabina. She's in America, and I'm still here. And look what she's done. What a scandal. Luca's right. That girl was always a little crazy."
"Shh. Keep your voice down. These women will hear about our sister soon enough. I'm as upset as you about her, but stop saying she's crazy. Always full of mischief, I guess."
"How could she do that?" Nola looked around to see if anyone heard her, but the women paid no attention, immersed in their own conversations. Nola stared at the ground and shook her head. "She took Mario's money and ran off with a stranger. I can't believe this."
"I'm so worried about her. Alone, in America. What do we tell Mamma and Papa? Oh, dear Lord ... forgive Sabina and protect her." Marianna blew her nose in her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.
"How can you cry for her after what she did? Luca may never send for me now."
"He wrote that letter in anger. Of course he'll send for you and the children."
"When? It's 1933. He's been in America twelve years and in the army for two years before that. Your husband has never left you for one day. What do you know of waiting?"
"Oh, my God. I didn't mean to upset you more, Nola."
"It's not you, Marianna. Why didn't he take us back with him five years ago when he came home?"
"How could he? The poor man had to escape at night from those dirty Fascists."
"It's always something. The Fascists. The citizenship papers. Now, it's their cursed Depression that never seems to end."
"Shh. Here comes Alissa. We'll talk later."
After lunch, the drone of the river lulled most of the tired women and children to sleep. Nola lay awake on the hard earth, her head resting on her outstretched arm. Overcome with a longing for Luca to hold her, to whisper in her ear, her shoulder moved upward, a reflex from the tickle his whispered breath made. "I can't stand this," she whispered. "I want you now. Please, Luca, send the letter that will call me to you. Please. I need you. Send me that letter."
For the past few years, Luca's letters, although coming at longer intervals, had usually contained the loving words that sustained her from one letter to the next. Yesterday's cruel message left her limp with pain. She remembered a passage from a past inscription and relived its happiness: "I look at the sun and moon, and I send my love through their light when they shine over you." He must write those lovely words again, she thought. But ... what if he stops writing to me because of that stupid Sabina? What if he stops sending me money? What would become of me and the children?
Nola pushed herself up and sat on the ground, observing the scattered, sleeping women whose husbands were with them daily, year after year. In her fourteen years of marriage, a few months were all she had with Luca. They had married during his army duties in Rome, and shortly after his discharge, he left for America. Nola's thoughts went back to Glorita, who seemed her only ally in her despair. Villagers avoided Glorita like a leper since she became don Costa's mistress. Now, Nola felt empathy for the abandoned woman who was once married and respected. "Oh, Glorita, how you must have suffered," she whispered, and then let out a deep sigh.
"Nola, didn't you sleep? What are you doing?"
"Oh, Marianna, I'm sorry I woke you. I was thinking about Glorita."
Marianna stood and went to sit near her sister. "You were thinking about Glorita? My God. Why?"
"After her husband abandoned her, we abandoned her."
"But look what she did. She became our lawyer's mistress."
"Because she had to support herself."
"Oh, Madonna! There are other ways to support oneself. What a scandal the way don Costa throws money from his balcony to hers at the square, and she catches the money in her skirt held up like a net. You're the one who told me that you saw her playing that game with her black-stockinged legs showing."
"Well, you know his reputation, Marianna. The affair began when Glorita went to nurse his wife who had a high fever. He probably forced himself on her."
"Poor donna Costa. She hates Glorita so much that she keeps a supply of rocks on her balcony, and when she sees Glorita walking across the square, she bombards her with the flying weapons."
"Good thing Glorita has avoided the rocks so far."
"But she can't avoid the laughter and scorn of the spectators, Nola."
"Today I have compassion for the woman."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Nola!"
Nola clenched her teeth and crossed her arms "I wish ... I never met Luca. I wish I entered the convent that July like I planned."
"Dear Jesus. What brought this on? How can you say that? Then you would not have your wonderful children. Look at Carlo. Twelve, and in our renowned village band since he was nine. The only young boy with those musicians. And Gino. How well he also plays the clarinet. And Alissa," she added as Alissa woke up and ran to join her friends.
Nola's lips tightened. "Yes, Alissa. Named after that actress Luca met on the ship coming back five years ago. He still hasn't accepted ..."
"Don't go through that again. What's done is done." Marianna followed Nola to pick up their dry linens. They helped each other fold their sheets and smooth out wrinkles.
"I've never seen a man more in love with his wife than Luca. Nola, forget yesterday's letter. Look what it's doing to you. Luca was angry with Sabina when he wrote it."
"I hurt too much, and Luca is years and oceans away from me. He is not here when I need him. It would have been better if I never met him."
"It was meant to be, Nola. Fate put him at the square on that Sunday in July when you were seventeen. Luca told me it was on that day, as he sat with his friends Amato and Roberto, that he first saw you. I remember exactly what he said: 'When Nola breezed past me on those piazza steps, she stunned me. I felt a magnetic force between us ...'"CHAPTER 2
Luca D'Andrea sat between his friends Amato and Roberto on the piazza steps in Vittorio Emanuele II Square in July 1918. The clamorous piazza echoed with villagers haggling with merchants, singing with vendors, gossiping with neighbors, and socializing with friends while young girls promenaded around the flower-bedecked square.
Luca's eyes mirrored his disappointment. "I could have flirted with those girls in Chieti today and got paid wages to boot if the Diseras didn't cancel."
"Luca, you're with that buggy and horse's ass every day." Roberto wrinkled his boyish face and strained his weak voice to be heard. "You shouldn't work on Sundays anyway."
"I'll work whenever I want, Roberto. Don't tell me what to do."
The amicable Amato gave Luca a gentle nudge. "I'm sure the Diseras will hire you again when the boy feels better."
"But I paid for a haircut at the barber's for the trip." Luca's hand swept over his full head of dark hair, combed back without a part from his tanned face. "What a waste."
Excerpted from Aprons of Stone by Irma Linda Kump. Copyright © 2015 Irma Linda Kump. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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I loved this book! It was a wonderful story that keep me turning the pages and very hard to put down. Beautifully written!