But Argentina isn't safe for a new family, and Nina is forced into exile in the United States. The horrors of Argentina's Dirty War follow her even there, entangling her in accusations and lies. When Nina learns that a past decision could destroy her perfect future, she must end the new injustice before it poisons everything she has ever loved.
To do this, she must return to Argentina.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.67(d)|
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Crying for Argentina
By Norma Caravacci
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Norma Caravacci
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEvita's Gift
* * *
Nina Salvatti thought she'd never escape the turmoil that had taken over her life. Ernesto's girlfriend was pregnant, and David was moving in with his father. At least Buenos Aires looked beautiful. Tossing the magazine that focused on Argentina's entrance into the modern age onto her bed, she realized divorce hadn't been legal there until 1987.
Tears poured down her face. She needed to see her mom.
Pulling out her suitcase, she grabbed a stack of shirts, and dumped them carelessly in it. Damn Ernesto and his slut of a girlfriend. They were probably laughing at her, probably drinking champagne. She hated them. She wasn't sure if she'd ever hated anyone before. Well, maybe Héctor Torres. She hadn't thought of Héctor in years. He had liked to torment her when she was a little girl growing up in Argentina.
Nina laughed. She tossed her underwear in the suitcase.
She had a lot of memories. People always said passions ran deep in Argentina. She had been feeling the passion all her life.
* * *
Nina tried to finish her hot chocolate and toast, but she was too excited to eat. She'd spent extra time that morning picking out her prettiest outfit from her closet. She looked down, admiring her white dress with little pink flowers and matching shoes. Her mother, Estela Salvatti, had taken an extra half hour to curl her long hair and put ribbons in it. Today wasn't an ordinary school day.
As she rode to school, Nina looked out the window. She thought the sun looked brighter. Normally it resembled a pale daffodil. Today it seemed like a bright sunflower. She smiled at her own cleverness.
They pulled up in front of the school.
"What do you do if someone asks you a question?" her mom asked.
"Always keep my hands together neatly in front of me, smile, nod, and say thank you."
"Well, answer the question if needed. Then do all those things. I know some of your classmates tease you, but today is not the time for any of that."
"I know, but it's never my fault, Mom," Nina said, impatient. She heard all the time how she should always be on her best behavior, no matter what anyone else did. There was no telling what her parents would do if they heard that she had misbehaved at the president of Argentina's house.
Nina's teacher, Mrs. Ingleses, was waiting. Estela put her hand in Nina's and squeezed it tight. "Only six, and you're already having a once-in-a-lifetime day. Enjoy yourself."
Her teacher had picked Nina and a few of her classmates to visit the Casa Rosada, the Pink House, the government residency where Juan Perón lived and from where he ruled the country. Part of Perón's policy to improve Argentina was for him and his wife, Evita, to welcome schoolchildren to their home and give them gifts.
Nina waited in the courtyard with the other children for the car that would take them to the Perón residence. She shifted from one foot to the other thinking that Evita was beautiful and glamorous.
"And then Evita gave them a new car," a boy said.
Nina leaned to the side to see who was talking. Everyone had gathered in a tight circle around Franco Escobar.
"She floated down the hall like an angel," Franco said.
He was definitely talking about Evita. Nina felt her blood race. She'd heard about kids in her school receiving bicycles and new cars for their families. She heard that a few had even received new homes. Glamorous Evita, the beautiful, blond woman who attended gala functions in Dior gowns and fur coats and acted like Santa Claus, showering everyone who visited her home with unbelievable gifts.
Nina sighed. That world was far from the simple life her parents provided. Her family belonged to the middle class based purely on their European blood, not on their income. Nina's mom made all her clothes. She didn't mind. Her mom was a whiz with her old Singer sewing machine. It had a wood cabinet and mother of pearl inlays. Her mom would sit at the sewing machine on the weekends and turn out imitations of the latest styles for Nina to wear. She was so good that other women in the neighborhood were always asking Estela for help. Her family might lack money, but Nina felt well loved.
Nina never questioned Evita's status as a heroine. She and her classmates studied the legend of Evita along with math and science. Evita not only gave to the poor, she cared about them. She successfully promoted female suffrage, casting her first vote in the early '50s alongside many other women. Everything Evita did was for the greater good of Argentina. The children admired her to no end.
Giovanna Bertolli skipped up to Nina's side.
"Are you going to daydream all day?" she asked. Giovanna was Nina's best friend in the whole world.
Nina grabbed Giovanna's hand. "Do you remember the time you started crying when that lady said that Evita was a woman of loose morals?" Nina asked.
Giovanna looked close to tears just remembering the incident. "I do," she said. "That woman was a witch."
Nina waited for the special government car to arrive. Her knees trembled. She wondered what the other students in class were learning. She turned to look in the windows. Every eye in the school glared back at her. Her mind fluttered between nervous laughter and joyous expectation for what could be coming.
"You're not going to embarrass yourself in front of Evita today, are you?" Héctor Torres, the biggest bully in her class, whispered behind her.
Nina tried her hardest to ignore him and concentrate on the wonderful possibilities the day held. She imagined he was a tiny rain cloud far in the distance, raining on someone else.
"If you just be yourself, they probably won't even let you in," he continued.
Nina never understood why she was one of Héctor's favorite targets. She didn't come from a poor family; she wasn't clumsy; she didn't dress funny. No one else ever picked on her. She liked school except for the moments of torture he inflicted.
"Not today, Héctor," she said. Then she smiled, adding, "Thank you very much."
He started to say more, but Mrs. Ingleses startled them by jumping up and down, waving at an approaching shiny black car.
The driver, dressed in a black suit, got out of the car and held the door open for their teacher, Nina, Giovanna, Héctor, and two other children. While they were deciding who would take which seat, a second car approached the school, then a third, and a fourth. More black cars continued in a caravan. Nina couldn't see where it ended.
Everyone fit into the cars comfortably. Anyone who dared could have lain flat on the floor of the car and still not touched anyone. Nina remembered how she and Eduardo would fight for the most room in the backseat of their father's car. She also thought about downgrading her father's car to a fort instead of a castle. A man in a black suit began explaining how they would each get five minutes to talk with Evita and thank her for their gift. He repeated how grateful they needed to act, especially if a photographer were near. The children then took turns practicing smiling.
The cars finally stopped. Many hands ushered Nina and the others into the Pink House. Nina could barely see the ceiling of the room where the reception was held. She felt overwhelmed by the large house. She'd never seen anything like it. None of the castles in her picture books compared. There must have been at least five hundred other children, each head turning back and forth, trying to glimpse Evita. Nina had never seen a gathering of this many people. Standing in the giant hall gazing at the rainbows cascading off the chandelier, Nina knew only good things could ever happen in a place like this.
Mrs. Ingleses elbowed her in the ribs, jolting Nina's attention away from the chandelier. Mrs. Ingleses shoved her wired-rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Eyes front, and stand up straight," she said. "Don't any of you dare ruin this for me!"
Nina nodded and looked forward. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Héctor trying to get her attention. She wanted to look, but she feared Mrs. Ingleses would then do more than elbow her.
Hundreds of photographers' flashbulbs popped all around them. Nina squinted hard, trying to drive away the specks of light that clouded her vision. Teachers herded their students to the front, where the flashbulbs were concentrated. Nina could make out a fuzzy shape on a raised platform that she assumed was Evita. As she and her classmates inched closer to Evita, Nina started to sweat. She had been holding her hands tightly together like her mother instructed her to do, but they were starting to slide apart. She couldn't tell if it was from the heat in the room or her nerves.
"Don't leave a puddle for people to slip in," Héctor said.
"Go bother someone else."
"Are you going to ask Evita for some manners?"
"The only one around here who needs manners is you," Nina said.
"Smile," Héctor said.
Nina didn't understand Héctor. Her confusion showed clearly on her face.
A tall, lanky photographer took a picture of Nina and her classmates before she could regain her senses. The photographer asked Mrs. Ingleses, "Do you think Evita really cares about the poor?" Nina saw Mrs. Ingleses blush at his forwardness.
"How can you have any doubts? She comes from the poor class. She gives to the poor. She fights for the poor. There is no doubt about that," Mrs. Ingleses said.
Nina liked that Mrs. Ingleses stood up for Evita. It was like watching her teacher defend a fairy princess against a dragon.
"No doubt, huh?" The photographer sounded skeptical. "What about Juan Perón closing the newspapers? That is ..." He hesitated. "Well, it's not sending the right message."
Nina looked back and forth between the adults. They looked angry. The reporter's nostrils flared, just like a dragon's. Mrs. Ingleses stood rigid. Nina hoped Mrs. Ingleses had remembered to bring her magic wand.
"He had his reasons," Mrs. Ingleses responded. "The newspapers are a tool of the upper class. Besides, they were telling lies about the Peróns. When the newspapers reform themselves, they will be allowed to reopen." Mrs. Ingleses sounded impatient with the photographer's obvious antagonism. She continued, "Wasn't it Perón who made the farm employers pay their field workers in cash, instead of coupons that could only be used in the employers' own stores?"
There was no forthcoming argument from the photographer on that point. "Yes, he certainly did."
"Has any other leader ever done anything so much in favor of the poor at the expense of the rich?"
The photographer shook his head, conceding another point.
It looked like Mrs. Ingleses had won. She had saved the fairy princess. She had saved Evita. Nina felt like dancing around.
Nina paused, then looked at the floor. Politics seemed complicated. Nina's parents talked about the Peróns' policies at home. It seemed that the Peróns' polices affected all the classes, and no one was entirely happy. Sometimes Nina's parents had to close their shop in the Plaza de Mayo because the workers held a rally. On those occasions, Nina's parents talked about how the Peróns should have educated the poor to make them appreciate hard work instead of expecting handouts.
"I rest my case. The Peróns are truly for the poor. Now, if you don't mind."
Nina felt her teacher's firm hand on her back as she was ushered to see Evita.
When Nina finally arrived in Evita's presence, everything went very fast. It was hard to hear Evita's voice over the flashes of the cameras. Nina was awestruck. Evita was everything the newspapers claimed and more. Every hair was in its perfect place, her skin flawless, her smile worthy of an angel. Nina nodded and smiled at anything anyone told her just to get closer to Evita.
"Congratulations on your school achievements and your good behavior. What would you like as a reward?" Evita asked.
The flashes entranced Nina, and she continued nodding. Absentmindedly she reached out for Evita's sleeve. "Yes," she squeaked out.
Evita laughed and hugged Nina. The flashes melded into a continuous sound. "A nice little girl like you would probably like a doll." Evita waved to a woman who brought over a box as tall as Nina, containing a doll. It was a large walking doll with a lever in its back that moved up and down and actually made the doll walk. The doll looked right and left with every step. The face was made of fine, hand-painted porcelain. Nina stared at the doll's beautiful face. It was clearly not a toy that could be played with carelessly. It needed to be looked after and cared for. She had never received a gift so precious.
"Can I trust you to look after this doll like it's your own child?" Evita asked.
"Oh, yes! I will be just like my mom. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Evita smiled and handed her an autographed picture of herself in her traditional black tailored suit, a large white camellia on her lapel. The photo was autographed to Nina with her full name spelled out: "For Nina Graciela Salvatti with affection—Eva Perón."
Nina held the photo against her chest. Parents with lots of money could have bought their little girls similar walking dolls, but not every child could have her name written out on a signed photo of Evita. Nina cherished the photo more than the doll.
All her classmates received gifts ranging from new clothes to a refrigerator. All the gifts were arranged to be delivered later to their houses. They chatted excitedly about the gifts they received. None of the others had received a personally signed photo.
Evita talked with the last of Nina's classmates. Nina turned her attention to the photo. She had a photo signed by Evita. She felt like the luckiest girl on the planet.
Even as she smiled at the photo, Héctor snatched it from her hands.
"Give that back this instant!" Nina said.
"For Nina Graciela Salvatti," he said mockingly, "with affection."
Nina reached for the photo. He put it behind his back.
"Please," she said. She didn't want to think about how far he would go. She had seen Héctor get rough with some of their classmates, but she had never seen him do damage equal to that harming her irreplaceable photo.
"Please," she said again.
"You think you're special?" He took a step backward, away from Nina. From behind his back, she heard a slow, deliberate ripping sound. The sound repeated as little pieces of photo fluttered to the ground behind him. He kept smiling at Nina.
Nina felt the blood rush to her face, and tears flooded her eyes. She tried to hold them back so Héctor wouldn't get any more satisfaction. In an instant, her anticipation of her parents' proud reaction to the photo vanished. Nina thought about running back over to Evita and explaining she needed another signed photo. Maybe there was another girl with the exact same name as Nina who would share her photo. There had to be some way to undo the unthinkable that was happening in front of her.
"You're just a big baby. Your doll will probably have to take care of you."
Mrs. Ingleses came over to them.
"What is going on, you two?" Mrs. Ingleses asked.
Nina fell to the floor and started picking up the photo pieces. She saw Evita's smiling face, her polished clothes, and the black background. She concentrated on the blackness. Even shredded, Evita conveyed hopefulness and assurance. Maybe she could glue them together at home.
Héctor bent down and took all the pieces out of Nina's hands. He shoved them into his pants pocket.
"I was just showing Nina a magic trick," Héctor said. "See?"
Nina felt his hand go under her upper arm and tug until she was standing. Héctor thrust Nina's photo of Evita into her hands. It was exactly as it had been when Evita handed it to her. Nina stared at Héctor, unable to speak. She looked around, expecting people to start clapping. She would bow if they did. Nina remembered that she hadn't seen any signature on the photo pieces she picked off the floor. Héctor had fooled her in the worst way possible.
Excerpted from Crying for Argentina by Norma Caravacci Copyright © 2011 by Norma Caravacci. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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