Children of Liberty(6)

By: Paullina Simons

“Is this Angela going to get you a job?” Ben asked.

“Are you?”

“Of course.” Ben looked across at Gina. “What do you like to do, Miss Attaviano?”

“Please call me Gina.” She smiled. “I like to swim.”

“Hmm. I don’t know if I can get you a job swimming,” he said. “Harry, what do you think?”

Harry said nothing, and Mimoo sat with her hat down over her heavy-lidded eyes, as if seeing nothing, hearing nothing. Suddenly she said to Gina in Italian, “Gia, think how wonderful—soon we will celebrate your birthday in our new country.”

“Yes, it’s good,” echoed Gina, puzzled at the sudden change of topic, and opened her mouth to continue talking to Ben about her other interests and hobbies, like running, planting flowers, making tomato paste, delicious crusty bread, occasionally singing.

Mimoo’s eyes opened slightly, to take in Ben across from them, to make sure he was listening. “We should do something special for your fifteenth birthday, no?” she said to her daughter. “Salvo, what do you think?”

“Do I look at this moment like I care, Mimoo?” said an exhausted yet watchful Salvo.

But you know who did look at that moment like he cared? Ben. For all his declarations about barely speaking Italian, he managed to understand the only important thing in Mimoo’s statement: the tender age of her only daughter. Gina was only quattordici!

His crestfallen face said everything. Above Ben’s head, Harry’s slim shoulders bobbed up and down as if he was laughing.

“Well, then, yes—um—excuse me for a moment,” Ben said, getting up suddenly. “My friend doesn’t know where he is headed. I must direct him.” He climbed up to sit next to Harry, grabbing the reins out of his mirthful hands.

Gina pulled the bonnet over her own eyes, to hide from the disappointment on the American’s downcast face. Mimoo was such a troublemaker. What was the harm anyway?

“I’ll tell you what the harm is,” Mimoo whispered semi-privately. “You’re too young for their attention. Do you hear me? This isn’t Belpasso, you running around barefoot in the dusty gulleys with children. These are American men. They’re probably older than your only living brother. You think this is what your father wanted for you, to get yourself in the family way at fourteen with men in their twenties? Troppo giovane!”

“Mimoo! Family way? We were just talking.”

“How do you think it all starts, o naive child? You think it goes straight to baby-making?”

“Mimoo!” hissed a mortified Gina. “I don’t want to talk about this with you.”

“Correct, this is not open for discussion. Stay far away.”

Pulling away from her mother, Gina leaned forward, to hear better what Ben and Harry were whispering about. But the city was too loud, the hooves on the stones were too tap-tappy, and Mimoo pulled her back, keeping her daughter close.

“I told you,” Harry was saying to Ben. “I warned you. As soon as I saw her from a distance, do you remember what I said to you?”

“Yes, yes. You said she was trouble. You were wrong then, and you’re wrong now.”

“Benjamin, I know about these things. She is trouble.”

“You know nothing except the idiocy you glean from your insipid books that tell you nothing about life. You don’t know how to live.”

“And you do?”

“Yes, I do. She is not trouble. She is Life!”

Harry rolled his eyes to the heavens. “More fool you. How else do you define trouble?”

“Like a femme fatale,” Ben said.

“Give her time, Benjamin. She is a fille fatale. Quattordici indeed!”

Ben moved away from a mocking Harry, his shoulders dropping.

Chapter Three


NORTH End was across a horsemeadow from Boston proper, rising out of the soot and the afternoon coal heat. It seemed slightly detached, as if separated from the rest of Boston by this natural boundary. You had to cross a manure-covered field before you entered Salem Street that stretched and wound past a tall church, past merchants on the streets hawking their wares, past the shops and the stalls. A trumpet band played loudly on another block; there was yelling from the children and shouting from the mothers. Men stood around in circles and smoked; the smell of the city was strong, the traffic—human, horse and tram—hectic, almost deranged. Everyone was moving one or another part of their bodies, their lips going a mile a minute, their legs carrying them who knew where, with their bags, their prams, their dreams and umbrellas.

It was love at first sight for Gina. Her mouth open, she gaped, forgetting the mother, the brother, even the sand-haired silent boy who eyed her at the Freedom Docks. She sat near Salvo, who for some unfathomable reason looked less enraptured. “Santa Madre di Dio,” he said. “This is awful.”