From Sand and Ash(10)

By: Amy Harmon

Eva could only shake her head in confusion. She took the paper from Santino, knowing he had a spare, and began to read.

Fabia was crying because it had suddenly become illegal for non-Jews to work in Jewish homes. She and Santino were Catholic. According to La Stampa, the new Racial Laws prohibited Jews from owning homes, property, or businesses above a certain value. Jewish-owned businesses couldn’t employ more than one hundred people, and they had to be managed by non-Jews. Camillo’s glass factory, Ostrica, had more than five hundred workers. His father had started the company, and Camillo had gotten a chemical engineering degree so he could be the best glassmaker possible, and he had made it hugely profitable. But none of that mattered now.

Not only could Jewish teachers not teach at the schools and universities, but no textbooks written by Jewish authors were allowed in Italian schools. Jews and non-Jews were no longer permitted to marry. Jews could not be legal guardians of non-Jews.

Camillo’s father, Alberto Rosselli, had been born in the ghetto. It had only been sixty-eight years since the Jews in Italy had been freed and given the full rights of Italian citizens. And those rights had been taken away again. Now Jews couldn’t hold political office. They couldn’t serve in the military. Foreign Jews weren’t allowed in Italy at all, which meant Felix Adler, Camillo’s brother-in-law, had four months to leave, and going back to Austria was no longer an option.

Eva read the list over and over, examining the language, the details. Then she read it again, not able to fully comprehend what was happening, what had already happened.

Uncle Augusto, Aunt Bianca, Claudia, and Levi came over, and the family all talked in varying tones of incredulity, until they lapsed into nervous silence as the day wore on. Augusto could only scratch his head. “Why does this keep happening? Why the Jews? It is always the Jews!”

Camillo told Santino and Fabia that there were ways around the laws, and he would think of something. He told everyone not to worry, but for the first time in Eva’s life, she didn’t believe him.

By late afternoon, Eva couldn’t stand the black mood in the villa and grabbed her hat and her pocketbook and walked to the seminary. It had been three years since she’d visited Angelo there.

In the beginning, Fabia and Eva would visit Angelo at the seminary almost every day. It made the transition easier for him, and they would walk to the trattoria and have a gelato or play a game of checkers in the piazza in his hour of free time. Padre Sebastiano, the director of the seminary, was indulgent with Angelo, giving him certain allowances due to his circumstances and regular donations from Camillo. Fabia would crochet, Angelo and Eva would talk and laugh, and Angelo would be fortified until they came again.

Slowly but surely, Angelo shed his little-boy-lost persona and became a true Italian seminarian, blending in with all the other boys who attended school with the goal of becoming Catholic priests. But when he turned fifteen, Angelo told Eva to stop waiting outside for him. He said it was frowned upon and the other boys teased him. Eva had laughed and said, “But we are family!”

He had looked at her then, his mouth pursed like he wanted to say something. He had waited until Fabia’s attention was elsewhere.

“What, Angelo?” Eva huffed, her hands on her hips.

“You and I are not related, Eva.”

“But we are family, Angelo!” She was hurt by his rejection, but he was unyielding, the way only Angelo could be.

“You are too beautiful, and I am too attached to you. And you are not my sister or my cousin or anything close,” he repeated firmly, almost as if the truth of it made him sad. “The other boys think you are beautiful too. And they like to say things about you. And me. So I need you to stop coming here.”

Things had changed between them after that. Eva stopped waiting outside the gate for him, and even though the seminary was only five blocks away from the villa they both called home, she only saw him on school holidays or on the weekends when he missed his grandparents. They still talked and laughed when they were together, and she still played the violin for him, but things had definitely changed.

She needed him now, though. She needed to talk to him, to tell him her world was falling apart. Their world. For their worlds were intertwined by their families, whether Angelo wanted to claim her or not.

She walked down the street, finding herself looking at the familiar buildings and people of her neighborhood through new eyes. No one acted any differently. No one stared at her or pointed a finger at her, yelling, “Ebreia! Jew!”

Donna Mirabelli was walking toward her on the street, and when she reached Eva, she smiled warmly, greeting her the way she always did. The shops were open; the earth had not opened up and swallowed Italy whole. The laws were silly, Eva told herself. Nothing would change.