From Sand and Ash(3)

By: Amy Harmon






24 March, 1944

Via Tasso



Confession: My name is Batsheva Rosselli, not Eva Bianco, and I am a Jew. Angelo Bianco is not my brother but a priest who wanted only to protect me from the very place I now find myself.



The first time I met Angelo, he was a child. Like me. A child with eyes that had known too much disappointment for someone so young. He didn’t speak for a long time after he arrived in Italy. He just watched. I thought it was because he was American. I thought it was because he didn’t understand. It makes me laugh a little to think of it now, how I would act things out and speak so loudly, as if there were something wrong with his ears. I would dance around him, playing my violin and singing little songs, just to see if he would smile. When he did, I would hug him and kiss his cheeks. There was nothing wrong with his ears or his comprehension. He understood me perfectly. He was just listening. Observing. Learning.

Camillo, my very patient father, would tell me to leave him alone, but I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t. I realize now how the pattern never changed. I danced around him for years, trying to get his attention, wanting only to see him smile. Wanting only to be near him, wanting only to love him and be loved by him. I was rebelling even then, pushing back against the fear, though I didn’t recognize it. Rebellion was always my biggest ally, though sometimes I hated her. She looked like me and hurt like me, but she wouldn’t let me give up. And when fear took my reasons for fighting, rebellion gave them back.

My father told me once that we are on earth to learn. God wants us to receive everything that life was meant to teach. Then we take what we’ve learned, and it becomes our offering to God and to mankind. But we have to live in order to learn. And sometimes we have to fight in order to live.

This is my offering. These are the lessons I learned, the tiny acts of rebellion that kept me alive, and the love that fed my hope, when I had nothing but hope itself.

Eva Rosselli





1929





CHAPTER 1

FLORENCE

“Santino has a grandson. Did you know that?” Eva’s father asked.

“Nonno has a grandson?” Eva asked.

“Yes, Nonno. Though he isn’t really your nonno. You know that too, don’t you?”

“He is my nonno, because he loves me so much,” Eva reasoned.

“Yes, but he isn’t my father, and he wasn’t your mamma’s father. So he isn’t your grandfather,” her father explained patiently.

“Yes, Babbo. I know,” Eva said crossly, not at all sure why he insisted. “So Fabia isn’t really my grandmother.” It felt like a lie to say such a thing out loud.

“Yes. Exactly. Santino and Fabia had a son, you see. He left Florence and went to America when he was a young man, because there was more opportunity for him there. He married an American girl, and they had a little boy.”

“How old is the boy?”

“Eleven or twelve. He is a couple of years older than you.”

“What’s his name?”

“His name is Angelo, like his father, I think. But, please, Batsheva, listen for a moment. Stop interrupting.” Eva’s babbo only used her long name when he was growing impatient, so she listened and held her tongue.

“Angelo’s mother died,” he said sadly.

“Is that why Nonna was crying yesterday when she read her telegram?” Eva had already forgotten that she wasn’t supposed to interrupt.

“Yes. Santino and Fabia want their son to bring the boy to Italy. He has had some medical problems, an issue with his leg, apparently. They want him to live here. With us. At least for a while. Santino’s older brother is a priest, and they think the boy can go to the seminary here in Florence. He is a little old to start, but he was in a Catholic school in America, so he won’t be too far behind. He may even be advanced.” Her father said this as if he were thinking out loud, rather than communicating anything Eva actually needed to hear. “And I will help where I can,” he mused.

“We will be friends, I think,” Eva said. “Because we have both lost our mothers.”

“This is true. And he will need a friend, Eva.”

Eva couldn’t remember her mother. She died of tuberculosis when Eva was little. Eva had a vague memory of her lying very still in bed with her eyes closed. Eva couldn’t have been more than four years old, but she could still remember the height of that bed and the elation of success when she pulled herself up and over the side while clutching her tiny violin. She had wanted to play a song for her.

She had crawled to her mother’s side and touched her feverish cheek, the high, red color of a consumptive making her look like a rouged doll. Her mother had opened her lids slowly, her eyes glazed and drugged, furthering the comparison. It had frightened Eva, the almost lifeless figure with glassy blue eyes staring up at her. Then Eva’s mother had said her daughter’s name, and it crackled and broke between her lips like old paper.