From Sand and Ash(4)

By: Amy Harmon

“Batsheva,” she had whispered, the word followed by a cough that had racked her frame and made her body shake. The way she said the name, the rasping whisper, the way she sighed through the syllables like it was the last word she would ever say, had made Eva hate her name for a very long time. When her father would call her Batsheva after her mother’s death, she would cry and cover her ears.

That’s when her babbo had started to call her Eva.

That was all Eva remembered of her mother’s life, of their very short life together, and she had tried to forget it. It wasn’t a memory she cherished. She would much rather hold her mother’s picture, pretending to remember the lovely woman with the soft brown hair and porcelain skin, holding Eva in her lap, sitting next to a much younger Camillo, no gray in his black hair, his face serious beneath smiling brown eyes.

Eva had tried to remember being the infant in the frame, the tiny girl who sat in her mother’s lap and gazed up intently at the woman who held her. But hard as she tried, she couldn’t remember that woman. Eva didn’t even look like her mother. She just looked like her father, Camillo, with paler skin and rosier lips.

It was hard to love or miss someone you didn’t even know.

Eva wondered if Angelo, Santino’s grandson, loved his mother. She hoped he didn’t love her too much. Loving someone and then losing them would be much worse than not having them at all.

“Why are you so sad?” Eva asked, pulling her knees up under her long nightgown. She’d found Angelo watching the storm in her father’s library, the doors opened to the balcony, the rain falling heavily onto the pink flagstones below. She didn’t think he would answer. He hadn’t answered her yet. He had been living in their villa with his nonno and nonna for three months, and Eva had done everything in her power to make him her friend. She had played the violin for him. She had danced for him. She had splashed in the fountain in her school uniform and gotten scolded just to make him laugh. He did laugh sometimes. And that kept her trying harder. But he’d never talked to her.

“I miss my mother.”

Eva’s heart lurched in surprise. He was talking to her. In Italian. Eva knew Angelo understood when he was spoken to, but she had expected him to speak in English, like an American.

“I don’t remember my mother. She died when I was four,” she said, hoping he would say something else.

“You don’t remember anything?” he asked.

“My father has told me some things. My mother was Austrian, not Italian like my babbo. Her name was Adele Adler. Beautiful name, isn’t it? I write it sometimes in my very best penmanship. Her name sounds like an American film star. She even looked like one a little. My father says it was love at first sight.” She was babbling, but Angelo was looking at her with interest, so she didn’t stop.

“The first time my babbo saw my mamma, he was in Vienna on business, selling his wine bottles. Babbo has a glass company, you know. He sells his bottles to all the wineries. Austria has very good wine. Babbo has let me taste it.” She thought Angelo should know how sophisticated she was.

“Did she play the violin too?” Angelo asked hesitantly.

“No. Mamma wasn’t musical. But she wanted me to be a great violinist just like my grandfather Adler. He is very famous. Or so Uncle Felix says.” She shrugged. “Tell me about your mother.”

He was silent for several seconds, and Eva thought he was going to revert to silence once again.

“Her hair was dark like yours,” he whispered. He reached out slowly and touched her hair. Eva held her breath as he fingered a long curl and then dropped his hand.

“What color were her eyes?” she asked gently.

“Brown . . . like yours too.”

“Was she beautiful like me?” This was asked without guile, for Eva had always been told how beautiful she was and accepted it with a shrug.

The boy tipped his head to the side and reflected on this. “I suppose. To me she was. And she was soft.” He said the word in English, and Eva wrinkled her nose at this, not sure she understood. “Soft? Soffice o grassa?”

“No. Not grassa. Not fat. Everything about her comforted me. She was . . . soft.” The answer was so wise, so specific, so old, that she could only stare.

“But . . . your nonna is soft too,” she offered eventually, trying to find something, anything, to say.

“Not in the same way. Nonna fusses. She tries to make me happy. Nonna wants to give me love. But it isn’t the same. Mamma was love. And she didn’t even have to try. She just . . . was.”

They sat watching the rain then, and Eva thought about mothers and lovely, soft things and the lonely way the rain made her feel, even though she wasn’t alone.