From Sand and Ash(6)

By: Amy Harmon

“Can I see?” she begged.

“Why?” Angelo shifted uncomfortably.

“Because I’ve never seen a missing leg.”

“Well, that’s the problem. You can’t see what isn’t there.”

Eva sighed in exasperation. “I want to see the part that is there.”

“I would have to take off my trousers,” he challenged, trying to shock her.

“So?” she said saucily, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t care about your smelly underwear.”

When he raised his eyebrows in surprise, she pressed sweetly, “Please, Angelo? No one shows me anything interesting. Everyone treats me like a baby.”

Everyone did treat Eva like a tiny princess. She was doted on, and Angelo had noticed that she didn’t especially enjoy it.

“All right. But you have to show me something too.”

“Like what?” She lowered her brows doubtfully. “My legs are just normal. My whole body is normal. What do you want me to show you?”

Angelo seemed to ponder that for a moment. Eva was sure he was going to ask to see her girl parts. Nonno would paddle them, and Nonna would cross herself and get out her black beads and start praying if they were caught, but Eva was curious too and wouldn’t mind having her questions about boy parts answered.

“I want you to show me that book you write in. And I want you to read it to me,” Angelo said.

Eva was surprised, but it was probably safer than show-and-tell, and she only had to think about it for five seconds.

“All right.” Her hand shot out to take his in a brisk handshake. From Angelo’s glower, she knew he was worried about the deal he’d made. Her willingness to shake probably had him thinking he was getting the raw end of it. He probably thought she wrote about him. She did. But she didn’t care if he knew about it.

Still, he shook her hand and began to pull up his right pant leg. All the other Florentine boys wore short pants almost year-round, but not Angelo. Angelo looked like a little man in his trousers and ugly black boots.

“I thought you had to take off your trousers!” Eva huffed, not liking that she’d already been lied to.

“I just wanted to see what you’d say. You aren’t a lady, that’s for sure.”

“I am too! I’m just not a silly lady who makes a fuss about a boy’s baggy underwear.”

He stretched his leg out, the adjustable steel columns strapped to his knee and upper leg on one end and attached to a black boot on the other.

Eva touched the adjustable braces with an outstretched hand, fascinated.

“It helps me walk. My papà made it for me.” His face changed at the mention of his father, the way it always did. Angelo’s father was a blacksmith, and he had promised to train Angelo to make things out of metal too. Angelo didn’t need two legs to build things with his hands. But that had been before his mother died. His father was in America, Angelo was in Italy, and nobody would be teaching Angelo to work metal.

“Can you take it off?” Eva really wanted to see him in all his legless glory. Angelo unbuckled the straps and moaned a little, as if it were a relief to loosen them.

He pulled the prosthetic free, and Eva stared down at the leg that ended just below his knee, her eyes wide, her lips parted in a soundless O.

Angelo looked embarrassed and maybe a little ashamed, as if he’d done something wrong. She reached out and took his hand immediately.

“Does it hurt?” The leather looked soft, and he wore a thick sock to protect his skin from the weight and pull of the contraption. But it wasn’t like pulling on a boot, and the oddly shaped lump just below his knee was red and chafed.

“Wearing the metal leg is a little uncomfortable. But I like being able to walk. I used a crutch for a long time. The brace is adjustable, and it will grow with me, at least for a few years. I can still use the crutch when my leg gets tired.”

“How did you lose your leg?”

“I never really had it.”

“You were born without it?”

“My mother said the doctor thinks the cord in her stomach was wrapped around it early on and it wasn’t getting any blood. It didn’t grow right and parts of my leg died. They removed the dead parts after I was born.” He shrugged. “Mamma said it wasn’t a big deal if I didn’t allow it to be.”

“Some of it grew right.” Eva’s eyes were on the muscles of his bared thigh, and Angelo blushed and immediately began reattaching his metal leg so he could push his trousers back down. His embarrassment made Eva blush too. She just wanted him to know his leg looked fine to her.

“I do exercises every day. I jump and lunge and squat so that my legs are strong. The doctors told me that the stronger I am, the more I can do. I am very strong,” he added shyly, his eyes darting to Eva’s face before he looked down again. She was impressed, and she smiled, nodding.