by Rosalia Scalia
In the evening, after dinner, the grownups drink espresso laced with Sambuca or anisette, the aromas of licorice, of anise, of coffee rising up like extended fingers and mingling with whiffs of garlic, tomato, and basil, remnants of the now finished dinner. The guest declines the espresso and instead wants the Sambuca as a shot—“with the fly”—three coffee beans anchored at the bottom of the glass, the Holy Trinity of health, happiness, and prosperity. Chin-chin, they say, toasting with demitasse cups and shot glasses, lifting them high above the table, giddy with relief that among them is a newly minted citizen of their new country. Chin-chin, they toast the guest, a lawyer who helped them file the correct papers.
They stuff cannoli with sweetened ricotta cheese dotted with chocolate chips, and their rough, calloused hands pass them around on pure white, fine bone china with gold rims and hand-painted peonies. The women cut wide circles in the centers of cakes, one a giant rum cake, shiny with thin, sugary icing, so that the slices, layered with vanilla and chocolate cream and flavored with real dark rum, will be even. The men cut and light cigars. Spoons and forks clink against the delicate, hand-painted peonies as they reprise the journey to the exalted summit of citizenship, their words bouncing back and forth between their old and new tongues, words reverberating through the home like racing soap bubbles.
None of them—extended family and one honored guest—notice two tiny girls, in their special, matching dress-up dresses and shiny, black, patent-leather shoes over lacy, white ankle socks, slip out of the kitchen. They run to the bedroom, where the mother’s dresser sits against the wall between two lace-curtained windows. The almost-twins in polka dots and bows, lace and ribbons, hold hands as they gaze at two statues atop the dresser. The statue of the lady in the blue gown with extended arms beckons the girls with her serene smile. Under the blue gown the lady’s bare foot treads on a brown snake as she balances with both on a blue and brown half-circle. Next to her an even more intriguing boy with golden hair stands by himself, his child head topped with a large, golden crown. He wears an astonishing silk, white cape with a fur border. Longing to touch them, the awestruck girls stare at the lady and the boy, unaware that their own small faces and polka-dotted dresses are reflected in the dresser’s polished sheen.
In the kitchen the grownups’ laughter sounds far away and does not disturb the silence of the bedroom. Together four small hands pull open the dresser’s bottom drawer. Four small patent-leather-shoe-clad feet climb onto the open drawer’s ridge, where they stand close enough to extend their short arms, stretching their fingers toward the statues, trying to touch the beautiful lady and the crowned boy. They fail.
Each clutching the dresser’s top edge for purchase with one hand, they reach with the other for the lady and the boy, but with their combined weight, both statues slide slowly and then quickly toward them. The dresser pitches forward, toppling over and hitting the floor with an explosion, its drawers escaping in all directions, silk, lace, pressed linen, and cotton flung wide. With a bang that rivals thunder, the dresser delivers the lady and the boy to the girls. The lady flies into the arms of one girl but she’s too heavy, and the girl watches the lady roll sideways over her patent leather shoes, surviving the fall with a chipped nose and scratched gown. The boy with the shiny crown rushes past the other girl, soaring like Icarus for a half a second before he plummets, smashing into pieces on the hardwood floor, only his silk and fur cape still intact.
All of the adults—extended family members and one guest—burst into the bedroom, talking at once with old and new world words. They survey the damage, snatch both girls, now crying, from the wreckage, and thank God in two languages for a tragedy averted, for a minor miracle that the fallen dresser did not crush the girls under its solid wooden weight. The grandmother sweeps the pieces of the shattered statue of the boy into a dust pan, the pieces clinking as they tumble into the trash can. The girls know that after the guest leaves, they’re in trouble for shattering the precious, shiny statues. They do not yet understand that they are the real jewels.
About the author:
Rosalia Scalia writes fiction and nonfiction. Her work has won several awards and has appeared in local, regional, and national publications including Amarillo Bay; The Baltimore Review; Blue Lake Review; Crack The Spine; The Oklahoma Review; North Atlantic Review; Notre Dame Review; Pebble Lake; Pennsylvania English; The Portland Review; Quercus Review; Riddle Fence; Silk Road Review; Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore; South Asian Ensemble; Spout Magazine; Taproot; Valparaiso Fiction Review; Verdad; and Willow Review. She earned a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University, and now serves as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine.