All Souls' Eve
Supper dishes were dried and put away. The floor was swept.
Now Pierina Landi sat waiting at her kitchen table, smoothing
with her left hand the lace tablecloth that she herself had
crocheted while fingering her beads with the right. She was
waiting for her nephew, Vito, to take her to the graveyard to
pray for the souls of the faithful departed as she had done on
November 1, the Eve of All Souls, for as long as she could
She repeated to herself what she had said many times: America
was not a good country for old people. Just look at her. She had
to depend on Vito. Her own son, Giorgio, who should have been
there to take her to the graveyard, lived across the river with
the Polish wife. Tonight he was busy going to night school to
learn marketing. She was glad he didn't work in the mines, but
marketing . . . what was that? When she wanted a chicken, she
bought a chicken. She didn't need any marketing to tell her what
Pierina was getting very hot in her black woolen coat, but she
didn't want to waste one minute putting it on when Vito finally
arrived in his ugly little car. It was dark already, the wind
was rising, and she feared rain. She slipped the rosary into her
coat pocket and checked her carryall.
She had a small tin of biscotti, Ossa dei Morti, Bones of
the Dead Men, they were called, and a flask of brandy. She took
them for the dead to partake of in spirit and the living to eat
and drink while they lit candles on the graves. She wasn't much
of a drinker, a taste on Christmas and Easter, that was all. Too
many of the old coal miners killed themselves with drink. Her
husband, Carlo, used to say he needed a drink after work to
clear his pipes. But one drink led to another. That was the bad
part. She had also packed a double supply of matches because of
the wind and plenty of candles in their scarlet glass holders,
scraped and cleaned from last year, to guide the dead souls back
to the place their bodies lay.
Pierina put the carryall beside her purse on the table and
thought of calling Vito. Hadn't he said last week,
"Here's my cell number, Tia Pierina. You can call me anywhere."
Mr. Big Shot. Had a cell phone but not a job. Reach him nowhere
was more like it. Who knew where he spent his time? He was in
real estate, he said.
Headlights slicing across the kitchen window quelled her bad
thoughts about Vito. She heard the familiar two hard bounds on
the back steps before Vito flung the back door open and called,
"Hey, Tia Pierina, you ready?" as if she were late, not he. "Tia"
was the only word he knew in Italian. Then Vito hugged her and
kissed her cheek.
"Sorry I'm late. I was talking property with some guys at
"You stay away from those guys at Freddie's. A bunch of bums.
You go talk to Giorgio; he'll get you in at the A & P."
"I don't want to be no butcher, Tia."
They were silent till they reached the front gate of the Italian
"Meet you here in an hour, Tia?"
"Grazie, Vito." Maybe he could add a new word to his
vocabulary, Pierina thought, as she got out of the loud, smoking
She walked through the gate and up the main path, stopping to
tighten her scarf and pull up her coat collar. As her eyes
adjusted to the dark, she could make out figures walking around
and lights twinkling on many graves.
Pierina reached the Landi plot, just off the main path. No
lights. Nobody had been there. She went first to the big stone
with the family name on it. She placed vigil lights in an arc
around it. Lighting the candles was hard in the wind. She wished for
her Carlo. He could light his cigarette in a hurricane. She had
to kneel on the cold ground to light the candles, cupping her
hand around the glasses so the matches wouldn't blow out.
When she got to Carlo's grave she stood for a minute and said
her little prayer to speed Carlo's soul to heaven: May angels'
wings guide you to your rest in heaven with God and his holy
mother and all the saints. Secretly she feared heaven would be
cold, colder than Pennsylvania even. She quickly laid and lit
the vigil lights at his grave.
She grunted a little as she stood. Her knees would be stiff
tomorrow, but she walked as swiftly as she could across the
cemetery to the Orlandini plot. Here her older sisters were
buried and one nephew who died in the war. The soldiers always
put a little flag on his grave. That was nice, she thought, as
she placed lights by their gravestones and prayed for them too.
Quickly she rose from her knees, almost knocking over Mr.
Fugetta, who was stooped in half brushing his wife Rosa's
"A thousand pardons, Mr. Fugetta. I did not see you in the
"How are you, Mrs. Landi?"
"My knees are killing me in this cold."
"The lumbago's got me. The whole world is going to the dogs.
Even communism is no good anymore."
A long speech for the old Bolshevik. He missed his wife. Pierina
fetched into her carryall, found the tin of biscotti, offered
them to him and ate one herself. She remembered how Carlo used
to make fun of Fugetta for carrying his wife's clothes basket to
the backyard and holding it while she hung the clothes. She
secretly envied Rosa. Fugetta licked crumbs from his fingers and
asked if she brought a little drink.
Pierina reached in among the candles and glasses. Finding the
flask, she passed it to Fugetta. The wiry old man carefully
poured a modest tot into the cap, drank it down, screwed the cap
back on, and told her, "grazie." Pierina put everything
back in the bag and hurried to the next grave. Now her knees
really ached, so she decided to take a shortcut across the grass
to meet Vito at the gate. She didn't want to be disrespectful
and step on somebody's grave but following the path would take
Stumping off over the uneven ground, she tripped on a clod. Her
knees no longer hurt. She was flying, maybe on angel's wings.
This dying wasn't so bad, a thought cut short by her landing.
Porca miseria, where was she now? This couldn't be heaven;
even purgatory wasn't this damp. She shook her head once, twice.
Ah, now she knew. She had fallen into an open grave, made ready
for a burial the next day.
Pierina got to her knees, then shakily to her feet. She tried
over and over to get a toehold, but the greasy clay soil
defeated her. Vito wouldn't look for her. Unless she was at the
gate waving her arms wildly, he would think she got a ride home
from somebody else and roar down the street. Giorgio wouldn't
call so late to make sure she was all right. Maybe she would
have to wait until the priest came for the funeral the next
She sat down on the cold dirt. Her carryall clinked beside her
like an old friend. She reached inside for another biscotti and,
while she was at it, took a tiny nip from the flask. A little
anti-freeze, Carlo would say. She preferred to think of it as
medicinal, something to help her think. It warmed her and gave
her an idea. She lined the grave with the rest of the candles in
their scarlet holders and lit them to attract attention. This
could be a movie, she thought. Pierina's suppressed laughter
turned to a cough, which another tiny sip from the flash
soothed. But now she had a worse problem as the first drops of
rain hit her warm cheeks.
She stretched to her full height, still well below the lip of
the grave, and called, "Help. I'm trapped in this grave. Get me
out of here."
The few mourners still in the cemetery looked in the direction
of the hollow voice, confirming their worst fears of live
burial, but saw nothing but a rosy glow and smoke as if the
earth had opened, and they were seeing hell itself. Satan was
doubtless prowling about seeking souls to devour just as the
priest told them in church. With quick prayers to St. Michael
the Archangel to deliver them, they rushed for their cars.
Pierina heard starters screaming and motors racing as if a
hundred Vitos had come back for her, and then it was quiet. She
heard a shaky voice.
"Rosa, is that you? Did you come for me?"
"Fugetta, it's me. I can't get out of this grave."
"I am coming, Rosa."
"It's not Rosa; it's Pierina Landi," she called louder.
Fugetta's scared face appeared over the lip of the grave.
"What are you doing down there, Mrs. Landi?"
"Never mind what I'm doing. Just get me out."
"Should I call the fire department?"
"I'm not on fire. Those are candles burning. Get a ladder."
Energized by the emergency, he fairly trotted to the gardener's
shed for the ladder. Pierina didn't mind waiting. The grave was
out of the wind and warm from the candles. The rain had stopped.
"Stand back, Mrs. Landi. I'm putting the ladder down," Fugetta
Pierina planted its feet as well as she could in the muck, while
Fugetta held it in place. With many Dio mios from both of them,
she climbed to the top where she jumped into Fugetta's arms,
sending them both to the sodden ground in one heap, she on top.
She felt his arms go around her. They lay there for a while.
Then they both began to laugh.
"You should have seen the stampede when they heard your voice,"
wheezed Fugetta, as they pulled themselves upright.
"I wonder what the priest will think tomorrow morning when he
sees all the candles in the grave?"
"That Satan was celebrating a black mass, probably."
"I'd like to see his face."
"Maybe you can. It's Crespi's funeral tomorrow. Do you want I
should pick you up, and we'll go together?
"That's a good idea, Mr. Fugetta. Get to my house early. I want
to get a good seat."
"Do you think we'll be invited for the funeral lunch?"
"Oh, yes, the Crespis still follow the old ways. Anybody who's
at the funeral gets invited. It's Friday, and they're having it
at the Sons of Italy, so we might get scampi."
After years of teaching business writing, Marcia Mascolini
retired to write fiction in Portage, MI. Her stories have
appeared in Banyan Review, Laughter Loaf, Naked
Humorists, Mindprints, and SmokeLong Quarterly.