Blip Magazine Archive

 blipmagazine.net

 

Home : Archive : Links

Marcia Mascolini

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 remember.

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 to get.

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 Freddie's."

"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 Independent Cemetery.

"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 little car.

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 marker.

"A thousand pardons, Mr. Fugetta. I did not see you in the dark."

"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 too long.

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 morning.

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 said.

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.

Maintained by Blip Magazine Archive at www.blipmagazine.net

Copyright 1995-2011
Opinions are those of the authors.