Public version of "Papa"
Anna sat down on the couch slowly, the receiver to the phone still in her hand. A dull ache was spreading through her chest and tears pricked her eyes as the echoing voice still rang in her aging ears, "She gave it back Nonna, she gave it back." Her grandson hadn't referred to her as Nonna since before his mother died, but to hear that heart breaking tone in his voice now, as a grown man, shook her to the core.
"Oh Roberto," she sighed wistfully, looking up at the picture of her departed husband, the image distorted in her tear filled eyes. "How can I help our grandson?"
The smiling portrait gave her no response and she carefully placed the phone back in its cradle, her hands still shaking. "My poor baby Tristan," she whispered to herself. Her hands moved to the smiling framed picture that always sat beside the phone, where a pair of bright violet eyes twinkled back at her. Dark luxurious hair framed a youthful face, mischief and excitement glowing from the bright cheeks. She knew that look, it was his mother's face, her looks and her coloring that now was all that she had left of her only child, her beloved daughter.
"Isabelle," she murmured, "What can I do?"
Tears blurred her vision in entirety as the memories of years past came to her, leading her to a time when Isabelle came home with news that would change all their lives forever.
"Izzy, over here," her mother called out from their comfortable seat in the grass.
"Sorry I'm late, traffic was horrible," she said, a little out of breath as she settled down on the soft large blanket that her mother had spread out on the damp grass.
"That's fine dear, I figured there would be traffic getting out of the city for the holiday weekend," she said and shuffled through the large basket at her side, pulling out a few plastic containers. "Your father just went to grab some food from the grill, if you want to help me finish setting up the blanket."
Isabelle took the containers from her mother and smiled, "You made peperonata, with melanzane I hope."
"Of course!" Anna replied, grinning as her daughter opened the container that contained one of her favorite dishes. But instead of her usual sly grins of content, she stared curiously as Izzy's face flashed pale for a second, and her lips pursed.
"Are you alright," she asked and Izzy nodded, placing down the container.
"Yes, I'm just a little tired, "she said with a quick wave of her hand before leaning over to take another container and place it on the blanket, this time without bothering to open the lid.
"Ah, there's my baby girl," Roberto said, carrying a plate of steaming grilled mix. Izzy smiled and lifted her hand to hold the plate while he lowered himself to his knees. She gracefully balanced it in one hand as she leaned over and kissed her father on the cheek.
"Hello Papa, I'm glad you invited me."
"Ma. It wouldn't be Ferragosto without you here," he said warmly and reached for her plate, "Now, would you like some ribs or maybe some chicken?"
Izzy leaned forward to examine the choices of meat and Anna watched with growing apprehension as her only child inhaled sharply and she pulled away from the rising steam.
"Um, maybe I shouldn't Papa, you know the show is almost over and I would hate to get too fat for my costume now. I think I'll just have some salad," she smiled and reached for the large bowl in the center of the blanket.
"Nonsense, why if you lose any more weight, I'll be able to see right through you, bimba mia," her father said, "Here, eat up!" He leaned forward with the plate and as soon as it came near Izzy's face, her eyes widened. Anna looked worried as her daughter's eyes dilated and her nostrils flared wildly.
"Excuse me, " Izzy said quickly and rose to her feet, nearly knocking the plate from her father's hand in her accent, and made her way across the grassy field towards the shore of the Prospect Park Lake.
"What?" Roberto said, giving his wife a curious look. She simply shook her head and rose to her feet, "Don't eat too much red meat, you know what the doctor said, "she warned before she made her way through the families that were picnicking along with them. Isabelle looked so small and cold standing in the slight breeze, despite the near 90's heat of the day.
"Honey, is something wrong," she asked as she neared her daughter and felt her flinch a little as she laid a hand on her shoulder.
"I…I'm not sure Mamma," she replied, never turning her head. "I think I've caught some sort of stomach bug. Lately everything makes my stomach turn, even food."
Ever typical of a mother, Anna moved her hand to her daughter's forehead, something that was quickly waved away. "I don't have a fever, it could be just nerves, we've got some big reviewers coming in for the show and it's got everyone a little jumpy."
"Did you eat anything odd lately," Anna asked curiously.
"No, nothing out of the ordinary, maybe Papa was right, and I'm just a little undernourished, though I don't think greasy meat would be the best idea right now. I think I'll start with that salad though and see if I can work my way up to red meat." She smiled and seemed to gain some color to her cheeks as she wrapped an arm around her mother's waist.
"Non preoccuparti Mamma, I'm sure that this'll pass in a day or two, and then everything will go back to normal."
Anna set down her knitting to the sound of the front door being opened and looked up in surprise to see Isabelle standing in the doorway, dripping wet and looking like a drowned rat.
"Cara bimba, what are you doing out in this weather," she cried and jumped up, grabbing the blanket off the back of the couch and quickly wrapped it around her child. Izzy accepted it shaking, but Anna felt in her gut that the quiver wasn't from the cold rain that soaked her clothing.
"Where's Papa," she asked softly.
"He's gone with some friends for the day, some sort of gathering at the Italian-American club," she said, steering her daughter towards the large armchair known in the family as "the throne". High cushioned armrests and a low seat cushion the enveloped even the largest body to occupy it. Izzy looked remarkably small and completely alone sitting in it, rather like a novelty doll in an oversized chair.
"What possessed you to come all the way out of the city in this weather?" she asked.
"I….I needed to talk to you Mamma, and I couldn't do it over the phone," she said softly, giving off a little shiver.
Anna leaned forward and took her daughter's hands in her own, noting that they were ice cold, "Cara, what is it."
Izzy's lips moved and Anna had to strain her ears to pick up her voice. For a woman who had the ability to speak in a normal tone but have her voice carry to the far end of a performance hall, it was eerily frightening. Finally Izzy took a deep breath, and in a voice that seemed calm but rippled with buried anxiety said, "I'm going to have a baby."
"What!" her father shouted loudly, causing her small form to jump in her seat. Neither woman had heard him even come in the door. Izzy withdrew deeper into her blanket as her father stepped in front of her, his medium frame seeming to grow even larger with each movement. "Who did this to you?"
"Papa please, just sit down," Izzy tried to calm her father, but it only enflamed him more.
"I will not sit down, I cannot sit down. You expect me to sit down when I find out that some….some….disgraziato has destroyed my daughter's honor and pride?"
Izzy took a deep breath, "Nobody destroyed my honor Papa," she began but was cut off.
"Oh, you think this is nothing against your honor? How can you hold your head up in this community now? You're an unmarried woman, carrying someone's child without the proper blessing of the church. What will everyone think? Have you considered the mortal sin you've brought on yourself? On this innocent child?"
Izzy opened her mouth and her father stepped forward, "Tell me this instant, who is it? Who is the vile man who has ruined your life?"
Anna felt every protective instinct in her body rise up and she had to fight a mother's urge to defend her daughter, and her loyalty to her husband's better judgment. Izzy looked like she was about to cry, and whispered, "Tai."
"Tai? The married man you were working with? He's the father!"
"Papa, please calm down," Izzy pleaded.
"No, where is he? He thinks he can just take advantage of my child and not be man enough to stand up for his actions?" Anna watched as the distraught face of her daughter suddenly turned to a mask of fury.
"No one took advantage of me!" she yelled and leapt to her feet, with all the passion that her father was just exhibiting. "Papa, listen to me! This isn't Tai's fault, and this isn't my fault. This is something that is. Papa, I'm going to have this baby, he or she is going to be loved and there will be nothing about the nature of his conception that will stain him."
"He is a bastard in the eyes of the church," Roberto shot back.
"He is a child born of love! If that is a mark in the church, then….then…." Izzy's fury was full borne, and it was reaching the level where one might say something in the heat of the moment they don't entirely believe.
"If the church thinks this baby a mark of shame, then…then I don't need the church's judgment! I love Tai, with everything that lives within me. I love him with all the love you told me that God has for us, the love that you told me lies behind Ti Amo. It was a mistake of Fate and the shameless manipulation of a shameless woman, the same kind of woman that you seem to think I've become, that keeps us from being together."
"Then where is he now? If he had any sense of honor, he would be here now, not leaving you alone with this."
"I haven't told him yet, and I'm not sure if I will. I won't be the one to destroy his life and I most certainly one be the one who takes Stephen away from him, especially since it would probably destroy that adorable little boy to lose his father, and scar him to grow up under that woman's influence. No Papa, if I have to I will raise this child alone, and he will grow up knowing that his mother and father love him, and love each other. If you can't accept that, then I'm sorry."
Izzy sat back down in her armchair, her arms crossed over her chest, cheeks flushed with diminishing anger. Anna watched the standoff between Father and Daughter silently; knowing full well that to get between them now would only put her in the line of fire. She watched as Roberto finally turned without a word and walked into their bedroom, closing it firmly behind him.
Without saying a word, Anna rose and went into the kitchen, prepared some natural water with a few frozen leaves of mint from her garden and brought it back to the living room, where Izzy had begun to release the tears she was holding back.
"Drink this, it helped settle my stomach when I was pregnant with you," she offered gently. Izzy took the glass and sipped the water slowly, parting her lips enough to let a mint leaf slip between her lips.
"I didn't think this was going to happen, I knew he'd be mad, but I don't think Papa will ever speak to me again," she mourned softly as she set the glass back down.
"Don't worry baby girl, your father is many things, but he's hardly a fool and more than anything he loves you. Right now he needs to think things through, as do you, and when the dust has settled, you'll work something out."
"No, I won't do it!" Roberto clenched his fists against his legs as he stared down his wife.
"Roberto, I can't go, not with my knee this swollen and I promised Izzy that I would be there with her for the first ultrasound. You have to go for me."
Her husband bit his lip till Anna was afraid that it would cut through before he turned his back, his voice tight, "I refuse."
"You're going to leave her alone, even today?"
"It is not my responsibility; this was her decision, hers and that horrible man. She knew the consequences of her actions and now she must face them. I will not be a part of it." There was a finality of his voice that sent a shiver of fear though Anna's spine. It was the sound of Roberto and Izzy's tie as father and daughter being cut.
Hobbling painfully even the two feet to close the gap between them, she grabbed his arm and forced him to turn and look at her. Her body was tight, her throat even tighter and her eyes reflected anger, desperation and annoyance. He swallowed loudly as she hissed out between her teeth.
"You listen to me, and you listen good. I don't care right now about your issues, I don't care about gossip and I most certainly don't care about this reputation you think we have to uphold. This is our ONLY daughter, our baby girl, the same creature we fought to have, struggled to raise, stood in awe of every day of her life and love more than ourselves. She may be an adult, and she may have her own responsibilities, but until the day we're called to Heaven, she is still our child and we have a duty to be there for her. Now our baby is going through something terrifying and she's doing it alone. I will not stand by and make her go through this anymore alone than she has to. Now, get your coat on, get in that car, and get your Italian ass to the hospital and if I find out you didn't stand by and hold her hand, I'll change all the locks, and leave you on the sidewalk. Let the neighbors talk then!"
She heard him inhale sharply, and beneath a grumble of unintelligent mumbling, he reached for his jacket, gave her one more look which she silenced before he could say something stupid, and watched as he walked out the door. She waited until she heard the car start and pull away from the house before she winced, bending over and clutching her knee as she limped to a chair and sat down.
"For all that I love that man, sometimes I just want to…ouch!" she said irritated.
Izzy lay on the examination table, feeling rather like a thanksgiving turkey. She never thought she could feel so utterly uncomfortable and swore that if the doctor mentioned the words internal anything, she'd do some shoving of her own. Her head was killing her, her arms were covered in goose bumps and she wanted to just go home and take a hot shower, get in her PJ's and curl up in bed.
The doctor had stepped out and she lay there counting the speckles on the ceiling tiles. Her mother still hadn't shown up and she was beginning to worry. A thousand scenarios were working their way through her head and none of them were comforting. To top everything off, she really had to go to the bathroom, but didn't know if she was allowed.
A knock on the door announced the nurse who merely put her head through the door. "Ms. Himes, you have a visitor, shall I let them in?" Izzy nodded and the door opened a little wider.
"Papa!" she said, pulling herself to sit a little more modestly, well as modest as one could on a paper covered table in a paper dress. "What happened to Mama!"
"Your foolish mother slipped on the mopped floor this morning and bumped her knee. She couldn't drive into town and sent me."
Izzy felt a little uncomfortable having her father in the OB/GYN office, let alone in the examining room and she really had to go to the bathroom. He didn't look that comfortable himself as she removed his scarf and jacket and placed them on a hook next to the door.
"I need a hand," Izzy said shyly, realizing that she would require a hand to get up. Her father took her elbow and seemed to find the floor very interesting as she used his stance to pull herself off the table and walk very slowly towards the small adjacent bathroom. When she came back, her father was waiting to help her walk back to the table, all the while staring at his feet.
"Thank you for coming," she whispered as she laid back down and he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Tell truth I didn't want to, but your mother…" he cracked a small grin, "she can be persuasive."
"Threatened to change the locks?"
He blinked in surprise and she laughed, "Mamma used to say that to me on a weekly basis in high school." He began to smile when the door opened and the doctor came strolling in, followed by the nurse. He was flipping through a clipboard of papers, as is dictated in the doctor's handbook of behavior, and gave her a warm smile.
"Ah, I see your…." He paused, giving the nurse a curious look and Izzy's eyes lit up in glee. She knew exactly what was going through his mind and so wanted to call him out, but she was stressed and this man might make her submit to more blood tests, poking and prodding so she decided otherwise.
"My father, Roberto," she said softly and saw a look of relief pass through the doctor's eyes. She gave him a sly look and watched as he looked away quickly as he began to prep the ultrasound machine.
"Now, I don't want you to get your hopes up, you're only about 19 weeks along and sometimes the visuals aren't the best, you might not be able to determine the sex of the baby just yet."
Izzy's hand found her father's as the doctor gently spread the gel on her skin and began to run the wand across the soft mound of her abdomen and he felt her squeeze strongly as her eyes closed. She wasn't in pain, she was scared. He knew that look anywhere. His eyes followed the misshapen grey images that began to form on the screen beside her head. He watched as the visual became clearer and suddenly he heard it.
He remembered that sound when the doctor placed the stethoscope to his ears and heard the rapid beating heart of his baby girl deep within her cocoon. He recalled the look of joy on Anna's face as she took a deep breath and began to cry.
Izzy's tear stained cheeks turned to look at him and he blinked, looking back at the odd shape on the screen. He didn't understand what he was seeing, but he knew what he was hearing. Suddenly all his anger, frustration, feelings of betrayal and fear was washed away in a sea of awe and amazement.
The doctor's voice faded into his conscious thought, "Well Ms. Himes, it seems I was mistaken."
Izzy blinked and looked at the doctor as he pointed to the screen, "Most babies this early are camera shy, and tend to turn from the wand, this one is ready for his close up." Izzy laughed lightly as Roberto felt his heart skip a beat.
"He?" he asked, the emotion causing his accent to come to the surface, "Issa boy?" After Izzy was born, he despaired at the knowledge he would never have a son, and now.
"Yes sir, your grandson looks very healthy and growing at a very good rate," the doctor said as Izzy squeezed her father's hand again, giving him one of her lovely bright smiles.
"Perdonato Papa?" she whispered and he felt tears rise to his eyes as he took a shuddered breath.
"Sono Io che ti chiedo perdono," he whispered and bent over to kiss her forehead. "Just one favor cara mia, don't call him Roberto. A name like that, he'll be just as foolish as I am."
Izzy looked a little surprised and then smiled, "That's what middle names are for."
Ma- Not a typo, this is rather like saying "Well…"
Perperonata with melanzane- A typical Italian dish of stewed bell peppers, onion, and eggplant.
Ferragosto- August 15th, religiously the Ascension day of the Virgin Mary, but celebrated as a national day off, the beginning of the end of summer. Everyone goes to the beach or to the mountains.
Cara- dear (term of affection)
Bimba mia –My baby girl
Non preoccuparti – Don't worry
Perdonato – Am I forgiven?
Sono Io che ti chiedo perdono- It is I who ask your forgiveness.