The Italian Picture
Sometime ago in Tuscany, Italy there was a family. Not by blood, but by friendship. A farmer and his wife; a mother, father and their daughter; a baker, and an assistant. I was that assistant. My name is Haley. I grew up in a place that is not yet remembered. So I'll leave it that way. This story isn't about me anyway. It is about how we stay strong no matter what. We must always stay strong for our loved ones. And this is how this story goes.
A farmer and his wife grew olives for a living on their land. At the market they had a shop that had a home above the shop. While the farmer sold his olives; his wife was up stairs selling books. She ran a small library/store. You could take books out at a time, sell your books, buy books, and trade books. Everyone call the farmer Mr. Olive. And they called his wife Mrs. Beatrice. Nothing too special about Mrs. Beatrice but that was what she was. Next in the family was the mother and her daughter. Mrs. Rachella and Mr. Rollins had a daughter who liked to explore things. their daughter, Meggy Jane, was always to be seen hanging around at the library(Mrs. Beatrice's library.) Everyone called her Meggy Morph or just Meggy. She was always to be seen reading a different book everyday. It was like the book morphed into another book. Then there was the baker, Mr. John Greene. He made the best bread in the whole village, everyone bought his bread. So they could eat Mr. Olive's olive oil. Then there was me. I was just an assistant. I helped Mrs. Beatrice at her library. I also lived in a little room in the back of her house by the olive groves. I was like her personal helper. But in my free time I liked to draw and paint. Most of the time from different angles of the olive groves. All together we were family. We helped each other and in the time of need all of us were there. Like a family should be. And that's how we were.
One day, in December, all the family was sleeping over at Mr. Grove's and Mrs. Beatrice's house for Christmas. Their house was so big it could fit all of us. Ten rooms and five bathrooms. Enough to fit us all. At one point that night, Mr. Rollins went to the village to pick up little Meggy's present. She had only been a year old. Mr. Rollins never came back. All worried to death, we all went out with flashlights and lanterns. It was snowing so bad that we had to stop looking for him soon after we started. When morning came Mr. Rollins was still not back. Tomorrow was Christmas day. We all left early except little Meggy, who we had left with one of the two maids in the house. We all searched. We never found anything. Mrs. Rachella went to her home to see if her husband had gone home to by pass the storm. He was not there either. He was nowhere to be found. We called a polizia . No one found him. Until two days later. Meggy had not known that her father was missing for Christmas. So we did not worry her. Once again we left little Meggy with the maids, as we went to see what the searchers found. Indeed they had found Mr. Rollins. His car had skidded into a ditch. He had been alive at the wreckage. But trapped. He had been wedged between the crushed car windshield and the smashed-in door. No one had any idea how he had smashed the door in. Yes, he had flipped the car over, but no one had any idea how he smashed the door. He had been taken by frostbite. The heavy snow had become a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Mr. Rollins was dead. Mrs. Rachella was distraught. She wanted to die after that. She went a whole week without doing anything drastic. She went to the funeral. We had once again left Meggy with a babysitter. She would not understand what had happened. But when Mrs. Rachella got home that was when she decided she'd rather be dead than go through a heartbreak. One-year-old Meggy had learned how to use a phone had three months old. She called Mrs. Beatrice saying that mommy had not come out of the bathroom for a very long time. Mrs. Beatrice and Mr. Olive came quickly as possible. When they got there, Meggy took them to the bathroom that her mother had not come out of. Mrs. Beatrice told Meggy to go to her room and not come out till she said it was ok. Meggy did as she was told. Mr. Olive opened the door, with force, and saw that Mrs. Rachella had stabbed her leg. They called the ambulanza right away.
When Mrs. Rachella was released, the medici told Mr. Olive that, she had tried to bleed to death. By stabbing her leg. Mrs. Beatrice was torn with grief. Meggy would have become an orphan, she would have no idea how she became one just that she once had a mother and father. Mrs. Beatrice wanted to talk with Mrs. Rachella right away, but the medici told her to let Mrs. Rachella rest for a while. Of coarse Mrs. Beatrice would never go against the doctors orders. But when they got to Mrs. Beatrice's house the first thing she asked was, "How could you? You would have left your daughter an orphan! She would never have understood why you would kill yourself! What were you thinking?!" Mr. Olive tried to stop her from asking but he knew, that once his wife was ready to do something, there was nothing that was going to stop her. This was one of those things. Mrs. Rachella just looked at Mrs. Beatrice if she were crazy. But then she said, "You don't know what it's like! You've never lost anyone! You don't know what it feels like to loose someone and have a child to take care of! A child that has no idea! You don't know what it feels like!" She had limped into the house by this time. Mrs. Beatrice held her head high and said, "You think I have never felt the loose of someone? Well I have. Before you came here I had two beautiful girls. They both got married and had children. They were all going to a Christmas party when a drunk driver hit them. Both my daughters, son-in-laws, and five grandchildren died. I do know what it is like! But I made a new family! I held my head high and told myself, the generation after me would not have wanted me to die. They would have wanted me to stay healthy and take care of the sick. And I have done that. As a mother I was a nurse. I have healed and cared for many. I have watched people die under my hands, and yet you say that I do not know what it is like to feel the lose of someone. You don't know what it is like to loose someone." I was watching Mrs. Rachella at this moment and she had a look of horror on her face as she took a step backward. It started to rain. You know how people say, "When it rains, it means God is crying. Did you know that?" I did know that. I knew that he cried many times. Mrs. Beatrice took Mrs. Rachella's arm and took her inside. She helped her up the stairs and put her in the bedroom she usually occupied. When Mrs. Rachella was settle in, Mrs. Beatrice went downstairs to make tea. She knew that was what Mrs. Rachella liked the most when she couldn't sleep. Mrs. Beatrice told me, "Meggy must not know about this. She must not ever, ever hear of this. Do you understand?" I looked up from my drawing and said, "Till she can understand, yes. I would never tell her only to have her ask tons of questions." She looked at me, "No you must never tell her. Why would you ever tell her. She would be more happy without the knowledge." I continued my drawing, not looking up said, "No, I don't think she would be. I was never told of my parentage. My parents probably thought, 'She would be better off not knowing.' But I'm not. I can't go on. I'm stuck. I don't know my name. I made a name. My name isn't really Haley. It's just the one that I gave myself. Meggy does need to know. Maybe not right now, but when she's old enough to understand." I know she was looking at me and smiling. When she next spoke, you could hear the smile, "You only make that much sense and talk about yourself like this when your drawing the dead. Who are you drawing?" I was surprised she could not guess. I turned my drawing around so Mrs. Beatrice could see. She drew in a sharp breath. She looked up at me with tears and said, "How can you draw that? How can you draw a perfect line? When you see the face of a dead person. How can you not cry over you picture? How can you?" I drew in a shaky breath and said, "It's raining."
"Yes. So. What?"
"God cries when it rains. It is his tears."
"No. That is not God."
"Then it is his loved ones." She knew who 'he' was.
"No. It is a scientific matter."
"Maybe. But I know that he never leaves us. He will always be with us. In us."
"You cannot think of that when your drawing."
"Because, doesn't it make you cry harder?"
"Not really. It makes me keep going." I got up and showed her. She nodded and smiled a sad smile. I left the kitchen. I didn't hear her again that night.
Life went on then. Not much happened. Meggy got older. Then disaster struck. Meggy was now eight. Everyone was doing just fine. Well almost everyone.
One day, in mid-August Mr. Olive got ill. The whole family was there. Mr. Greene with fresh bread, Miss Rachella with tea, Meggy with a bundle of wild flowers, and me with my best painting of Mr. Olive's olive groves. We all waited outside Mr. Olive's bedroom door as the doctor examined him. Mrs. Beatrice waited outside as well. When the doctor came out he looked grave. He asked to speak to Mrs. Beatrice privately. All of u heard her start crying. Mrs. Beatrice came back, the doctor left, Mrs. Beatrice told me to go make coffee and take everyone down stairs while she talked to Mr. Olive. I did as I was told. When Mrs. Beatrice finally came down, she too looked grave. She asked if they would all like to stay at the house for the night. For she knew it was a mile to where everyone lived and it was starting to storm. They all had agreed. Meggy had school the next day, so I went to put her to sleep. Once I had her washed and in bed she asked me, "Is Mr. Olive going to die, Haley?" I did not know the answer to that. I looked at her and I kept looking at her. This little girl was quite clever. She was courage's, smart, curious, and adventures. But she had a temper too. But still she saw that something was wrong. I looked at her and told her, "I don't know the answer to that question." I told her not to worry and I left her nodding off. When I go down to the Kitchen Mrs. Beatrice asked me, " Meggy is asleep, yes? She was nodding off when you left her?" I told her yes to all her questions. Then she looked at me and said, " You are a very good assistant. Now come sit so I can tell you what everyone wants to know." I went and took a seat in front of her, Miss Rachella was on my right and Mr. Greene was on my left. We all looked at Mrs. Beatrice.
Now I almost have forgotten to tell you. You might want to know what my name is. Why did Meggy call me Haley? That is not my real name though. I shall tell you at the end of my story. Don't skip to that part though, you will ruin the story. Maybe by then you will have guessed it. But I have many different names in this story.
Anyway, Mrs. Beatrice looked at all of us and with a shaky voice said, " Mr. Olive is ill with no cure. The doctor said that if he fights he will live a bit longer. The doctor also said it is very rare that people catch this. He also said that the people who do catch this illness, they all worked in fields. Something from the heat and the olive soil mixing together. Mr. Olive does not have much more time to live. The doctor sys he had either 4 or 8 weeks to live. I want to make it his best. Of coarse the only thing that makes my husband happy is being with his olives. But he cannot leave his--------" She was cut short by Meggy's scream. Miss Rachella was the first up, next Mrs. Beatrice, then me, then Mr. Greene. When we reached Meggy's room, we found Mr. Olive rocking her. He was standing up and looking out the window. Mrs. Beatrice went to the window to see what her husband was looking at, she paled at the first glance out the window. She sat heavily on the bed. We all looked out the window. And we were all stunned. Mr. Olive's grove was on fire. We all stood there helpless. We all knew that olives burned fast and if you inhaled their burnt scent, you would stop breathing for it was an acid smell. We would only go outside if the flames reached the house. Luckily it did not. Finally, Mr. Olive grew weak and was going to retire to his room. We all followed. The storm still raged outside. We shut off all electricity and all brought candles into Mr. Olives room. There we asked Meggy how it happened. Meggy was still wide awake so she told us, " It started to thunder and lightning. I had opened the curtain just a crack so it wouldn't be so dark. I was just getting out of be to dome down stairs to me with mama. When I heard crack. I looked out the window and saw fire. So I screamed. I didn't really know what else to do." It was nature who chose the fate of our family. We all fell asleep in Mr. Olive's room. The next morning we all went out to se if we could restart what we had begun. There was nothing left that could be replanted. There was nothing, nothing at all. Mr. Olive's illness got mush worse after he heard that the grove was no more. Three months later I was taking Mr. Olive's tea up to him when he said, "You know, I never was far from an olive grove. I grew up on one not far from here. I have always been growing olives. Ever since I was a little boy. My father told me that I would be best in all Italy. He died old and still caring for two things. His family then his grove. He used to tell me that your family always came first. I knew he meant I should also provide for my family. Haley?" I had sat down at the window seat but now I answered, "Yes? I'm still here." Mr. Olive looked toward me. "Do you know that the great oak, in front of the house is special?"
"Yes, I know it is very special. Why do you ask?"
"Oh no reason. Why is the oak special, Haley?"
"It is special because……..because it was where you asked Mrs. Beatrice to marry you?"
"Yes. It is where Mrs. Rachella met Mr. Rollins. Where he asked her to marry him as well. Now it's just you. The baker wants no one. And Meggy is too young. She will do great things. She might not need a family to support her. It is hard to tell from a young mind."
"Yes, Mr. Olive you are right."
"Will you promise me one thing?"
"Of coarse I will."
"Will you make one last picture?"
"One last……….picture? You mean you want me to stop painting?"
"No, no. One last picture of………..me."
"Yes, I will. Now?"
So I went to go get my paints. When I returned Mr. Olive was sitting up. So I sat down and painted. I finished before sunset. I was about to show Mr. Olive when he said, "No. I don't want to see it. Keep it. And Haley?" I was scared at his tone. But still I answered, " Yes, Mr. Olive?" And he said, " Make sure they bury me in the middle of my olive grove." Then he was gone. I cried so hard that night. I had screamed. I couldn't bare it. Mr. Beatrice came up with Mr. Greene, Mrs. Rachella, and Meggy right behind her. We all cried. But I didn't get out of bed for 3 days. I took no water, no food. I heard his last words. I had walked so many times with him. Through his olive groves, that I knew where he wanted a be a final resting place. It was where he found me.
I was only three years old when he found me. It was raining and thundering. A flare had been lit to the cradle that held me. Mr. Olive couldn't sleep that night. So he saw the distant flare and came to my rescue. I knew what my name was but I told Mr. Olive a different name. I don't know why I did it, I just did. So after the third night I went to tell Mrs. Beatrice. I went up to her while she was drinking coffee, I said, "Um, Mrs. Beatrice, there is something I have to tell you. Mr. Olive me to tell you the, um, he wanted to be buried in, um, the middle of the, um, olive grove. He found me there. Just thought you ought to know." She looked grey and old. She had always looked so young and bright.. But now she looked tired and old. She looked up and said, "Haley? That's not your real name is it? Will you tell me your real name?" I looked at her in horror. My mother had left me in the rain with no letter. I ran away from that name and have been running ever since. I have ever told anyone my name. And if I told anyone it would cause an uproar. So I told her, "Yes, it is not my real name. No, I will not tell you the name my mother gave me. I never have and never will. I am so sorry." I left then. I went to open the store, it had been closed long enough. When I reached the spiral stairs that led to the top of the store, I avoided looking at where I knew Mr. Olive used to always be. I knew the funeral was tomorrow. I wanted to do one thing, so I could leave it as his funeral. I went and opened the shop door and pictures of Mr. Olive were everywhere. I knew it was all for good cause but I couldn't stand it. But still I opened the shop anyway and left it the way it was.
The funeral went by, people who knew him and people who didn't came. Everyone was dressed in black or dark green. Even little Meggy was in a dark green dress. Two days after the funeral, Mrs. Beatrice closed the store and took everyone's keys. None of us could understand it. Mrs. Beatrice never got depressed. Months went by; fall came and went; winter came and went; spring was here; the store stayed closed; the grove got healthier but no one took care of it; I kept painting; everyone went on with their life, not so happy but they went on; Mrs. Beatrice never saw daylight again. So I got bored.
One day, in mid-March, Meggy and I were sitting under the special great oak. Meggy was doing her math homework, I was painting her do her homework. She looked up suddenly and said, "It would be so cool if we could put a porch on this tree. We could have a swing too and a ladder? I wish we could build one right here." Then her mama came and took her away. I was lucky I had been able to finish my painting. But then I thought, 'It would be cool. And it would deep us all busy. Hmm, I wonder if I could build it?' I went back inside then. That night I made up my mind. I would help Mrs. Beatrice again.
I went out the next morning to buy wood and I came back with wood and helpers. We got the job done by the end of the week. A swing, a porch in midair, a ladder going to the porch, a spot you could put valuables, as it rained, under the branch bench. It was a perfect spot. No one had seen it yet. Except me and the helpers. We even dug up the base of the tee so we could plant flowers. I thanked them all. They would not accept a reward so I watched them drive off, still a bit more lonely. I went back into town to get flowers and bread. While I was in the bakery I ran into Mrs. Rachella and Meggy. Mrs. Rachella was not able to take care of Meggy that night, her job wanted her to work, so I said, "I'll take Meggy for the night. If you want me to." Mrs. Rachella told me how thankful she was and of coarse I said, "You know it's always a pleasure to have Meggy over." She asked how Mrs. Beatrice was, and I told her not too well. I had already gotten the flowers so now I could go home. Me and Meggy talked about how this time was when everything bloomed , and Mr. Olive got his best olives in this season. We were almost to the house when Meggy said, "Why can't we open the shop again? Why should it stay closed? Mrs. Beatrice doesn't want it open? I don't believe that. Do you Haley?" I only shook my head. Mrs. Beatrice was not right at the moment, I didn't know what she wanted. Only what she would have wanted. Would have wanted. I slammed on the brakes. Meggy, thank God, was wearing her seat belt. She cried, " What was that for?" I wasn't listening to her though. I said, "Mrs. Beatrice would have always wanted the store open right? So lets open it and not tell her." Meggy's eyes shone like a new star. She cried yes and we drove on. When we reached the house it was raining very hard. Meggy jumped out and ran. She didn't look back at the truck. Thankfully. She would not see the special surprise until it was ready. I grabbed my bag, and jumped out of the truck too. I ran straight toward the house. The flowers would be fine. I opened the door and Meggy race in. She went to put her stuff in the room that she had always occupied. Even when Mr. Olive had died. She didn't seem to not like being in the room, she still loved it as she always had. I was grateful. Then when she had put everything away upstairs, she came downstairs. She had a book and an unlit candle. I was making hot chocolate. Meggy had lit the candle and started to read. When the hot chocolate was down she drank slowly while she read. I made a pencil drawing of my favorite subject. The kitchen. I had always loved the kitchen more than anything. I had turned off all the electricity. When it was just me and Meggy, we like to just do things by candle light. I thought it was a good idea. Meggy just thought it was a new adventure. I didn't blame her. It was a new adventure. We were both in our own little worlds. Mrs. Beatrice came in. Very quietly. She sat down and we both screamed. Me and Meggy screamed. Meggy's cup of hot chocolate went flying. Our breath exhaling, put the candles out. My drawing was flung up into the air. But through all that, Mrs. Beatrice just sat there. When I finally lit the candles again, I said, "Mrs. Beatrice! You frightened us. What do you need?" I looked over at Meggy. She was slightly crying. She had fell backward in her chair and scraped her elbow. I helped her up and went to wash it, with her slightly whimpering. I cleaned her scrape, and she went to clean up her mess. Mrs. Beatrice watched her leave. Then very quietly she asked, "What is your name?" I was frightened then. I thought she had lost her mind. I quickly said, "My name is Haley. Don't you remember me?" She looked up and then I saw that she had become very pale. She answered me, "My husband, Mr. Olive, hasn't come in yet. He must have hired you. Please will you call for him?"
"Yes, I will. I'll be right back." I just said them. I didn't really mean them. I rushed out of the room. I quickly found Meggy. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her gently, "Meggy, you must listen to me. Mrs. Beatrice has forgotten who we are. You must play along. She still believes that Mr. Olive is still alive. You must pretend that he is. Okay?" She looked at me in horror. The she whimpered, "Mrs. Beatrice has lost her mind?" I looked at her. Then I answered, "Yes, well sort of. I don't really know. But you must play along for now. Okay. We don't want to upset her." Meggy nodded quickly. She loved to play pretend. Even at this age she loved it. Even though she was eight. She loved it. We went into the kitchen again and went on as planned. Finally, Mrs. Beatrice asked, "Maid? Do we have any flowers I could plant?" I looked at her and said, "Yes, as a matter of fact we do. Would you like to replant them tomorrow morning?" Mrs. Beatrice broke into a big smile, "Yes, I would like that. See my husband would not want me to grieve over his death. Yes, thank you Haley. I think I will go to bed now. Goodnight Haley. Goodnight Meggy." And then she left. Meggy and I both were confused. She was supposed to not remember. I put Meggy to bed and hoped for a good tomorrow.
And it was. I took Meggy to school early the next morning. And then I showed Mrs. Beatrice where she could plant the flowers that I bought yesterday. She was so happy. So I left her alone. I had stole one of the keys from Mrs. Beatrice's room. She would never notice. Or so I hoped. Then I checked in one last time on Mrs. Beatrice. Then I went to open the book store. It was covered in dust too. So I opened all the windows. Oh, I thought, how I miss this place. Then the first costumer came in. And it was Mrs. Beatrice.
I knew I was in trouble. Mrs. Beatrice looked around the place and then she looked at me and had an angry expression. Then she said, "Why did you open this place up again? I closed it for a reason!" I looked at her, but I held my head high. There was no reason to close somewhere, where many people loved to be. I answered, "And what would that reason be? This place has always been a beautiful place. When you closed it, someone came in a put up pictures, photos, poems, story, songs about Mr. Olive! He would not want such a happy place to become such a dark place." She looked at me then she broke. She started to cry. I couldn't help it. It was in my nature to help those who needed it. I went and put my arms around her. Then I helped her into one of the big armchairs that many people had sat in. She cried, "I closed this beautiful place because I thought so many would hurt the way I was. I didn't want people to suffer the way I did." I cooed, "People did hurt the way you did. There is nothing wrong with that. But people wanted a place to go to let go of their sorrow. And this is one of the few places they could. You understand that right?" She laughed and dried up her tears. She looked to fragile, but so much like a child who scraped their knee. She laughed and said, "Yes, I do understand. And it's funny. Just the other day, I was comforting you. And now your comforting me! That is very strange."
Then after that everything went back to normal. Mrs. Beatrice and I got the tree house done together. Meggy had screamed with joy. She loved it. I knew she would. After that she grew up. Nothing else happened in my life. Or anyone else's life for that matter. I got married to a beautiful man named . And we had two children. A little boy and girl. Meggy went to college. She wants to learn how to be a farmer and a nurse. Mrs. Rachella, never married again. She helped take care of the grove. Which turned to be the best grove in our little part of Italy. My painting sold for millions. I became a famous painter. Everything went right as the world will ever allow. Every day, at sunset, we all visit Mr. Olive's grave. Mrs. Beatrice soon died of old age. I told my family, that if they did not want to occupy me, they could stay where we had been. But I moved into my old home. And soon, I had made everyone else move in too.
Mr. Greene married and him and Mrs. Greene moved in. I guess Mrs. Beatrice was wrong. When Meggy came home she would sleep in her old room. Me and my husband slept in my old room. My children slept in the room next to ours. Mrs. Rachella slept in her old room. And we left Mrs. Beatrice's and Mr. Olive's room be. We didn't want to touch our great memories. And now as I write my history, I have another child in me. I have loved the land I've lived on forever. I never found my real family, but I always had a true family. We all still live in the old farmhouse. My children play in Meggy's old tree house. We are still a family. Just as Mrs. Beatrice and Mr. Olive would have wanted. And now for what you have always waited for through this story. My true name is………………..