Dec 01


"Mother, come back."

My son stands by the door and sighs, as if he has anything to sigh about.

"I'll come back when I'm dead!" I shout, shaking my fist at him. My voice scratches and scrapes at the back of my throat. 

He rubs his temple and purses his lips. "You can't leave the house alone. You'll forget your way. You'll be run over by a moped."

"If that's how I go, then that's how I go," I reply. "Better than dying in that sagging chair, in that sad living room of yours."


I stomp my foot on the cobblestones. "I'm going to the market. I'll be back before the fish is out of the oven." I turn on my heel and march away, my fists curled as they swing at my sides. I used to go to the market twice a week. I used to come home with armfuls of leafy greens and loaves of bread, still warm from the oven. I would always buy a sweet tart for my boy. I would buy him a sweet tart every time, and now he won't even let me go to the market by myself. He buys his greens from the store on the corner where they aren't fresh. He buys his bread from the shelf, where it's been sitting cold for hours. And he never brings me anything. All those years, I brought him a tart, and he doesn't bring me a single thing. My thankless son.

The neighborhood streets are just as I remember, houses knit into one and other, flat-roofed and muted in color, window boxes overflowing with florals. The laundry is strung from one side of the street to the other, and it flutters above my head, swaths of colorful cloth shifting in the afternoon breeze. I used to hang the washing out on the line in the morning, so it would be dry by afternoon. I used to look over and see my neighbor, Rosa, do the same, and we would smile at each other. We never spoke, only smiled.

I don't know where Rosa has gone. Now my son's wife does the washing and tells me to stay right where I am when I offer to help. She says I have earned the right to a liesurly morning, after so many years of washing clothes. I try to tell her that I never minded the work, but she doesn't listen. I used to whistle while I cleaned. Now I am silent while I sit and watch her clean. She watches the television while she works. I can tell she doesn't enjoy it. But she would rather do it unhappily than let me help.

The market is in the square. It is open and expansive, and the sun is bright on the vendors with their alluring calls to passersby, and their showy displays of fresh produce and goods. It's different than the last time I was here. Larger, more crowded with people. Oh, when was the last time I came to the market? I can't remember. It's just one of many dates that have slipped my mind. 

The produce stand is always by the steps of the church. Roberto is there every day, selling his produce. He sells me leafy greens. He sells me lettuce for salad and spinach for pie. But he is not there today. Today, there is a woman selling pots of honey. She smiles at me and gestures to her pots. 

"Would you like to try our local honey, ma'am?" she asks me. Her eyes are blue and her hair is long and golden. She reminds me of my daughter, the one who lives in Pisa now. 

I lean in towards her. "Where is Roberto, young woman?"

She tilts her head. "Excuse me?"

"Roberto." I flick a finger at her stand. "He is here, always, at the market. He sells his vegetables. His lettuce. I love his lettuce."

Her features soften and she clasps her hands in front of her chest. "I'm afraid I'm not sure what you're referring to. I can't help you." She flashes her white teeth and repeats, "But try some fresh honey, won't you?"

"Honey will not feed my family," I snap. I shuffle away as fast as my bones will let me. If Roberto is gone, how will I buy greens for my family? How will I cook dinner? How will I make my spinach pie? My son and my two daughters are waiting for me, back at home. My husband is at work. He loves my cooking. What will he think when I come home empty handed? 

My son. My son is expecting a sweet tart. I always buy a sweet tart for him. I can't disappoint my sweet, sweet boy. He is such a good boy. He helps with the chores. He helps me with the washing, sometimes.

The washing! If I don't get home in time, I won't be able to take in the washing before evening.

I blink. There are people streaming around every side of me. There are vendors calling in my ears. The cobblestones are hard under my feet. I see the church, its steeple rising above the square. I go to mass in that church every Sunday. I pray in that church every Sunday. 

Pray. I place my palms together and close my eyes. People brush by me, but I do not feel them. It is Sunday mass and my children are all lined up in the pew beside me, deep in prayer. They are such good children. My son is dressed in his little gray vest with his little blue tie. He is such a good boy. He deserves a tart from the market. I'll bring him one, when I bring home the leafy greens and the loaf of bread, still warm from the oven. I love to watch his face light up when I give it to him. My good boy. My son.