In another time, another life, before even the roosters were up, he was usually at the café in the butcher’s district, a glass of coffee in one hand, churro in the other and a song on his lips. But today, as the sky begins to pinken, he takes a swig of grappa and goes to the river, to say good morning and pay his respects to his departed wife. She left such a short time ago the sheets and pillow still hold her shadow, the cupboard her scent on the clothes he can’t bear to give away. He misses her deeply. He will miss her every day.
People greet him as he walks, a chorus of “hello”, “good morning”, “ciao” and “buongiorno”. Most don’t even know his name. They call him Grandpa Salerno because a long time ago he came from Salerno. He isn’t sure they would call him Antoni even if he asked, but he doesn’t mind.
He makes it to the park by the river with his coffee, black, and his egg sandwich, well done, watches the sky and city come to life. He watches Matteo, his friend and fellow émigré, who waves to him from across the river with his coffee, cream and sugar, and egg sandwich, runny. They both came to this country full of promises and dreams. They both ended up happy for a long time, family and years crinkling their eyes with laughter and now, sadness also.
Antoni loves the chill, even as thoughts of his beloved in the lightenng sky warm his shoulders the way she rubbed them warm after a hard day at work. He loves the smells, he loves the people. He loves this adopted city, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Today is planting day. Under Antoni’s watchful eyes, three of his four sons, the fourth far away in Trenton, New Jersey, were coming to plant his garden. For the raised bed already built there were lettuces and peas, carrots and herbs. Rolls of copper tape would line the wood to keep out snails. The rest of the small garden would be protected from animals by posts, wire and a gate, to be built by the sons. There they would plant corn and broccoli. Trellises for cucumbers would line one side, tomato cages the opposite. Plants, fertilizer, shovels and bags of cork for lining a path were all delivered yesterday. They all knew to bring their own gloves.
Also delivered were four bushes—roses created in 1952. Antoni and his wife Rose married in 1952. He ordered four to represent each son. This will be a garden of the heart as well as the body, and after he works his sons to back-breaking exhaustion they will feast on wine and tapas, congratulating each other and deciding who will come each Saturday to visit their father and weed.
It was a long day followed by a late lunch, the sons returning home to their wives, their gardens. Antoni, in an old chair dragged from the kitchen, toasted the last bit of color from the sky with one last glass of wine, whispered to his Rose in a mix of Italian, Spanish and English. And then, walking a little stooped from age and the surprise of being alone, he retired, an early night by anyone’s standards, to dream the plants growing and to get ready for the sunrise tomorrow.
TOBI ALFIER is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee. Current chapbooks are “The Coincidence of Castles” from Glass Lyre Press, and “Romance and Rust” from Blue Horse Press. “Down Anstruther Way” is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).