Authors: Tony Ardizzone
Tags: #General Fiction
The Evening News
THE FLANNERY O'CONNER AWARD
FOR SHORT FICTION
Stories by Tony Ardizzone
Paperback edition published in 2013 by
The University of Georgia Press
Athens, Georgia 30602
Â© 1986 by Tony Ardizzone
All rights reserved
Set in Linotron 202 Times Roman
Printed digitally in the United States of America
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover
edition of this book as follows:
The evening news : stories / by Tony Ardizzone.
161 p. ; 23 cm.
PS3551.R395E9 1986Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 813'.54Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 86-1403
ISBN 0-8203-0860-9 (alk. paper)
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0-8203-4461-4
ISBN for digital edition: 978-0-8203-4570-3
FOR DIANE KONDRAT
The author and the publisher gratefully acknowledge the magazines in which stories in this volume first appeared.
Beloit Fiction Journal:
“The Eyes of Children”
Black Warrior Review:
“My Mother's Stories” and “My Father's Laugh” (under the title “But You Can Call Me Thaddeus”)
“The Evening News” and “Nonna”
Memphis State Review:
“World Without End”
The Minnesota Review:
The Texas Quarterly:
“The Daughter and the Tradesman”
The author also wishes to thank the Old Dominion University Research Foundation for a summer fellowship that enabled him to complete work on this book.
The Evening News
They were going to throw her away when she was a baby. The doctors said she was too tiny, too frail, that she wouldn't live. They performed the baptism right there in the sink between their pots of boiling water and their rows of shining instruments, chose who would be her godparents, used water straight from the tap. Her father, however, wouldn't hear one word of it. He didn't listen to their
she'll only die anyway
please give her to us
maybe we can experiment
No, the child's father stood silently in the corner of the room, the back of one hand wiping his mouth and thick mustache, his blue eyes fixed on the black mud which caked his pants and boots.
he said, finally.
With this, my mother smiles. She enjoys imitating the man's thick accent. She enjoys the sounds, the images, the memory. Her brown eyes look past me into the past. She draws a quick breath, then continues.
You can well imagine the rest. How the farmer took his wife and poor sickly child back to his farm. How the child was nursed, coddled, fed cow's milk, straight from the tops of the bucketsâthe rich, frothy cream. How the child lived. If she hadn't, I wouldn't be here now in the corner of this room, my eyes fixed on her, my mother and her stories. For now the sounds and pictures are
sounds and pictures. Her memory, my memory.
I stand here, remembering. The family moved. To Chicago, the city by the Great Lake, the city of jobs, money, opportunity. Away from northwestern Ohio's flat fields. The child grew. She is a young girl now, enrolled in school, Saint Teresa's, virgin. Chicago's Near North Side. The 1930s. And she is out walking with her girlfriend, a dark Sicilian. Spring, late afternoon. My mother wears a small pink bow in her brown hair.
Then from across the black pavement of the school playground comes a lilting stream of foreign sound, language melodic, of the kind sung solemnly at High Mass. The Sicilian girl turns quickly, smiling. The voice is her older brother's, and he too is smiling as he stands inside the playground fence. My mother turns but does not smile. She is modest. Has been properly, strictly raised. Is the last of seven children and, therefore, the object of many scolding eyes and tongues. Her name is Mary.
Perhaps our Mary, being young, is somewhat frightened. The boy behind the high fence is older than she, is in high school, is finely muscled, dark, deeply tanned. Around his neck hang golden things glistening on a thin chain. He wears a sleeveless shirtâhis undershirt. Mary doesn't know whether to stay with her young friend or to continue walking. She stays, but she looks away from the boy's dark eyes and gazes instead at the worn belt around his thin waist.
That was my parents' first meeting. His name is Tony, as is mine. This is not a story she tells willingly, for she sees nothing special in it. All of the embellishments are mine. I've had to drag the story out of her, nag her from room to room. Ma? Ask your father, she tells me. I ask my father. He looks up from his newspaper, then starts to smile. He's in a playful mood. He laughs, then says: I met your mother in Heaven.
She, in the hallway, overhears. Bull, she says, looking again past me. He didn't even know I was alive. My father laughs behind his newspaper. I was Eva's friend, she says, and
we were walking home from schoolâ I watch him, listening as he lowers the paper to look at her. She tells the story.
She knows how to tell a pretty good story, I think. She's a natural. She knows how to use her voice, when to pause, how to pace, what expressions to mask her face with. Her hand slices out the high fence. She's not in the same room with you when she really gets at it; her stories take her elsewhere, somewhere back. She's there again, back on a 1937 North Side sidestreet. My father and I are only witnesses.
Picture her, then. A young girl, frightened, though of course for no good reasonâmy father wouldn't have harmed her. I'll vouch for him. I'm his first son. But she didn't know that as the afternoon light turned low and golden from between distant buildings. Later she'd think him strange and rather arrogant, flexing his tanned muscles before her inside the fence, like a bull before a heifer. And for years (wasted ones, I think) she didn't give him a second thought, or so she claimsâthe years that she dated boys who were closer to her kind. These are her words.
Imagine those years, years of
ja FrÃ¤ulein, ja, bitte, entschuldigen Sie,
years of pale Johnnys and freckled Fritzes and hairy Hermans, towheads all, who take pretty Mary dancing and roller-skating and sometimes downtown on the EI to the movie theaters on State Street to see Clark Gable, and who buy popcorn and ice cream for her and, later, cups of coffee which she then drank with cream, and who hold her small hand and look up at the Chicago sky as they walk with her along the dark city streets to her father's flat on Fremont. Not
second thought? I cannot believe it. And whenever I interrupt to ask, she waves me away like I'm an insect flying between her eyes and what she really sees. I fold my arms, but I listen.
She was sweeping. This story always begins with that detail. With broom in hand. Nineteen years old and employed as a milliner and home one Saturday and she was sweeping. By
now both her parents were old. Her mother had grown round, ripe like a fruit, like she would. Her father now fashioned wood. A mound of fluff and sawdust grows in the center of the room and she is humming, perhaps something from Glenn Miller, or she might have sung, as I've heard her do while ironing on the back porch, when from behind the locked back screen door there was suddenly a knock and it was my father, smiling.
She never tells the rest of the details. But this was the afternoon he proposed. Why he chose that afternoon, or even afternoon at all, are secrets not known to me. I ask her and she evades me.
Ask your father.
I ask him and he says he doesn't know. Then he looks at her and laughs, his eyes smiling, and I can see that he is making up some lie to tell me. I watch her. Because I loved her so much I couldn't wait until that night, he says. My mother laughs and shakes her head. No, he says, I'll tell you the truth this time. Now you really know he's lying. I was just walking down the street and the idea came to me. See, it was awful hot. His hand on his forehead, he pretends he had sunstroke. My mother laughs less.
There were problems. Another of her stories. They follow one after the next like cars out on the streetâmemories, there is just no stopping them. Their marriage would be mixed. Not in the religious senseâthat would have been unthinkableâbut in terms of language, origin, tradition. Like mixing your clubs with your hearts, mixing this girl from Liechtenstein with this boy from Sicily. Her family thought she was, perhaps, lowering herself. An Italian? Why not your kind? And his family, likewise, felt that he would be less than happy with a non-Sicilian girl. She's so skinny, they told him.
Mary's skin and bones. When she has the first baby she'll bleed to death. And what will she feed you? Cabbages?
Marry your own kind.
At their Mass someone failed to play “Ave Mari.” Since that was the cue for my mother to stand and then to place a bouquet of flowers on Mary's side altar, she remained at the
center altar, still kneeling, waiting patiently for the organist to begin. He was playing some other song, not “Ave Maria.” The priest gestured to her. My mother shook her head.
She was a beautiful bride, and she wore a velvet dress. You should see the wedding photograph that hangs in the hallway of their house in Chicago. Imagine a slender brown-haired bride in white velvet shaking her head at the priest who's just married her. No, the time is not yet for the young woman to stand, for her to kneel in prayer before the altar of the Virgin. This is her wedding day, remember. She is waiting for “Ave Maria.”
She is waiting to this day, for the organist never did play the song, and the priest again motioned to her, then bent and whispered in her ear, and then, indignant, crushed, the young bride finally stood and angrily, solemnly, sadly waited for her maid of honor to gather the long train of her flowing velvet dress, and together the two marched to the Virgin's side altar.
She tells this story frequently, whenever there is a wedding. I think that each time she begins the story she is tempted to change the outcome, to make the stupid organist suddenly stop and slap his head. To make the organist begin the chords of “Ave Maria.” That kind of power isn't possible in life. The organist didn't stop or slap his head.
I wonder if the best man tipped him. If my father was angry enough to complain. If the muscles in his jaws tightened, if his hands turned to fists, if anyone waited for the organist out in the parking lot. I am carried away.
significant. Literally they can be matters of life and death. An organist makes an innocent mistake in 1946 and for the rest of her life a woman is compelled to repeat a story, as if for her the moment has not yet been fixed, as if by remembering and then speaking she could still influence the pattern of events since passed.
Life and deathâ
I was hoping the counterpart wouldn't be able to work its
way into this story. But it's difficult to keep death out. The final detail. Always coming along unexpectedly, the uninvited guest at the banquet, acting like you were supposed to have known all along that he'd get there, expecting to be seated and for you to offer him a drink.