Stephanie Laterza



A pink moon in ink b 4
Illustration by Pat Singer

Nonna would cry with Laura on Sundays. After Mass at St. Rita’s, but before pasta at two o’clock, Laura, the thirty-something Sophia Loren twin of the neighborhood, would climb the three flights of marble steps to Nonna’s prewar apartment, dressed in the black wool skirt suit she had worn to her father’s funeral, her face covered in a matching lace veil. In one hand, Laura clutched a black silk purse with two black roses perched on either side of the handle, and in the other, a Walken’s Bakery[1]  box of pine nut, or pignoli, cookies, which Nonna always served with shots of Strega[2] limoncello. The consensus in the neighborhood was that enough time had passed for Laura to have gotten over her grief after losing the most important man in her life—her philandering ex-husband, Tulio, in the late 1960s. Against the counsel of her only daughter and Dad’s older sister, my Zia Mena, Nonna took Laura in every Sunday, drinking in her deluge of tears and lamentations, succumbing to the plight of the girl she called, to Zia Mena’s consternation, her figlietta preziosa. Precious daughter.  Dad says one Sunday in April of 1970, when he was twenty, was worse than all the others. He remembered it was April because he thought it was too warm for Laura to be wearing such a thick, wool suit.

As usual, Laura placed her box of cookies in the middle of the plastic-covered table in the kitchen, which doubled as Nonna’s dining and living rooms, before removing her veil and presenting her forehead to Nonna to kiss, in blessing as much as greeting. Nonna took the girl’s face in her hands and gently pecked her auburn widow’s peak. “Ah, quegli occhi,” Nonna said, staring into Laura’s aquamarine eyes, echoing a phrase from her favorite Puccini opera, Tosca[3]. Laura winced and burst into tears, but, luckily, Nonna had had the foresight, like therapists all over Manhattan these days, to place a Kleenex cube of tissues at Laura’s usual place at the head of the table. Unlike therapists, though, Nonna grabbed a tissue as her own face crumpled with tears and she enveloped Laura in the folds of her white silk kimono stitched with bright red poppies, holding Laura’s cheeks against her generous breasts which she was known to brush with Vincent’s pink powders[4]  to keep away headaches and any other imaginable ailments. After the especially furtive embrace that Sunday, a pink, crescent-shaped stain remained stamped on the left shoulder of Laura’s suit jacket.

Una luna rosa nel inchiostro,” Nonna said, shaking her head. A pink moon in ink.

Fa niente,” Laura replied, wiping her nose and looking down at the stain. It’s nothing.

Domani vai a Don Alberto,” said Nonna.

“I can’t go to Don Alberto’s!” Laura reminded her. “He does all those wedding gowns!”

Ah si. Scusa.”

Dad said it was like watching an hour-long soap opera on Nonna’s box set TV before it was time to dig into steaming pillows of cheese ravioli from Cassinelli’s[5] and Nonna’s homemade meat ragú that percolated on the stove all morning. He said the smells of Sunday were fried garlic, tomato sauce, and the invisible cloud of Laura’s Chanel No. 5. But that Sunday in April of 1970, Laura had news.

         “He’s marrying her! His cumare[6] from the golf course!” she roared in her alto voice.

Disgraziato,” Nonna answered in her soprano’s timbre. The “cumare” was the Anglo- Saxon woman Tulio had met on a golf course in the Hamptons in 1966 and started an affair with only one year after marrying Laura. It hadn’t mattered to Tulio that Laura was home at the time with their newborn son, Valentino, so named since the kid was born, ironically, on the fourteenth of February. Dad said Val’s tall frame and wavy, straw-colored hair set him apart from his rather short-statured parents. Anytime anyone asked, Laura would explain that Val took after her father. As a sophomore at Bryant High School, Laura had fallen for the squat, senior class Tulio, whose main advantage was a youthful, if faint, resemblance to Frank Sinatra, with blue eyes and black waves that crowned his pale forehead, as well as a buttery charm that he spread on thick with any woman who crossed his path. And he always smelled of Jovan Musk, which emanated from his Polo shirts and cashmere V-neck sweaters. Although, as Laura assured Nonna, he only started dressing that way after taking up golf with some of the stock brokers whose garbage he collected during the week from office buildings along Wall Street.

“Tulio brought his cumare yesterday,” said Laura, jabbing the air with her index finger, the ancillary location for her gold wedding band. “Tulio dropped Vallie off after taking him golfing all day. The cumare sat in the driver’s seat of this brown Camero in front of my building. I wonder if she’ll teach Tulio to drive in that car. Anyway, she’s Tulio’s age, and she’s more of a Julie Andrews, not Marilyn Monroe, blonde. But her family has money. Up in Connecticut, Tulio said. He’s marrying her this summer! And he’s moving into her house in Flushing!”

Laura sobbed against Nonna’s chest again as Nonna cradled her in her arms and sniffed along with her. The tears dripped off Nonna’s pouty lips, which, along with her long wavy locks, flecked with silver, wide onyx eyes, and fine-tipped nose, had made her, as everyone in the neighborhood always said, the most beautiful girl in Putignano, her birth town just outside of Bari. Dad said Laura’s family also came from Putignano, and that she had met Nonna at one of the coffee and cake meetings after the Italian Mass at St. Rita’s one Sunday while she was still married to Tulio. Dad said i dolci,  the sweets, were the only reason Nonna ever went to church but that she stopped going when the arthritis in her knees became unbearable. Although, Dad says, Nonna occasionally muttered something about too many unanswered prayers as another reason she stopped going.

“Now I know how Maria Callas felt when Onassis married Jackie!” screamed Laura.

No! Tu sei molto piu bella che Maria Callas.” You’re much more beautiful than Maria Callas.

Laura sniffed and grinned then.


Niente,” said Nonna. “E il tuo figlio? Va col padre?” And your son? Is he going with the father?

“Oh no!” said Laura, lifting her head. “Vallie is staying with me! Not that Tulio dared to mention taking him away. Even if he tried, he knows I would cut off his head!”

Non parlare cosi, figlietta mia,” said Nonna. “Non vale la pena andare in galera per Tulio.” Don’t talk like that, my daughter. It’s not worth going to jail for Tulio.

“But it would be worth it for my son!”

Perdiresti il tuo figlio.” You would lose your son.

Laura blew her nose and nodded.

“Lo so.” I know. “Either way, Tulio wins. He lives and humiliates me, and he still gets to see Vallie whenever he wants. I’m a single mother and Tulio is un signore.

Meglio sola che mal’accompagnata!” said Nonna, slapping the table so hard it shook. Better alone than in bad company! “Ed ancora sei una donna giusta.” And you’re a still a proper woman.

“Everyone makes fun of me,” Laura said, shaking her head. “They say I couldn’t keep a fella like Tulio happy. That there must be something wrong with me.”

 Sono tutti gelosi di te!” said Nonna with praying hands. “Perche sei bella. Perche lavori. E non stai chiedendo neanche un centesimo di loro!” They’re all jealous of you! Because you’re beautiful. Because you work. And you’re not even asking them for a cent!

“What’s worse is Tulio’s about to live in her house in Flushing,” said Laura, narrowing her eyes.

Ma tu puoi comprare la casa tua propria,” said Nonna, rubbing Laura’s back in circles. You can buy your own house.

Veramente?” asked Laura. Really?

Certo!” Of course!

Puo essere.” Laura nodded and smiled through her tears. Could be.

Tu lavori!” You work!

Meno male.” At least.

Laura had graduated from Bryant High School a couple of years after Zia Mena and Tulio, but Laura had taken secretarial classes while Zia Mena took Home Economics. Shortly after graduating from Bryant, Zia Mena brought Uncle Corrado over from Putignano, where she’d met him on a summer trip years before in the company of Nonna’s older half-sister, Martina. After graduation, Laura found a job at a lawyer’s office on Lexington Avenue thanks to a tip from a legal secretary who lived in her building. “I never had such ambitions,” Zia Mena said more than once over the years when talking about Laura. “And anyway, she had to work. She wasn’t married to a man like my Corrado.”

Laura reached into her purse and took out the black and white Polaroid taken on her wedding day in 1965.

“Look how beautiful I was in my mother’s gown,” Laura said, showing the photo to Nonna.

Si, molto bella.”

“My mother always says it’s such a shame her gown went to waste.”

Non era sprecato.” It wasn’t wasted. “Sei stata bellissima per un giorno molto speciale.” You were beautiful for a very special day.

Grazie,” said Laura. “Anyway, it’s a good thing she watches Vallie when I come here. It helps her forget I exist for a while.”

Non e vero,” said Nonna, taking Laura’s hand.

“It is true,” said Laura, shrugging. “Anyway, look at Tulio in his tuxedo.”

Si, bello.”

“I bought him that tuxedo!”

Si, l’hai comprato tu.” Yes, you bought it.

“And all of his suits.”

Tutti i vestiti.”

Non era nessuno prima di me!” He was no one before me!

Nessuno,” Nonna responded.

“He didn’t even own a decent pair of shoes!”

Neanche scarpe giuste,” whispered Nonna, nodding her head with her eyes closed.

“And now, the signore is marrying his Connecticut cumare!”

Nonna shook her head, grasped the corners of the table, then hoisted herself up and reached for the bottle of Strega in the cabinet above the kitchen sink along with a small, oval silver tray that cradled six emerald green shot glasses, one of the few luxuries Nonna had brought on the boat ride from Putignano in the late 1940s. She poured a shot glass to the brim with Strega and handed it to Laura by its tiny handle. Then she poured one for herself.

Salute,” said Nonna, raising her shot glass to Laura.

Salute,” said Laura, clinking Nonna’s glass before she and Nonna downed the fiery yellow liquor at the same time. Laura’s cheeks flushed red as she exhaled a silent whistle and fanned herself with her gloves. Nonna cleared her throat before opening the box of pignoli cookies and passing it to Laura.

“Do you know what it’s like to be abandoned?” Laura asked, a whole cookie stuck inside her cheek. “To be betrayed?”

“More than you think,” Nonna replied. She continued in Italian while nibbling her cookie. “La mia figlia, Filomena. She moved out of this apartment even before she finished high school and into Martina’s house on Ditmars Boulevard. It’s a big, red brick house with a beautiful fig tree in the backyard. There are no factories around, or the Con Edison pipes blinking red outside the windows all the time. When she was little, Filomena was afraid of those lights. And when she grew up, she was ashamed of those lights. This apartment. Her small bedroom. Her own mother.”

“Ma non e vero!” said Laura. But that’s not true!

“Si. Ha vergogna di me.” Yes. She’s ashamed of me.  Perche non so leggere. Because I can’t read.

“But you’re very wise. That’s more important. Anyway, your daughter shouldn’t be ashamed of her own mother.”

 “She’s just like my suocera cattivissima[7]. Filomena even looks like her. Like a plucked hen with a gold chain around her neck. I pray for a granddaughter who looks like me,” she said, narrowing her eyes at Dad. Little did Nonna know that in the late 1970s, he would meet and marry my mother, who was also a teacher at P.S. 76, or that I’d come along in 1979 to fulfill her wish. Take that, Zia Mena.

 “It doesn’t matter to Filomena that il fruttivendolo[8] can never cheat me or that the baker pays me to make trays of my taralli[9] for him to sell for Christmas,” Nonna continued. “Filomena used the excuse of caring for Martina and her husband, Paolo, to leave home early.”

Dad said Zia Mena inherited the house after Zia Martina and Zio Paolo died and that Uncle Corrado paid off its remaining mortgage with his salary as a carpenter. Till the day Zia Mena died, though, she referred to the place as “her” house. The rooms were filled with faux-Baroque armchairs and white marble tables but always smelled of moth balls and bloody roast beef. That stifling aroma, and her misery, inspired my vegetarianism.

“You know what?” Nonna said to Laura. “All the boys in my village wanted to marry me. Boys with money. Boys with houses. But I wanted Marcantonio. Even if he was poor. I liked his curly red hair and his strong hands. He’d never owned a suit before I came along. I bought him three suits with my wages as a seamstress. I made him un signore. That’s why my suocera hated me. Pura gelosia.”

“Pure jealousy.”

Ma guarda, non ci sta piu!” said Nonna, slapping the table. But look, she’s not here anymore! Nonna held up the bottle of Strega. “Allora, ripetiamo?” Now then, let’s repeat?

“Si!” said Laura, holding out her shot glass, which Nonna filled to the brim. She did the same with her own shot glass.

Al passagio del tempo,” said Nonna, hoisting her glass and beaming her triumphant smile.

“To the passage of time!” said Laura, clinking her glass with Nonna’s and laughing before they swigged their Strega again.

“So you made your husband a gentleman just like I made Tulio one,” said Laura.

Si, l’ho fatto un signore,” said Nonna, nodding.

“But Tulio made me a woman!” Laura cried.

 Nonna stopped nodding.

Non parlare cosi.” Don’t talk like that.

“I was pure on my wedding night!”

Ancora sei pura.” You are still pure.

“He was my first man!”

Ma non dev’essere il tuo ultimo,” said Nonna. “Sei giovane ancora.” He doesn’t have to be your last. You’re still young.

Laura grinned at Nonna then.

“There is somebody. One of my boss’s friends. Marty Silberblatt. He’s an engineer. Works on Pearl Street. He makes good money. He may not be in stocks, but he’s comfortable. And he’s nice-looking. He has beautiful eyes. They’re not blue like Tulio’s. They’re the color of fall brown leaves, like my father’s. And he’s very friendly. He always chats with me at my desk when he comes to the office to meet my boss for lunch. A few times already, he’s asked if he can take me out for lunch sometime,” said Laura, winking. “So far, I keep saying no. But I like the way he looks at me. And I gotta admit, I’m tempted.”

E perche non vai a mangiare con Marty?” Why don’t you go to eat with Marty?

Ho paura.” I’m afraid.

Come mai?” How come?

“I don’t want to get my heart broken again.”

Ma con paura, non ti muovi mai.” But with fear, you never move.

“What do you mean?”

“Marcantonio, per esempio. He was afraid to buy a house here in Astoria. In Putignano, he only knew how to work for il padrone[10], but he never imagined owning his own house. He died in this apartment. Because of fear. That’s why I tell you that with fear, you never move.”

Ho capito.” I understand.

Dad says at that point, Laura, dry-eyed and clear-headed, was ready to leave.

Sei una ragazza preparata,” Nonna told Laura, lifting her out of her chair.

“I’m an educated woman.”

Hai un buon lavoro.”

“I have a good job.”

Il tuo figlio ha bisogno di te.”

“My son needs me.”

Comprirai la casa tua propria.”

“I will buy my own house.”

Fra cinque anni.”

“In five years.”

Incontrirai l’amore ancora.”

“I’ll find love again.”

E splenderai come una luna rosa nel inchiostro.”

“And I will shine like a pink moon in ink,” said Laura, putting her palm over the crescent moon on her suit jacket.

Laura eventually took Marty up on his lunch offer, and he became her companion, but, despite his countless marriage proposals over the years, never her husband. Some speculated that Laura loved Tulio and waited for him to return for the rest of her life. Zia Mena’s favorite quip about Laura never remarrying was that she wanted to collect her alimony check from Tulio for as long as possible. “At his funeral, she’ll watch them lower Tulio into the ground and she’ll say, ‘Now the checks can stop’.” It was unusual to hear Zia Mena laugh but when she did, she honked like an obnoxious goose, clucking her tongue and cracking open the flesh around her forehead and mouth, both ossified by decades of sarcastic frowns and grimaces. But she died last year. As Nonna would say, Non ci sta piu.

Nonna died in the summer of 1973. The Supreme Court had decided Roe v. Wade in January of that year, and Dad says Nonna was pleased when he read to her about the decision from the newspaper. “Meglio per le donne,” she had told him. Better for women. Dad says Laura came to Nonna’s funeral at St. Rita’s with Marty, and was inconsolable. But in 1975, Laura and Val moved into the house she bought in Bayside, an affluent suburb of Long Island, where she lives to this day. Val married a Sicilian woman he met in Brooklyn in the mid-1990s and they live in Whitestone, not too far from Bayside so Laura can see her three granddaughters. Dad says the eldest, Teresa, looks just like Laura. Zia Mena was right about one thing. Laura did watch Tulio’s coffin lowered into the ground ten years ago beside his second wife, the woman from Connecticut, who, sadly, succumbed to breast cancer in the early 1980s. Dad says Laura wore her old black skirt suit to Tulio’s funeral, but didn’t cry.

At eighty-three years old, Laura still visits Nonna’s mausoleum at Pine Lawn Cemetery on Long Island each April. Teresa usually drives her, and Marty always comes along. But rather than donning the mournful garb that characterized so much of her early life, Laura wears pantsuits of bright fuchsia and crimson and rose when she visits Nonna. And when the sun, brightest as it sets, casts its golden sheets over the stretches of green fields and headstones, Laura kneels before the mauve sandstone wall that houses Nonna’s sepulcher, her eyes full of grateful tears, as resplendent as Nonna predicted.  


[1] The bakery owned by the actor Christopher Walken’s family for decades in Astoria, NY.

[2] “Strega” means “witch” in Italian and the witch on the front of the ubiquitous tall, yellow liquor bottles is a nostalgic image in many Italian-American households.

[3] In this tragic story, the titular heroine Tosca, a beauty with dark hair and eyes, is suspicious of her lover, the political rebel and artist, Cavaradossi, for gaining inspiration for his portrait of Mary Magdalene from an attractive blond, blue-eyed woman who frequently comes to the church where he works to cry and pray. Tosca is unaware, however, that the mournful woman is the sister of the recently-escaped political prisoner whom Cavaradossi hides from the Royalist villain, Scarpia, who, in turn, lusts after Tosca. Tosca utters the phrase “Ah,quegli occhi” to refer to Mary Magdalene’s blue eyes, which she believes are mocking her and echoing the blond woman’s alleged dalliances with Cavaradossi. After Cavaradossi reassures Tosca that he loves only her, Tosca relents, but beseeches him to paint Mary Magdalene with dark eyes. Scarpia eventually exploits Tosca’s jealousy over Cavaradossi to gain access to the escaped prisoner, resulting in all of their deaths.

[4] Vincent’s Powders were eventually banned in the U.S. in the 1980s for having adverse health effects. Nonna would acquire them from her neighbor Justina, whose daughter married an Australian and sent her mother back to New York with boxes of the envelopes after Justina’s bi-annual visits to Sydney. Nonna insisted the powders worked, and, as far as we know, they didn’t harm her.

[5] Cassinelli’s has been a staple of Astoria life and the source of some of the best homemade pasta you’ll ever try. They’re located on 23rd Ave. and 31st St., which is near the last stop (Ditmars Blvd.) on the N or W trains coming from Manhattan.  It’s worth the trip.

[6] Italian for “mistress.”

[7] Italian for “mean mother-in-law.”

[8] Italian for “greengrocer.”

[9] Crunchy, savory biscuits, often served with wine.

[10] Italian for “landlord.”


Stephanie Laterza is a writer and attorney from Brooklyn, NY. Stephanie is the author of poetry chapbook, The Psyche Trials (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and feminist legal thriller, The Boulevard Trial. She is a 2018 SU-CASA award recipient from the Brooklyn Arts Council, and holds a B.A. in English from Fordham College at Lincoln Center and a J.D. from New England Law School. Stephanie’s work has appeared in L’Éphémère Review, First Literary Review-East, Ovunque Siamo, Literary Mama, Akashic Books, A Gathering of the Tribes, Newtown Literary, The Nottingham Review, Obra/ArtifactLatina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity, Pratik: A Magazine of Contemporary Writing, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere. Follow Stephanie on Instagram @stef3rd.