MARIELLA: AN EXCERPT FROM A NOVEL-IN-PROGRESS “OUT FRONT”
Tina and Elle began walking home. As they turned into their alley, they were met with a sticky breeze that smelled of hamburgers and eggplant. They spotted Ginny D’Amico on her fire escape. She was in her housecoat, hunched over a hibachi grill, lighting coals and in a swift motion, used the same long match to light a cigarette. She winked at them and they waved, Tina hoped Ginny wouldn’t send them to the store for cigs and lotto tickets, the only good things Ginny said she had in her miserable life.
They stopped in front of Elle’s apartment building.
“Let me smell your hair,” said Elle.
Tina tipped her head and Elle took a big whiff.
“I think it’s okay. Spray some perfume on it as soon as you get in.”
“You’re being really paranoid,” said Tina.
“If you get caught smoking, your mother is going to tell my mother and I’ll get punished if she thinks there’s a slight chance that I did too.”
“Relax, I’ll just tell her you didn’t.”
“Like that’ll work. Come over, in like an hour,” said Elle.
Tina climbed the first two steps and licked a few strands of her hair. No taste. She felt relaxed until she heard her parents shouting. She hoped it was the same bullshit and that no one had ratted on her for smoking. Their block had lots of eyes and mouths. Her mother’s shrill voice was louder than usual, which meant an extra nasty mood that always led to a fight.
She was halfway up the stairs when she noticed a different tone in their voices.
“Where could she be? Where, where?” said her mother.
Were they talking about her? She hadn’t been gone that long.
“You’re the one who told me to buy her a car and this is what happens,” said Tina’s father.
So, her sister didn’t come home again. This was the fourth time in two weeks, a new high since this shit started months earlier. Tina had stopped worrying after Mariella’s third all-nighter. But her mother cried louder each time. Mariella’s defense was that she was nineteen, it was the 1980s, not the 1880s and she could stay at a friend’s without asking their permission and everyone should calm the hell down. She once told Tina that she really stays out on dates and made Tina swear on the Virgin Mary that she would never tell their parents, no matter how worried they were. It was better for them to think she was hurt than out having sex.
Tina walked into the living room.
“Oh, you decided to come home,” said Tina’s mother.
“I’m not staying long,” Tina replied.
“You’re not going anywhere. Your sister never came home last night. Not that you care, but she’s probably dead.”
“Jesus Christ don’t say that,” said Tina’s dad.
“You know, Gero, you’re as lousy a father as you are a husband. The one time you should be out and you’re sitting there like a stronzo. Why aren’t you out looking for her?”
“You don’t ever shut up, do you? Where the hell should I look? Use your brain for once, Marguerite,” he said.
Tina looked at her mother’s face, twisted with worry and kept quiet. No sense in telling her that Mariella was not only rotten, but she was becoming a big slut.
An hour passed, and Tina knew if she didn’t take away some of her mother’s pain and worry, she would pay for it later.
“Maybe I should call Elle and tell her I can’t come over,” said Tina.
“Yeah, I want you here, in case we get a call that she’s dead. I don’t want to be alone. Your father is useless,” said Marguerite.
“Okay, Ma. I’m not going anywhere.”
At 10 o’clock, Tina almost told her parents that Mariella is probably just on a date. They’d be so relieved that they wouldn’t care where she was or what she was doing. She had been gone more than 24 hours, and the selfish jerk couldn’t pick up the phone and spare her parents the worry and Tina the aggravation.
By 1am, Tina was scared. Could Mariella be in trouble? What the hell kind of a date goes this long?
Marguerite cried and pulled her hair and prayed to all the saints. Gero swore at God and his wife, blaming them both for his daughter’s wild ways. There was nothing else for Tina to do. Her parents sent her to bed and started making phone calls to relatives. They would wake her if there was any news.
In the morning, Tina jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen. Mariella wasn’t there. Her mother was quiet. Tina didn’t know what to make of it. It was scarier than the screaming.
They sat around the kitchen table waiting for the phone to ring, Tina reminded them that Mariella has never once missed Sunday dinner and will be home by the time the gravy was done.
“Can I go to church with Elle?” asked Tina.
“You only go for the free doughnuts. That’s not nice and God knows,” said Marguerite.
“If there is a God, he’ll know that today I’m going to light a candle for Mariella. Never mind, I’ll ask Elle to do it.”
“Hey, don’t take it out on this one, just because your other daughter is rotten,” said Gero.
Marguerite gave them both a filthy look and went into her bedroom.
Gero smiled at Tina. “Go light a candle for all the good it will do and make sure you get a doughnut. Have two.”
Tina thought about it. If she were in church when the police came to the house to say Mariella was dead, then she wouldn’t be able to stop her mother from jumping out the window, running in front of a truck, drinking the drain cleaner, or one of the other ways she had threatened to leave them.
“That’s okay, Daddy. I’ll stay here. Can you buy us some doughnuts?”
“Okay, I’ll buy you a Boston crème and a glazed. I know how much you hate to have to pick just one.”
Tina got into bed with her mother, who was curled in a ball, panting.
“Ma, I know she’ll be okay. I know it.”
“You don’t know that. Are you a strega? Can you see the future?”
“No, but neither are you. You always see bad things and they never happen.”
Tina began weeping. Her mother rolled over.
“What is it?”
“You hate me. You wish I were the one missing.”
“Jesus, why would you say that? I love you too, even with your big mouth.”
She said it because it was true but normally it didn’t bother her. She was surprised by her own sobbing. What if Mariella is dead? This would kill her mother and Tina would miss her too, even though she was a big pain in the ass.
At 11:45. Marguerite began boiling a pot of water for pasta.
“Ma, we don’t have to eat now. We can wait,” said Tina.
“Wait for what? She should be home any minute now.”
Her mother’s typical pacing route was twenty loops around the apartment. That day, she zigzagged from the kitchen table to the sink, to the refrigerator, into the living room, dropped onto the couch for 10 seconds, then straightened the family photos on the mantle, then to her sewing machine – opening its drawers and slamming them shut, then went back into the kitchen and began looking through the junk drawer. This was her third time around.
“Did you lose something?” asked Tina.
“I can’t find my Saint Anthony medal. I need to pray to him, so your sister will come back,” said her mother.
“When did you see it last?’
“The time I thought your father was gonna stay with his puttana for good and leave us to starve.”
“Okay, where were you?”
“Picking tomatoes in the yard.”
“I’ll go look down the cellar.”
Tina flicked on the light to the basement and made her way down the creaky stairs, breathing in the smell of sawdust, turpentine, and cigarette smoke that had settled into the walls. There was always a moment of fear when she reached the bottom that someone would jump at her with an ax. She was prepared to fight but found herself safely in the basement. She went to her father’s workbench and fished through an ashtray for a decent butt, lit it and took its last three puffs. She brought the ashtray over by the sink and dumped its contents into the coffee can, now nearly full of ash water and filters. The Saint Anthony medal lay a few feet away on the counter, next to the broken television that her father was saving for parts. Tina doubted that you had to pray to specific saints for certain problems, as if heaven would have request departments. She picked up the medal. Good Saint Anthony, hear my prayer. She stopped. Was this even in the bible? She decided to go over Saint Anthony’s head and prayed directly to God, not really believing that anyone was listening.
As she climbed the steps, she heard her mother scream. It was not a bullshit scream. She squeezed the Saint Anthony medal. Please, oh, please don’t let my sister be dead. She heard her own shrill leap out of her as she ran up the stairs two at a time and burst into the living room. Her parents looked startled. Her volume had surpassed theirs.
“She’s really dead this time, isn’t she?”
Theresa Bellone is from Boston, MA. She holds a BA in Sociology from University of Massachusetts Boston and is currently working on her first novel and short stories. She has attended writing residencies at the Pine Manor College Summer Solstice Conference and The Vermont Studio Center. She was awarded a scholarship from Grub Street Writing Center in Boston, MA to attend the Muse and the Marketplace Conference. Her work has been published in Ovunque Siamo.