Happy Fall. Just a quick note: I have a short piece published over at TWJ Magazine. Please do check it out.
Until next time,
Teresa Marie Kapansky spoke her first baby words in Polish, learned from her parents, but then, by age four, she could also make herself understood in Italian, the language used by many in the Displaced Persons camp near Rome.
The camp was a bunch of ragged tents thrown up to temporarily house a legion of refugees: Campo Profughi, makeshift, dusty, under-supplied, and overcrowded with the war-weary, was Teresa’s first home, the place she was born, the place where she was first loved.
Piccolo Jesu, the Italians called her, Little Jesus; because of her beautiful skin and because of her hair, the mass of tight curls that formed a golden halo that surrounded her tiny, luminous face.
Teresa Marie slept in a crib until she was nearly six and the family left Italy for America. There was no room for anything larger in the tent, nor was there another bed to be had, anyway. A threadbare burlap curtain separated her crib from the rest of the single room which was the family’s living space in the DP camp.
At night she listened to her mother and father and the adults on the other side of the curtain arguing over cards, drinking, and telling stories. The world seemed to be made of these large, grown-up people, each one of them quite a distinct, looming presence.
Also quite real to her was la roccia, the rock quarry down a steep set of steps behind their tent, where Teresa was warned not to go, ever. La roccia frightened and fascinated the little girl; sometimes after her nap, if the afternoon was fair, Teresa was allowed to play along the narrow strip of earth in back of the tent. Holding Bambina, her rag doll, she would sit, shivering deliciously at the top of the steps to la roccia, gazing down as far as she could see.
What was below, among the huge stones? Or hiding in the dark, shadowy places between them?
She dared not go down there; instead, she stretched the arm that held Bambina as far out over the rocky steps as she could, and shook her, until the doll trembled in her hand.
“Don’t cry, Bambina,” she whispered, excitedly clutching her, “I won’t let you fall, oh, no, I won’t!”
Later, in her crib, with Bambina beside her, she fell asleep listening to her parents and their friends, Mr. Michaliwisc and Mrs. Contano. At first it sounded like Mrs. Contano, whose husband had lately disappeared, was crying. But after a while, as she drifted into sleep, Teresa could hear the cards being shuffled and dealt, and the laughter begin.
As these sounds faded, Teresa suddenly felt herself begin to roll and to slip, and was unable to stop. Falling fast, her arms flailing, she tried with all her strength to clutch something, but she could not; she was surrounded by hot air churning in deep, pulsating waves. She saw Bambina tumble into the black rocks just ahead of her, and she screamed. Terrified, she cried out for her mother. Then, just as the enormous dark world rushed up to envelope and smash her to pieces, Bubba Doritchka arrived.
“My darling Teresa, Ukochany, Niemowle, sshh,” Bubba whispered, catching both Teresa and Bambina easily and lifting them into her arms. “There, there, my darling baby, I love you, sshh, sshh…”
Teresa collapsed in a spasm of tears against her grandmother’s bulky body. Bubba’s warm arms held her fast, and soothed her. She smelled so clean, like her mother’s own wind-blown sheets. The child shuddered, repeatedly, breath after jagged breath, then became quiet.
And suddenly there were no more rocks, nothing to fear, and she slept.
She awoke to a sunny Roman morning. Light lay in a warm yellow triangle at the doorway of the tent. Her father and mother were sitting at the small table on the other side of the curtain, drinking coffee.
“Come, Teresa, come,” her mother said. “Look at you, still yawning!”
“Yes, Mama,” she answered, but did not move.
Her mother came and lifted her from the crib. “Wake up, Teresa. What is it, child? You look like you are still asleep!”
The little girl rested her head on her mother’s shoulder. “I was calling you, Mama, but you didn’t come.”
“What? When were you calling me, Sweetheart?”
“Last night, when I was scared.”
“I didn’t hear you. What happened? Are you alright?”
Teresa nodded. A slow, sweet smile lit her face as she remembered. “Bubba came and held me. She kissed me and then I was alright.”
Her mother set her down, and kneeled before her. “What did you say?”
“Bubba came. Bubba Doritchka, Mama. She took care of me, and everything is fine.”
Her mother’s frightened eyes found her father’s face. “Pieter…Pieter?”
Pieter Kapansky’s face went pale; his mouth fell open but there was nothing he could think to say. His own mother, beloved Dora—Doritchka---as she was called---had been shot dead in the center of the town called Lidice, more than four years before.