When my father found out about me, he hired a waiter/actor to record a new message on his burner phone. On the same day, he switched from Gmail to Yahoo! and started paying cash for things. His bills went in the girlfriend’s name, and she wrote the rent checks for the new apartment that didn’t have a lease.
This is what Nonna tells me and has been telling me. It is what Sister Rosemary says, too, when she comes on Fridays for tea, right before she makes the sign of the cross over my whole body. Sister Rosemary and Nonna have been friends since Immaculate Conception Elementary, and their hearts and minds are still one in Christ. She sees my father in me, she says. Deep. She lights the candles closest to the altar when I come to mind. Sister Rosemary pinches my cheeks — “Ah! Bella bambina!” — too tight. She scoots me away with a slap on the rear that makes even Nonna flinch.
Nights when Mom works, which is mostly, Nonna grips my headboard so she can kneel alongside me. She tells me to pray for Mom, whose boss does not pay her every week. And for Nonno, who went up to Paradisolong before my soul came down. And for my father, who needs to be cleansed through suffering, because puzzones like that should get everything they deserve.
* * *
Nights when Mom works, which is mostly, she sits against my ribs when her shift is through. She smells of oil. Delicious fried things. She strokes me in the place where Monsignor Jack leaves the smudge on Ash Wednesday. She does not speak. She murmurs. Our Father. Hail Mary. Salve Regina. Twice, sometimes.
She flattens a hand to my chest. I hold my breath so she thinks I am asleep. When my lungs give up, I release, inhaling the overnight shift. I open my eyes as her hand, knuckles prickled with blisters, works along my ribs, the ruffles of my nightgown. She looks into me. Deep. “Bella bambina,” Mom whispers, her smile held in the blush of the streetlight. Behind her, over my desk chair, she has laid out my plaid jumper and rosary in case she is asleep when I wake.
I weave my fingers through her hair, wet with steam. It has been pinned up for more hours than I have been awake. I breathe in, and she slips her curls from my hand, says I was made for other things. That I will burst out, always ready for the new and exciting. The most beautiful spirits cannot be bound, Mom says. They must breathe. These walls are not thick enough to keep me. Oh, she says, I am my father’s girl.
Tina Tocco’s flash fiction has appeared in Italian Americana, Voices in Italian Americana, New Ohio Review, Crab Creek Review, Roanoke Review, Harpur Palate, Passages North, Potomac Review, The McNeese Review, Portland Review, and other publications. Tina was a finalist in CALYX’s Flash Fiction Contest and an honorable mention in the River Styx Schlafly Beer Micro-Brew Micro-Fiction Contest. She earned her MFA from Manhattanville College, where she was editor-in-chief of Inkwell.