Never forgotten

A little village in Italy, in the fifties.

“No! Don’t tell me that you have to pee. It’s always the same story, we are having the best fun and you have to pee. Why?”

Rosana is five, like the other two girls, but she is strong and bossy, and she is now shouting at Lena with anger, while Tonio and Lucia look down.

Lena is ashamed, her legs locked in, to stop the flow that wants to rush out of her body.

“I don’t know… I have to pee, and I can’t go home because mama will not let me out again.”
“And you can’t go to your aunt’s because of the ghost…”
“But… we could go to my aunt’s together, the four of us, maybe the ghost won’t come out.”
Rosana mocks her: “Haha, you’re stupid. My brother and his friend went and they saw the ghost and it was huuuuge and it was flying around but they ran away so fast and it didn’t catch them.
Go to Maria’s building then. She’s half deaf, and the doorway is always open. It’s dark and no one will see you.”

“Maria is not deaf.” Tonio dares to say. He is seven, the oldest, and the only one to contradict Rosana occasionally. “She knows that we pee there, so now she is on guard.”
“And she is mean…” Lena adds.
“Well, then, do it in your panties.” Rosana’s last words.

“Come Lena, I’ll help you.” Lucia takes Lena’s hand and brings her to Maria’s. She pushes the door open, there is a little dark space on the left, and then five stairs to Maria’s home.

Lena enters, her heartbeat so strong that she is sure Maria will hear it. She crouches down, the pee comes out noisily, endlessly. The others outside hold their breath, hoping that no one will appear in the street.

“I will get you damned rascal, I will break your legs! Who are you?” Maria’s door opens at the same time that the light goes on in the hallway. Lena bolts. They all run, the children faster than the old lady, in the labyrinth of medieval streets. The little ones find their hiding corner, breathless, their hearts drumming.

Maria screams like a madwoman, rushing with her broom from one corner of the street to the other.
“You escaped me this time, but I will get you! And then I will strangle you!”

The children hear, and they shiver. Lena feels the pee still running down her legs, the others aware. Tears come to her eyes, down her cheeks, shaking with her sobs.

Maybe was this image of Lena that never left Tonio. That year, 1954, he emigrated to Canada from his Italian village.
When he was 25, and living in Toronto, with a good job, he wrote to his grandmother in Italy and asked her to go to Lena’s. To propose marriage, even though he had never been back to Italy and had not seen Lena in 18 years.


The condo building where they have the party is secluded on a hill. Mark used to live there with his family, but now the edifice is vacant: it will be demolished soon as there are major problems with the construction. Not a single adult knows of the party. Mark has sneaked the keys from his parents’ desk.

Sixteen teenagers, from grade eleven and twelve. The building might collapse: what’s more exciting than defying destiny? It’s not the usual gang, as the party has been organized in a few hours. How to loosen up the atmosphere and bring all together? Mark has an idea: famous couples from history. He writes each name on a small piece of paper, rolls them up and makes two piles: the men’s names on one side, the women’s on the other.

“Who wants to be the first to pick a name?” They all come, boys and girls, more excited than ever, and each gets a piece of paper.

Voices, laughs, screams: “I picked up Cleopatra, where is Mark Anthony?” “Here, I am Mark Anthony!” “What about Adam? Who is Adam?” “Hey, Eve, I’m here.” The couples, once formed, must dance together for at least three rounds.

“I am Tristan” says Mark. “Where is Isolde?”
“Here I am!” Lucy runs to him waving her bit of paper. She gives him her hand: “Hi, my real name is Lucy, and yours?”
“Come on, be serious.” Her eyes are like fawn’s eyes.
“Mark, pleased to meet you.” His hands have tapering fingers, like a musician.

They dance for three rounds, six, ten. They forget about the others and when the party ends, they vow eternal love to each other. They meet for a few minutes after school every day, they discover an isolated alley where they can squeeze into each other arms, steal a kiss, feel the softness of her hair, smell the whiff of orange from his lips. In furtive moments, donated by life.

Mark’s parents see that their son is less concentrated on his studies. They find out about this Lucy girl. They manage to meet her parents.
“Our son is the best in his class. We want him to become a doctor. Tell your daughter to leave him in peace.”

Italy of the 1950s, and a small town life. Lucy’s parents, very religious, are ashamed and outraged. They no longer let her go alone anywhere. Her mother takes her to school, her father picks her up.

Gone are the alley and its secret kisses.
Even in school they feel trapped. They don’t know who might spy on them, who might gossip to their parents. Through their best friends they send each other scraps of paper, love letters scribbled in Latin, or in a strange code that only they understand. Magic and innocent first love, in which they believe, against all odds.

The following year Mark leaves for university. He writes letters to Lucy through his friend. The friend gives them to her. She destroys the letters soon after reading, even though her heart aches, but she has no choice: disaster might follow if her parents find out. He dares to send her a postcard, signing with a girl’s name, he writes ‘I love you’ under the stamp, knowing she will recognize his handwriting, that she will search for his love hidden under the stamp. He feels her heart beating fast, sees her hands shivering, imagines her lips kissing the words under the stamp. As he has done, many times.

As he will kiss her several years later when, after a long separation, overwhelming obstacles and a wrong marriage, they will find each other, at last.


Ellie, now ten years old, has been adopted by Nana and Papa, her childless godparents, since when she was two. Her Nana adores her, and she venerates the old lady. The two live in symbioses, they sing, play, work, they knit and read together, they love each other like in a fairy tale.

“Papa is coming home, the light went off in his store. Nana, may I use the binoculars? I want to see him walking!”

The old lady opens the dresser’s drawer, and gives Ellie the ornated binoculars. They are by the balcony, on the highest floor of a nineteen-century building.

Ellie loves exploring places through the binoculars’ lenses. She looks at the town, and at the moon, which is so big and bright tonight.

“Nana! The moon seems so close to me… I can almost touch it.”
“And Papa? Where’s he now? Can you see him?”
The girls lowers the binoculars to search for Papa on the street.
“He’s walking fast…”
“He’ll be here soon. Come, let’s set the table.”

Ellie would like to linger on with her magic tool, but it’s time for dinner, and the two get busy with dishes, pots, and tablecloth.

“Where’s the milk? Why didn’t the farmer deliver the milk tonight?” Nana asks, her voice tense and worried. Ellie smiles: “He came already, don’t you remember? The milk is there, on the windowsill.” She runs to get the bottle, but she hears a crash, she turns around: the old lady is on the floor, lifeless.

“Nana, Nana! What happened? Nana wake up!”

Her cries and screams reach the neighbours. They come, they shout, they whisper, they take the old lady to her bed. One of them runs to call the doctor.

From the commotion, felt already from the first floor, Papa fears the worst. He dashes home, his wife is unconscious on their bed.
“She’s alive, she’s breathing.”
“Don’t panic. She’s still with us.”
“The doctor will be here soon.”

The neighbours’ voices try to console him, but Papa is desperate, as if madness had entered his body. He questions Ellie for the details, but she doesn’t know more than what she has repeated already several times.

The doctor can’t help. Nana had a stroke. There’s no ambulance or hospital in this small town.
Only a few hours later the old lady dies, without getting the chance to reach the nearest city with an emergency room.

Ellie lives through the funeral, the burial, the denial as in a nightmare.

“Nana, Nana!” she cries in bed, sobbing and muffling her screams in the blanket wrapped around her face. “Nana, come back, don’t leave me.”

If she sleeps, she is mad at herself: how can she fall asleep when her Nana is not alive anymore? How can her body forget? In her frightful dreams at night, a witch strangles her. She wakes up sweating with dread.

She lived in heaven, she drowns in hell now, burnt by a tremendous guilt: she feels responsible for her grandmother’s death.

Only several years of psychotherapy, much later, will help her unravel the truth.

The moon follows us

“Rosana, it’s dark, let’s go home. Mama says that when it’s dark I can’t play outside anymore.”
“Let’s just run to that streetlamp. Ready? Let’s see whether you can beat me this time!”

The two little girls, only six years old, run until they are breathless, alone in the alley. Rosana wins, she is so determined, as much as Lena is fragile, like a whispering breeze on a humid summer night.

At the end of the alley there is the beach, the rolling of the waves, the darkness of the night surrendering to the moon glorious in the sky.

“Let’s run to the end of the beach Lena, come on, it’s not that long.”
“But it’s dark, and late.”
“No, it’s not dark, there is the moon. Come on, fast!”
“Rosana, Rosana!”shouts Lena, all excited, “look at the sky, the moon is moving with us.”
“Ohhh, it’s following us! And if we stop, it stops!”
“Let’s run faster Rosana. It’s running with us!”
“Lena, maybe the moon is following me. Let’s do this, you go to that end of the beach and I’ll go to this one.”

They agree, they walk first and then they run, their faces turned to the sky.
From her side of the beach Rosana’s loud voice pierces the silence: “Lena, the moon is with me, right here on my head!”
“No, no, the moon is above me, here on my head, not where you are!” Lena’s frailty has disappeared, she is assertive now. “Come here and look, I won’t move.”
“Lena, I tell you that the moon is with me.”
“No and no! It’s here, come and see!”

Their shrill voices almost unnatural in the abandonement of the beach.

Rosana stomps her feet: “You are so stubborn tonight!” She flashes to the other side of the beach, looking only ahead, to be faster. She lifts her eyes, the moon is there above them. She is a bit puzzled and then she says: “Yeah, I brought the moon here, it ran with me, that’s why it’s here now.”
“No, it didn’t come with you. I looked at it all the time, and it never moved from here.”
“You’re a liar!” screams Rosana.
“No, you are lying! The moon stayed with me the whole time.”
“Liar, liar!”

“Let’s do it again” proposes Lena “We’ll start from the middle of the beach and then you run there and I run here.” They agree to the truce. Rosana is again the first to reach her goal.
“Told you! The moon followed me all the way here, and now it’s right above my head!”
Lena is still strong: “I don’t believe you. The moon was always with me, there are no two moons. Do you see two moons in the sky? No, and the moon is with me. Here, here, where my finger is pointing.”

Rosana runs away shouting at the top of her lungs: “I will tell everybody who you are: a cheater, a liar!”

They never played together again.

The tree

Brr, it’s cold outside, but mama wants some fresh air for her and her little one. The rain has kept them at home too long.

“Come on Luc, get ready, scarf, boots…”
“And my yellow jacket… I’ll carry the umbrella mama.”
“But it’s not raining.”
“Please mama.”

They go out, their yellow and orange jackets two splashes of rainbow amidst the grey all around.

The wind is blowing, the sun might as well be a moon, pale in the pale sky.

A puddle! Luc loves jumping in the puddles, there is nothing that brings him more happiness these days than the sound of the splashes, the water on his hands, the jets gushing all around.

After a lot of laughs, mama says: “Shall we walk to the playground?”

Luc is a bit reluctant, but then takes her hand and happily they go, humming a song, jumping now and then on the sidewalk’s lines.

On a street lined with trees, Luc stops, lifts his head to follow the height of the majestic beech he is under. He touches and caresses the slender and bare trunk, all around the tree, and then says: “Mama, do you think this tree is cold?”
His mother waits.
“Yes, mama, look, no leaves on the branches, it’s all empty. I think this tree is really cold. I will warm it up.”

Luc cups his hands around his mouth to funnel the warm air to the bare tree. He breathes with so much energy!

An old man comes by, his cane an aid more than a need.
“What is the little one doing?” he asks kindly.
“He’s warming up the tree with his breath,” mama answers.
The old man smiles. He moves on, tears in his eyes.

For the whole winter, every time they go for a walk on that street, Luc hugs the tree and gives it all the love and the warmth his little body is capable of.

Then, one day, at the beginning of Spring, diggers, cranes, trucks come to that corner of the town, and fill the air with noise and dust.

“Mama, what are they doing?” Luc asks.
“They will build a new house here,” his mother says, a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Luc is curious, wants to watch the progress. He asks to go back often, and one morning he is devastated to see that his beloved tree lies flat on the ground, its roots exposed, its branches cut, removed to make room for a large house.

Mama hugs Luc, holding her tears.

The old man lives nearby, he has seen everything. He is sad too, but he invites mama and Luc to his garden where he’s growing many little trees. He tells the child to choose one. He takes it to Luc’s garden, he plants it.

Luc will love it, but he will never forget the cold, lonely tree that he hugged that whole winter.