Little Italy, Baltimore, June 2019
Marta stood on the docks and looked out over the water. So much had changed in the past thirty-six years, yet so much remained the same. The USS Constellation was still there, rocking on the waves produced by the passing boats. She remembered touring the ship with her Uncle Roberto. Beyond the warship, along the red-brick-paved dock, she recognized the colorful landscape of blue-windowed buildings, red umbrella-covered restaurants, and green slatted roofs over the Inner Harbor shops. The buildings were the same, but many of the names and types of shops had changed. She snapped a few pictures and sighed, recalling the times she had spent on these same docks taking pictures of the boats, the passersby, the gulls overhead, and of…
She shook away the thought and looked around. From what she had seen on her ride from the airport, much of the city outside of the central downtown had lost its allure, no longer holding the charm that was once Charm City, but that was normal of any industrialized city, she supposed. The same could be said of Florence or Rome. According to what she read online, Baltimore’s Little Italy was still a vibrant jewel in the city’s crown with its restaurants, pastry shops, and Italian markets that reminded her of home. She could remember visiting them that summer, listening to the beautiful cadence of her native tongue from the few who still spoke the language. Too many years had gone by, and Marta wondered if there was more Spanish spoken in the city than Italian. She wondered how the Polish and Ukrainian neighborhoods had fared. They were already getting smaller, crowded out by other groups, when she was here those many years ago.
She walked along the bricks, listening to gulls calling out overhead, often drowned out by the laughter of children, the droning of motors, and the blowing whistles of the incoming water traffic. She stopped to watch a family toss breadcrumbs into the harbor; a little girl squealed in delight as a duck scooped a piece of crust into its bill. The scene took her back to a summer day in June, another walk along the dock, the tossing of bread to the ducks, and the warm feel of a strong hand holding hers.
Marta smiled at the memory. It had been a long time ago, but the memory was a cherished one—a stolen afternoon, a secret rendezvous, the thrill of something forbidden and unknown. She took a long, deep breath and pictured his eyes, so warm and caring, the color of the sea she traveled to on holiday so many times—the rich, blue-green hue of the Mediterranean on a hot July day. She remembered once when Nicola was just three, running in the sand along the sea that reminded her of…
She stopped and shook her head. Feeling the same guilt now that she had felt then, she chastised herself for allowing Nicole, her son by Piero, to be part of the memory of that time in her life, a time that was shadowed in secrecy.
She looked down at the bare finger on her left hand and felt another stab of guilt. Just before she left home at the urging of her dearest friend, Antonella, she had slipped the ring from her hand and placed it gently in her jewelry box. Now, she wondered if that had been wrong, to remove the symbol of her marriage as though she was removing Piero from her life.
She sighed heavily. Must she still carry so much guilt? She had done nothing wrong, not now and not back then. Alora, almost nothing. In the end, she had not broken her promise and had returned home as she was supposed to. She had gone back to Italy at the end of the summer, married Piero, and after much pain and heartache, they had finally had Nicola, the light of her life who now ran their family vineyard, Belle Uve. She had put all thoughts of that summer behind her, concentrating on her life as a wife and mother, forsaking childish fantasies of things that were never meant to be. She’d had a good life, a happy life, and had lost Piero too soon to a sudden heart attack that had taken him away from her and from their son, now grown and married, a father himself.
But her daughter-in-law, dear, sweet Alexandra, had brought the memories back, forcing them through the wall she’d so carefully constructed, like a break in a damn. Ever since the night she first met her son’s future wife, when Alexandra was nothing more than an American stranger thrust upon them, she had been thinking about Zia Isa, about the house in Little Italy, and the man she’d left behind.
Was she here to finally say goodbye to those memories? To put the ghosts of a past life to rest? Or to discover what possibilities lie ahead? Those were questions Marta was not certain she was ready to answer.