A moonless night invites deceit,
empty sky glutting the stars with self-importance.
T he scritch of my fountain pen stills as I raise my eyes to the chill night slipping through my window. I wait; I listen. No tones of Kate Smith from Nonno's radio, only the raspy yowls of two cats tangling and the throbbing crickets' refrain. Only the quickened pulse of the night.
I should curl up and sleep, ignore the feeling inside of something creeping just beyond my thoughts, but there is a bitter tang in my mouth like sorrow. And Papa's words haunt me. "Take Nonno and hide if trouble comes." What trouble, Papa? But I know its name.
Arthur Tremaine Jackson. Eyes with no depth, like pewter plates, that look as though he knows everything and has a right to know it. Papa didn't argue when I said that. He merely answered, "Some people want too much."
I don't want too much, only what I have. But lately I find myself looking at a vine bursting with blossoms that will become grapes, at a path I have walked a thousand times, at Papa especially, and I feel a seizing sense of loss. Nonna Carina called it angel sight, my knowing things before I should. "You have a gift, Antonia. Do not fear it."
But I fear it now as the little hairs rise on my neck, as my hands grow cold with speculation. The sides of my mouth are dry as chalk. The only other time it was this strong was when Momma died and I felt the angel of death pass down the hall. My hands clench with remembrance.
At a sound outside, I spring to my feet. Tires on the drive and the hum of an engine. I snatch up my diary--no prying eyes will see it--turn off the lamp and hurry to a front window. A car is coming, but not Papa's Ford. It skims the side of the drive and slinks in among the trees lining it. The engine stops; the lamps go off.
But I know the shape of that Packard convertible coupe. Someone gets out the far side. Though I can't see his face, I see him move with stealthy purpose, keeping to the shadows. The driver climbs out, nearly invisible in the trees, but with the flicker of a match cupped near his mouth, I see the glint of Arthur Jackson's hair, his sharp features. Red ash glowing, he leans on the fender and looks up. Though I cannot be seen in the darkened window, his metal gaze pierces me.
Does he want us to know he's here? This could be planned; a meeting with Papa maybe. Or will Papa be caught by surprise? My heart clutches. I have to warn him!
But his instructions were clear. "If trouble comes ..." Is this trouble? It feels like trouble.
I shove the diary into the waist of my skirt and run downstairs, praying with each step, then into the room off the kitchen that is Nonno's place. I shake him awake, the words trembling on my lips. "Come, Nonno. Hurry. There's trouble."
His eyes jerk open, confusion swimming in their gray depths. "Trouble?"
My heart lodges in my throat at the furtive rattling of the front door. "Someone's here. We have to hide. Quickly." I'll see Nonno safe, then think what to do about Papa.
Nonno brings his limbs over, but slowly, so slowly to the floor. I search for his cane as he slides his feet into his shoes, but there's no time. I sling his arm over my shoulders. Leaning on each other, we pass through the kitchen, still smelling of warm bread and garlic.
The front door wrenches open.
"Hurry, Nonno!" I help him into the pantry and shut the door behind us, hardly breathing. Together, we grope past jarred tomatoes, jams, vinegary peppers, wheels of cheese, and sausages hanging from the ceiling. At the back wall, I feel my way down the shelves. There. My fingers slip into the hole, find the lever and release the catch that opens the wall.
I'll see Nonno safely into the cellar. But Papa will come, and when he does ...
My heart lurches at the sound of footsteps in the kitchen, steps of stealth and malice. I close the wall panel behind us, leaving only a pantry. But in the blackness of the other side, I lean and listen. Either he, too, waits and listens, or the prowler has moved on. He'll find the house empty, report it to Arthur Jackson. Then go away! Go away before Papa comes home.
There's no gas or electricity in the cellar, so I light the kerosene lamp hanging on a hook and look down to where Papa said to hide. I promised, but how can I hide when he might come home to a trap? I swallow the lump in my throat. First things first.
Nonno is too old to run, too unsteady to fight. I grab a metal rod from the corner and stick one end into the gears, then wedge the other end into the wall, pressing, then banging with my palms. No one will reach Nonno through this door.
With the lamp in one hand and Nonno leaning heavily, I start down into the cellar that holds racks of red Cabernet and Pinot Grigio. The DiGratia vines yield fruit regardless of Prohibition, and Nonno will not allow their waste. Our last bottlings we've sold for sacramental use, but Papa and Nonno argued over this year's vintage, blessed by extra weeks of sunshine, no frost, no moldering damp.
And so the wine waits. Papa will not let it go cheap; Nonno refuses to consider an illegal sale. He says the government will soon see its folly. Papa tells him governments gorge on folly and there is no glut in sight.
Is this the trouble he meant? Did the banker Arthur Jackson promise Papa a more lucrative market for our wine? I wouldn't doubt it, but if he was there to take delivery, Papa would not have said to hide in the cellar, and someone would not have broken into our house to lie in wait.... Don't think it. Bad thoughts bring bad luck.
We reach the bottom of the stairs. "Come, Non--"
My words break at a sound overhead like marbles spilled on tile, a spattering of sharp, angry snaps. Papa! I spin, but Nonno's grip tightens. On his face a look of pain. "Nonno, it's Papa. It must be." Sobs climb my throat.
Shaking his head, he draws me on through the cellar, limping and staggering. Papa ... Grief floods my eyes. I have to know, but Nonno won't let go. In the canting light we grope into the arched tunnel at the end of the cellar, and I guess his intention. We'll go out this way and--
He seizes his chest and falls against the wall, clutching his arm, then sinking to his knees.
"Nonno, what's wrong!" I clank down the lamp and grab onto him. "Nonno, hold on. Hold on, I'll get help."
He clings to me and rasps, "No, Antonia. You must not be found."
Not be found? What ... Gunshots. Arthur Jackson. Reality crushes me.
"Antonia." He works too hard for words. "Under ..." He sags.
"Nonno?" I cradle his head, feeling each of his ragged breaths in the feeble rise and fall of his chest. His eyelids flutter like the slow beat of tattered butterfly wings, then close.
Upstairs something horrible has happened, and in my arms it continues. Nonno! Papa! But there is only the scent of fear and grief as I rock on my knees, silently keening.
There is no time in the darkness of the cellar, only the pulsing of my grief. But slowly my name penetrates, not hollered, but whispered with urgency.
Nonno? His head is cold in my lap.
The whisper comes again, and someone steps into the lamp's glow. Relief and confusion swirl. "Marco? What are you... ?"
"Shh." He drops beside me, touches Nonno Quillan's throat to learn what I know already, then meets my tear-filled gaze. "We have to go."
"Go? I can't leave--"
He grabs hold of my shoulders, dark eyes intense in his grim face. "There's nothing more you can do for him."
Where are the laughing eyes, the ardent mouth? Marco, the carefree beau. What is he doing here? "How did you get in? How did you know?" The cellar is my family's secret. He would not just find it.
"Vittorio told me."
Papa told Marco?
He slides Nonno's head from my lap, folds the arms across his chest.
No. Leave him alone. Don't pose him like a dead man. I suck in a sob. "Papa's been shot. I heard it."
He pulls me to my feet. "Let's go."
"I have to stay."
My hand stings with the slap. "Don't tell me I can't."
He takes hold of my arm, but I swing again. Marco ducks, grabs hold of me hard, trapping my arms and hissing, "He'll guess you saw and heard."
"I did see!" I thrash. "Arthur Jackson--"
He plants his hand over my mouth. "Don't say it. Don't tell anyone what you know." I kick and squirm, but he forces me along the tunnel to the intruder gate he has left open. I have never felt such fury.
The diary digs into my ribs as I fight. Marco tightens his arms and pushes me through the gate that closes behind us. How has he gotten so strong, so cruel? I jerk my face free and sink my teeth into his wrist, wanting to hurt him more than I have ever wanted anything before.
Sucking in a breath, he eases his flesh out of my teeth. "Believe me, cara. There's no other way."
Believe him? I don't know him, have never seen this man who grabs hold and forces me to leave behind the ones I love. What if Papa didn't tell him? Was it Marco in the kitchen?
Panic infuses my struggle. Exasperated, he hoists me over his shoulder, trapping my kicking legs with a bear-like grip. The diary bites into my belly as he climbs the stairs, emerging into the garage. My inverted view passes over timbers that once formed stabling partitions, tools and pails and mechanical items. Then Marco lowers me to the floor.
The moment my feet touch, I haul back and kick his knee. "How dare you!"
Wincing, he grips his leg, and I shove him hard. Arms flung wide, he falls to his back.
"Get out of my sight." I clench my hands, wishing he couldn't see me shaking.
Marco rolls to his feet as the door opens and Joseph Martino slips inside. Joseph won't expect me to leave when Nonno ... But he looks from me to Marco, and something passes between them, a slight shake of Joseph's head.
"What?" What did they communicate with a head shake?
Marco limps toward me. "We have to get out of here."
I turn to Joseph. "Nonno Quillan is dead."
Joseph's face twists with pain. "Quillan?"
I point to the hatch. "His heart ..." My words break on a sob. Joseph will understand my pain. He will share it. And there are tears in his eyes, tears in mine. But now I see blood on Joseph's hand.
My gaze jerks to the house. "Papa?"
Joseph blocks the door. "He's gone, Antonia. And Marco's right. You have to get out of here."
A moan passes through me. They'll find Papa and investigate. But what about Nonno? If they find the cellar with the wine, they'll think Papa did something wrong, that he deserved to die.
But Nonno ... My head spins. I couldn't save him. The pain is suffocating, but suddenly I know. I couldn't save his life, but I can keep his secret. "I have to bury Nonno."
"Don't be crazy," Marco barks, reaching for my arm.
Shoving his hand away, I search the garage, snagging my glance on the timbers. I've blocked the pantry door, and that leaves only one other way in. If I block it ... "The cellar will be his tomb."
Glowering at Marco, I grab a board, haul it to the hatch and wedge it between the stairs and the underside of the floor. I turn back, but Joseph is beside me already with more. Back and forth, until the three of us press the last boards into the tangle. Sweat glistens on Marco's forehead. I press the hatch shut, and even though the square pavers fit snugly with the rest of the floor, I'm not satisfied. "Now dirt. So no one sees the hatch." Like a tomb lost in desert sands.
Marco grips my arm, hissing, "We don't have time."
Joseph takes my other hand. "Please, Antonia. Go now." He turns and grabs a shovel. "I'll cover the floor. No one will disturb him." I can smell his fear.
I squeeze his hand. "Promise."
He presses our hands to his heart. "With the loyalty I owe your Nonno Quillan, I promise I will hide and guard his resting place until you return."
My eyes stream with tears as I stop resisting Marco's pull. His Studebaker is directly outside the door, engine running, a great, growling beast swallowing me up as Marco presses me into the passenger seat, runs around and gets behind the wheel.
"Where are you taking me?" My voice has died with the ones I'm leaving behind.
"As far away as I can get you." He hooks his arm over the seat and spins the car back and around.
As we hurl down the drive and away from the only home I've ever known, I clutch my stomach and feel the empty skirt. No diary. Marco will not turn back, I know. I must have lost it in our struggle. I press my fingers to my forehead. What difference does it make? That life is gone, that Antonia dead. As dead and gone as everything I love.