Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!

2.12.2017

Woman In Black

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In the New York suburbs, there was once a vibrant, old-world neighborhood.  There, the men worked with their hands, cutting stone, laying bricks, forming cement, planting trees, building monuments.  Hardly a sentence in English, they spoke the poetry of Venice and Rome.

At daybreak, worn trucks loaded with tools of every description exited the small streets in every employable direction.  Waving behind, their wives cooked and tended the children. On the main of their Italian neighborhood, bakers, sausage makers, and small, dusty candy stores playing – in hushed whispers - their lucky numbers.

Yet, the most indelible old-world impression was of the church-bell ringing in the predawn hour, and the scores of women in black walking between day and dark to attend first mass.   

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The old gardener, Mr. Casella, has died.  A husband’s garage is silent; his rakes and iron shovels resting shadows against the wall.  On the shelves, olive jars keep the gardener’s seeds, outside May flowers grow in spring.  Tiny tomatoes on sticks show their pale green-yellow, the rising sun waking his vines of red and white grapes.  All looks perfect, and same, as if they didn’t know their gardener had died.

Today, cross-town lawns will go uncut, hedges untrimmed.   During breakfast, Mrs. Mill will not hear her gardener sharpening his tools, or speaking Italian to her trees and shrubs. No, today will be terribly quiet, the grass without its fragrance entering through the curtains to perfume her gilded rooms.

At St. Anthony’s, Sorrento music plays a love song a hundred years old.  Above the scratch of its needle, notes of romance touch the church’s stain-glass window.  Below the rose of purple, Mrs. Casella weeps into a memory of wedding lace as mass bells sing softly from the altar.  Dozens of women in black, kneeling, heads bowed, their gardeners and husbands left in their time, too. 

The mass now gone, they leave in single file, each alone, walking down the hill or up the avenue, back to their quiet rooms of humble houses, their mantles of communions in white dresses and children’s suits.

Held gently in his chair, a sip, a tear into a husband’s last summer wine. Life has been hard, but good.  Mrs. Casella remembers each moment and year, and from the many, chooses not one.  She will live her remaining days in black, until she meets her gardener again.


© 2000 by David M. Molloy

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