“Where is everybody?” Carnellia asked herself.
Nobody was in the house, nobody was in the store, nobody was nowhere. After a day and night of persuading herself to visit, there wasn’t anybody at home. She grew up in the brownstone. That never happened. Somebody was always there. There were some family secrets that had to stay under lock and key and the watchful eye.
“Ma are you here?” she called out again.
No answer again, even though the kitchen felt and smelled warm. The house felt like somebody was somewhere, but it was quiet like an open book somebody had laid down..
She heard a thump. She stopped and listened. When she heard another thump, she walked up the stairs, checking the bedrooms. When she went into her old bedroom, she saw her mother, hog-tied on the ground, thumping the floor with her blocky black shoes.
“Ma! What happened?”
She worked at the knots, not getting anywhere, then ran down to the kitchen, grabbed a cook’s knife, and ran back upstairs. She sliced through the cotton fabric freeing her mother hands and feet.
“It was your brother. Where is he?”
“Luca tied you up?”
“No, no, but it was his doing.”
“Who is this?” Carnellia asked, pointing to the man moaning on the floor.
Raffaella stepped over and kicked him. He cried out, his broken ribs a sudden sharp pain.
“That’s for not shooting that son of a bitch when you had the chance.”
She kicked him again, hard.
“And that’s for me being tied up in my own home.”
“What’s going on? What son of a bitch? What innocent girl?”
“That man must have done something to him and Frankie,” Raffaella said, leaving the room.
“What about him?”
“Leave him,” she said, stamping down the stairs.
They both heard the banging on the basement door as soon as they stepped into the bed store. Carnellia turned the lights on.
“Who’s in there?” Raffaella demanded
“Ma, it’s me and Frankie. Unlock the door.”
“Your sister is here.”
“Tell her to leave and when she’s gone unlock the door,” Big Paulie said.
“You won’t talk to your own sister?”
“You know how I feel about that ma.”
‘Then you and Frankie can stay down there in the dark.”
“Ma, ma,” yelled Frankie. “It’s Luca, not me, he hates her. I love Carnellia, let me out of here.”
“You and Luca think things over. I’ll come back later tonight.”
She made sure the store was locked up tight and the lights off, secured the metal door, and the two women went back into the house.
“What’s going on?” Carnellia asked her mother when they were sitting at the kitchen table, having coffee and biscotti.
“Your big brother is doing something for Albert, something big, and part of it was kidnapping a little girl. He brought her here, the fool, and asked me to watch her. He left a man, the one who’s tied up, and I was feeding her soup when what I think is her father busted in. Our man had the girl, a bullet at her head, but the father said he didn’t care, he could make another daughter, but if he shot her, he was a dead man the next instant, and nobody was going to make another one of him ever again.”
“Her father said that?”
“Yes, and he said he’d shoot him some more when he was dead, so the devil wouldn’t have any doubt he was getting the right man.”
“What kind of a man would say something like that about his own child?”
“A heartless man,” said Raffaella. “But the girl didn’t seem to take it the wrong way, she just stood there, until Luca’s stupid man got the shakes and put his gun down. If your father was only here.”
Luigi Gravano never got the shakes. Raffaella and her husband didn’t come to the United States at the turn of the century, when most of the Italians in New York City showed up. They weren’t birds of passage, either, planning on working hard, saving every penny, and going back home, re-establishing themselves with some land and a better house and a wad under the mattress. Luigi Gravano didn’t work in construction building roads bridges subways and sewers. Raffaella didn’t work as a seamstress They didn’t peddle bread in the street. They made it on the make.
After the war times were tough in the south of Italy. All the industry was up north. There were few jobs and few prospects. The dockyard owners on the east coast encouraged immigration, one way or the other. They got their labor cheap and tied it up until the working men could repay the passage. After that many of them stayed on the docks. It was all they knew.
Luigi worked the docks where plenty of young Italian men worked informally illegally as longshoremen at the city’s coastal ports. He helped them get work, for a cut, and helped steal freight, for a cut. When their boys grew up, they got into the trade with their old man. When Luigi was shot and killed fighting over a bone of contention, Luca became the family point man. Frankie stayed the loose cannon. The other boys didn’t give lip and there wasn’t a peep from Carnellia, at least until she grew up.
Luca “Big Paulie” Gravano knew a good thing when he saw one.
“What is Albert up to?”
“I don’t know, Luca didn’t say, not exactly. It has something to do with the World Series. Somebody is going to get killed, but why they would do it in such a public place, I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about it. The little girl gave me the evil eye. That was bad. And her father, if looks could kill, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I don’t like it happening in our house. Your father would never have stood for it. What happened out there stayed out there. It never came in here.”
She never stopped missing her husband. He four sons were standing on the shoulders of a giant. Luigi always knew in a minute what they spent days figuring out, if they figured it out, at all.
“Stay for a little dinner,” she said.
“All right, ma, I will.”
Although many people in New York City went to their kitchens to feed the cat and dog, that was about all the cooking they knew or did. Raffaello Gravano wasn’t like that. She had fed the family starting with Luigi, then Luca, then the rest of the four kids. She still fed the boys every day, unless they had gone to the mattresses.
She got a big pot, poured water into it, and put it on the stove. She believed in having a big enough pot so the pasta could roll around in the water while cooking. She made her own spaghetti.
Earlier in the month the papers had reported about factory made pizza. “In New Jersey a belt-line assembles pizza as if they were General Motors tanks. Dough shell goes on the line, plop goes cheese, squirt goes tomato sauce, shake goes oregano, plastic wrapper enfolds, label stamps, boxed, next.”
Raffaella made her own pizza and never bought pizza from Nino Food Products in Newark, New Jersey, or anywhere else. She suspected there wasn’t anybody named Nino. She was sure there was a company called Food Products, although she didn’t care. She didn’t buy unassembled pizza either, the kind that was a fill up package containing the flour mixture, yeast, and sauce with cheese in an envelope.
She made her own from scratch, made the sauce, rolled out the pie, grated the cheese, and sliced the pepperoni. Sometimes she added pesto and pistachios. She had tried mac and cheese on pizza, but it was too much.
When Kraft introduced their mac and cheese in a box twenty years earlier, she fed it to the kids every day. It was quick and easy and fed four for twenty cents. But after fifty or sixty dinners in a row the children started to protest, and when Luigi took their side, she put her apron back on.
“How is everything in the village?” Raffaella asked her daughter.
“Good, ma, I like it a lot. There’s some great home-style eating there.”
“Nothing is home-style outside of my home.”
Raffaella had not seen the Look Magazine article with pictures showing how to eat pizza correctly. “Pizza pie has become an American citizen, here to stay,” the story said. If she had seen the article she would have said, “I’m an American citizen and I been staying here for more than thirty years.”
While she waited for the water to boil, she got the oven lit. She picked up one of the two old loaves of bread from the counter and started tearing cubes out of it by hand. She tore them all the same so the croutons would cook evenly. She tossed them into a bowl as she went and when it was full drizzled the chunks with olive oil and tossed it. She spread the croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them into the oven They would need flipping over halfway through the baking and watching for the crispiness. She didn’t like her croutons to get too brown.
“Are you still living alone?”
“Yes, mother, I’ll let you know when the big day shows up.”
“Don’t get smart-alecky with me.”
“Sorry, ma, but you know I still live alone on 8th, all alone.”
“Do you ever see the diamond man?”
“Oh, yeah, not every day, but we run into each other all the time.”
Carnellia lived in a 3rd floor apartment next to Sam Kramer’s jewelry shop. “I was even one of his Space Girls this summer, filling in for a girl who got sick.”
“He hires out pretty girls, dresses them all in black, with a cape and a helmet that looks like a space helmet, hangs his jewelry around their necks, and they ride around town on a scooter showing it off.”
Sam Kramer worked with silver and gold and gems. He made a good living and paid his rent. He and his wife and their two children lived upstairs. He was best known, though, for making jewelry out of glass eyes, moose teeth, porcupine quills, old shoe buttons, and pieces of quartz. When he got inspired, he added rare hardwoods, ancient coins, and fossilized sea insects.
He got written up the year before. Some museums and university art galleries started exhibiting his work. When a friend of his took a finger ring he made to a museum curator, and asked if it were “Egyptian or Etruscan,” the curator said, “Unquestionably Etruscan.”
“Don’t go fast on those things,” Rafaella said. “You’ll kill yourself falling off. Then they’ll steal the scooter, and you’ll have to take the subway home. The trains are dirty and there are dirty men on them.”
Carnellia didn’t tell her mother about going barefoot in Washington Square, listening to Ramlin’ Jack Elliott there, drinking cheap wine on the sly in the daytime listening to him trying out his new songs.
“Well, I fills up my hat brim, drunk a sweet taste, thought about the river going to waste, thought about the dust, thought ’bout the sand, thought about the people, thought ’bout the land, ever’body running round all over creation, just looking for some kind of a little place.”
While the pasta was cooking Rafaella sauteed garlic and onion in a pan, browned a small portion of beef, gave it all a good stir, and let it simmer. She brought a bottle of Chianti Spolveri snuggled in straw to the table and poured half a water glass for herself and half that for her daughter.
“Ma, I’m not a little girl anymore,” Carnellia said and topped off her glass.
“If you’re so grown up what are you doing living with riff raff and beatniks?”
She wasn’t ready to talk back to her mother, but she thought it was nutty when a crime boss mother looked on bohemians as beneath her.
“Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his,” is what Carnellia had read in the “Home Economics High School Textbook” when she was in high school. Keep the house, make the meals, do the dishes and laundry, take care of the kids, and stay gay and gorgeous on top of it. She wasn’t going to have it, not if she could help it. She wanted to stay Carnellia Gravano, and in the meantime find out who she wanted to be, not who everybody else was.
Even Grace Kelly when she got married six months ago all of a sudden became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. The Kelly part of her went out the window, even though her family paid two million in dowry to the Prince of Monaco.
It didn’t surprise the Gravano family, since they knew in a hearsay way the prince’s mother was romantically involved with the jewel thief Rene the Cane. The “Wedding of the Century” already looked pregnant. Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi had made short work of it.
Carnellia wasn’t willing to face high noon at the altar.
“Have you made any plans besides going to school part-time and working part-time and whatever else you do part-time? You’re going to turn into an old maid before you know it.”
“I’m not getting married this minute, ma, and that’s final.”
Getting married and having children was the number one to-do list for girls. The marriage rate was at an all-time high. Everybody either already had kids or were busy making kids. The family was what made Americans better than Commies, whose mothers all worked in tractor factories while their children spent the day in concrete bunker day cares. Home and hearth were what mattered.
They ate their Spaghetti Bolognese and drank Chianti and talked about yesterday and the day before. Robert Wagner the city’s mayor was on the cover of Time Magazine. Robert Moses had gotten the cops to push six women away from a project of his near Central Park West. They insisted the play space was needed by their children. The International Longshoremen were threating to go out on strike since their contract had expired on Sunday. Jacob Javits, the Attorney General, was making noises that a walkout might imperil the national safety and health.
“Hah!” barked Ma Gravano.
Lucy and Desi were in town to promote the sixth season of “I Love Lucy.” In a comedy sketch on “The Ed Sullivan Show” Lucy pretended to believe she and Desi would be appearing on Edward Murrow’s “Person to Person” instead of The Great Stone Face Show. The next day Little Ricky made his debut. He was a smash.
“What about Luca and Frankie?” asked Carnellia after dinner, stacking the dishes in the sink, making ready to go home to Greenwich Village.
Raffaella picked up the second loaf of stale bread and poured a pitcher of water. “Bring two glasses and a bowl.” They walked into the bed store and across to the basement door. Raffaella unlocked it and put the bread and water down on the narrow landing.
“Here’s your supper,” she said looking down on her two sons at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll be back tomorrow, maybe I’ll bring some antipasto and fresh bread, and maybe I will let you out on Thursday morning when this is all over. And keep that lion quiet. If I get another bad night’s sleep, I swear I won’t be back.”
She turned the lock on her two bad boys and took to an early bed.