In which Melania meets Vito.
|You’ll have to excuse me for forgetting some details and being so explicit on others. Age does that to you. I like to think of memories as tattoos. It’s a permant reminder of an event, and as we get older they may fade. Sometimes we touch them up to make them brighter, or add an extra little bit of embellishment. We may tattoo over them with other memories or cover them up so no one will see them. In extreme cases we may try and have them removed, but they always leave a scar.
I believe I was about 16 when mother died. She came home one day very tired and was coughing a lot. She wasn’t hungry and went straight to bed. The next morning she couldn’t get out of bed to go to work. I fed her some minestrina, but she couldn’t keep it down. Now she was coughing up blood. I asked her if I should go get a doctor, but she told me no, we didn’t have the money to pay him. When she fell asleep again, I ran to get Signora Rossi.
When I returned with her, Mama was already dead. Signora Rossi held my hand as the doctor came and he said she died from breathing in all the fibers from the textile mill. He called for the undertaker and they took Mama away. Signora Rossi offered to go down to the factory and get me the job my Mama had left. I agreed and she left. Anna snuck over from the store and I told her how I was going to be working at the factory now. She got mad and told me I would just be killing myself like my mother and father. Did I want to die like my mother and father? She told me she knew of somebody who could get me a job. A good job, she said, one where you would make lots of money. I agreed to go out with her that night to find this man.
Signora Rossi came back and told me everything was arranged down at the textile mill. I would start the next morning. The landlord came and told me if I didn’t have the rent for that month I needed to leave now, as Mama had yet to pay the bills. I packed up a few things I thought I would need, what little clothes I had, a photograph of my parents on their wedding day, and my mother's good crucifix. The undertaker had taken the everyday one instead of the good one.
I left the apartment and walked around the neighborhood. By this time it was getting dark and I knew Anna would be coming soon. I went to the designated spot, by the church two blocks down. Anna met me soon after I got there. She brought me to a bar that was four blocks further from the church. She said the guy, she called him “Enrico”, would be there. When we went in, the smell was terrible. It was the smell of cheap liquor, cigarettes and dirty men. Anna brought me to the bar and introduced me to Enrico.
Enrico was short, and very hairy. I assume he was Puerto Rican, although I never asked. He was missing teeth and had a scar across his forehead. He was wearing a grey suit, but it was dirty and had been mended many times. Anna told him how I needed a job, and quickly. He looked me up and down and asked how old I was. I told him I thought I was 17. He asked if I could do anything special. I didn’t know what he meant by special, but I told him that I was very good at cooking, and I did very neat needlework. He laughed and told me he could get me a job, even though he would have to teach me new skills.
Anna was very excited for me. She told me that Enrico was going to get her a job as soon as she finished with school. She had to leave, as it was getting late and she needed to get back to the house before bedcheck. She hugged me tightly and slipped two silver dollars in my coat pocket. With both of us crying, I kissed her cheek and she left.
Now I was alone with Enrico. I was scared now that I was alone with him. He bought me a drink from the bar and made me drink it. It was very strong and brought tears to my eyes. He lit a cigarette and asked me if I wanted one. I shook my head no. He laughed and said he had some business to do in the back room, and would be back in a minute. He walked away.
I turned to look at the room. There were lots of men slumped over the wooden tables or arguing with each other. A few women were scattered here and there, but they were mostly on the dance floor, which was only a cleared space with a Victrola. It was a slow song and they clung and swayed with each other as if one was supporting the other. Both the men and women looked respectable, if somewhat dirty. What I remember most was that everyone looked lonely.
I could feel the eyes of the men at the tables looking at me. I tried not to catch their eye, for they looked like they wanted something I knew was not right. I turned back to face the bar. The bartender looked at me and asked who I was waiting for. I answered that I was going to get a job with Enrico. He looked at me hard, his dark eyes slanting, then said, “Nah, you’re too pretty for that racket. I got something better for you.” He picked up a telephone from under the counter and made a quick phone call. He was looking at me the whole time. When he had hung up the phone he poured me a cola with something I assume was rum in it. This drink was sweeter, and I didn’t mind drinking it so much.
Enrico came back from whatever he had been doing. He put his arm around my shoulder and asked if I was ready to get started working. He already had some people lined up for me. I didn’t know what he meant so I just nodded my head. The bartender jumped in, “'Rico, I just poured her a new drink. Why don’t you give her a minute to loosen up, Eh?” I picked up my drink and took a sip. I looked at Enrico and smiled.
“All right, all right. But hurry up, girlie, I got plans for you.” Just then a man in a very nice grey pinstripe suit walked up the bar. He stood next to me and ordered a gin and tonic. He was very good looking, with dark slicked back hair, and a slim mustache. He had very dark eyes, almost black and when I looked into them I could tell those were eyes you never wanted to anger. He asked me my name.“Melania,” I answered, “Melania Tommaseo.”
“Well, Melania Tommaseo, would you like to dance?”
Enrico turned back to me and saw I was talking to another man. “Hey Bo, this one’s mine. You want something you’re gonna have to pay for it.” He glared at the other man, and stepped closer to me.
“I just asked her if she wanted to dance, that’s all. Isn’t that right, little lady?” He looked at me and then the bartender. The bartender walked to the other end of the counter to get something. “I just wanted to dance with her, and don’t you think she can decide whether she wants too or not?” The man took my arm, and pulled me toward him.
Enrico didn’t like this. He grabbed my other arm and tried to pull me back towards him. I was scared, these two men could easily rip me apart. What had I gotten into? I asked myself. The man in the suit reached his other arm into his pants pocket, pushing back his jacket just enough to reveal a revolver strapped to his side. “I really think she wants to dance with me.” He said. Enrico let go of me and pushed me away.
“Fine, you take the whore, I can get better money out of someone else.” Then he slammed down his glass and walked away.
I looked at the man in the suit. “I think I just lost my job.” I said and tears started to leak from my eyes. He looked at me intently, and motioned for the bartender to pour us another drink.
“So Melania, what kind of job did you have lined up with that slimeball?” he asked, quickly swallowing his drink, still watching me with his dark eyes.
“I don’t really know. My friend Anna got me the job. I didn’t want to go work in the factory. Mama died because of the factory. Papa too.”
“I can get you a job. A better job than that slug could ever give you. You will get anything you want, diamonds, furs, new clothes, anything.” His voice was smooth, Italian with a slick New York accent. “All you have to do is be pretty.” I didn’t know what to do. I lost one job and was offered a new one in the course of five minutes. But I thought to myself, any job will be better than killing myself slowly in a factory.
“Okay, I’ll do it.” I replied shakily, “but will I get paid? I don’t have any money for a place to stay or food or anything.” I took a couple swallows of my drink.
“You don’t have to worry about any of that. It will all be given too you. All you have to do is come with me. What was your name again?”
“Melania.” I said, looking into the dirty mirror behind the bar.
“Melody.” He whispered. I looked over, shocked; for that was the nickname my mother had given me.
“How…How did you know that? Who told you?” His eyes, his directness, and the way he seemed to be looking inside me shook me up. “Nobody calls me that but Mama….”
“I wanted to call you that the first time I saw you. You seem like a little melody, just waiting to be played. Now drink up, it’s time to go.”
I swallowed what was left in the glass in front of me. Drinking it so fast made my throat burn and my eyes water. “Still used to Chianti and spumante?” He asked with a smile. “Don’t worry you will get used to strong alcohol. Now, follow me.” He helped me off the stool and went to pick up my suitcase. I pulled my coat on, a little nervous about what was going to happen now. He nodded to the bartender as we walked away.