Excerpt from “Open Arms” The Novel
Eighteen-year-old Tomaso Abruzzi hurried down the murky two-mile dirt road from his family’s small plot of land outside the village of Linguaglossa on the north side of Mount Etna. Heading for the ancient church of Saint Agatha, he passed a herd of sheep, a stray donkey, and a pack of restless wolves, all on the move in a land without a sense of time…or hope. His only concern was to make sure that he and his older brother, Fortunato, could get back home in time. He flew up the front steps, flung open the door, and entered the narrow vestibule. Without hesitation, he pulled open one of the doors to the sanctuary, where his brother’s wife, Catrina, was kneeling in prayer at the altar. He yelled, “Catrina, papa is ill. I will get Fortunato. Meet us at the front steps. Hurry!”
Gasping for air, he made the sign of the cross as he raced down the hallway to the cold, dark basement. Bursting into the room where Fortunato was being schooled in Opera and English by Father Medaglia, Tomaso shouted, “My brother, come quickly! It’s papa!” Within minutes, they met Catrina at the front steps and fled into the darkness of the night.
With each step of urgency, they raced through the limpid veil of mist covering the plains. Off in the distance lie the dim outlines of the little villages clinging to barren hilltops crammed with lonely, neglected, and oppressed people. As they got closer they could hear the faint barking of their dog Pazzo. Inside, lying on a cot in a corner of the barren room, was fifty-one-year-old Francesco. Sitting next to him holding his hand was Carmella, his stubborn and sturdy wife of twenty-five years. Close by sitting in a urine-soaked flour sack diaper was three-year-old Lucio Abruzzi. Covered with red blotches from spider and tick bites, he entertained himself by tossing a few peas and carrots on the dirt floor watching field mice and rats scurrying around to get any scrap they could. At three years of age, he was already strikingly handsome with apathetic eyes, a face filled with abandonment, and a full head of thick, dark, and disheveled hair. Without anything to restrain him, he jumped out of the chair and stood on his tiptoes. His bare feet were deadened to pain, and his ears were hypersensitive to most of the noise surrounding him. But it was his frequent wandering off, lack of speaking, and eye gaze while deliberately ignoring his mother that was of most concern to her.