Mia’s Day – A Short Story

Mia went down to the caves from time to time in the summer. There was less water to wade through and the drips from the ceiling seemed warmer than in winter. She wasn’t afraid of the creatures crawling along the walls. They were tiny with many legs and hard shells. The occasional spider darted across her hand as she felt along the wall of green slime. She would shudder, but didn’t scream. She had learnt that screaming was for a state of emergency only. She also learnt that the little black things above her head were bats, not birds. Her books told her that they couldn’t be vampires, so that was alright. In fact, being in the caves on her own was absolutely fine. This is how she liked it.

 Soon she came to the paintings. She put down her torch and placed her palms and fingers over the hand prints on the ceiling above her head. She had grown since last time. There were three hand prints, each one bigger than the last. Mia decided they were birthday prints, that every year on the ancient child’s birthday, her mama did a handprint with her so they could see how much she had grown. Mia used to do this with her papa and mama on the kitchen wall and in letters sent to dida and baba. Her fingers splayed across a large sheet of airplane light paper for sending abroad. She hadn’t seen her grandparents since before the war.

 Mia sat for a while, took out a paper napkin, unwrapped it and ate the piece of babka as she sat and stared at the hands on the wall. After a while the show began. The hands started a dance across the wall, making puppets with their fingers, miming the life they knew, pretending to light a fire, to make a garment with needles. Mia giggled as she watched, crumbs from her cake falling to the ground which delighted all the small creatures. A treat for her was a treat for them.

 Every time she came to the caves the hands would share a story or two. She understood what they were saying. She wondered if the ancient child had been to school. Mia missed going and hoped to return soon. It was time to go back home. She picked up her torch and clambered out to the top of the hole into the forest around her.

 She put the torch in her basket and a red hat on her head. Now she was Red Riding Hood, walking along the path, listening for a wolf. She had to call in at Jovan’s house and collect some yarns for weaving and knitting. This is why she had her basket that day. Mia was hoping for some stuffed cabbage leaves for her tea later. She was still not very good at cooking, but could make a soup and pancakes if she had to. Mostly Jovan and his wife made sure Mia had something to eat every day.

 Nobody inside. A parcel and note had been left for Mia behind the large pot of basil. She looked carefully for a snake. It wasn’t there. She popped everything in her basket and carried on up the steep cobbled street looking out for the wolf all the way home. Wolves and snakes were everywhere at that time, watching everyone who came and went in the small town by the river.

 Mia placed the cabbage leaves on the stove top for later, then took out the hanks of yarn, dyed in gold, red and green. She had enough to make a few pairs of socks to sell at the market, to soldiers and townspeople who would readily buy or exchange goods for her beautiful designs. She might have enough left to make a small rabbit for Marija’s baby.

 She sat by the window in her kitchen, where she could look out for dangerous beasts as well as ones she would welcome in to her home. The window slightly open for fresh air and warmth of the sun, her radio on, she listened to music, Mia put one hank at a time over a chair and wound a ball of yarn from each one, going clockwise until all were ready for making.

 She flexed her fingers, wriggled them, then looked at her hands. She kissed each one as she whispered blessings quietly to herself. Now there would be magic as she made each sock. She picked up her five small thin needles of wood and rubbed them to warm them up. Then she began casting on, ten stitches on each of four needles bringing them together in a circle. She rocked in her chair like baba used to, whispering long poems, smiling, calling on all her spirits to help with the making of each sock.

 They came in one by one, the rabbit, the deer, a crow. Sitting with Mia in her kitchen, they all recited poems, nodding as Mia finished each sock with a flourish, combining the red, green and gold. She made four pairs in one afternoon, long socks ready for autumn. Now for the rabbit. With a quick final cast-off the small animal was done. She had accomplished much on this day. Yarns and needles gave her peace, focus in a world full of worry, longing, of missing all who had abandoned her a few weeks ago, or was it months.

 Mia couldn’t remember. She only knew what she had made, sold and bartered. She only knew there was Jovan and his wife Milena at the bottom of the cobbled street, that the wolves appeared at any time to claim a victim. She hoped one day the troubles would end and she would be free, perhaps rescued by someone, taken away or that everyone might return and the town would be busy again. The rabbit, deer and crow left. Mia closed the window and went to put on the stove to warm her cabbage parcels.

 

Knitted Baba Doll via Pinterest

Little Italy

Ray Bradbury said:

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

My name is Mia.

I  live in a tall house  full of people . Two of them are my mama and papa. We have one room to ourselves, and the cellar where there is a fire, cabbage pickling in a large wooden barrel and washing always hanging to dry. Sometimes when it is cold outside mama brings in the clothes  at night, stiff and frozen, smelling of  frost and stars . Mama says Deda Mraz makes the nights cold in winter so that her washing will be sparkly and clean. She is always busy, my mama.

I help her, but I’m getting ready to start school which means that all the things I do every day will stop. Papa has bought me some new clothes for my first day and new shiny shoes. I look at them all the time and put them on. I like getting dressed. Clothes are my most favourite thing. He said I am going on my first day looking like a Highland dancer because the teacher is Scottish and she will be really pleased to see me. My papa is a clever man.

I don’t know when I am going to start. The lady who came to look at me and measure me said it would be in the new year. But I am ready, now. It must be soon.

Everyone else in the house knows I am going and they have all given me presents. The old lady gave some crayons, she knows I like colouring in. The smelly man with a big red nose bought me a wooden pencil case full of things. It’s a pity he smells. Mama says it’s because he does dirty work and drinks a lot. She has to clean the bath two times after he has been in it.

The very hairy student, a grown-up who is still at school, gave me an English alphabet book. I know my other alphabet and can read and write already, but not in English. He has been teaching me to speak it and so have the neighbours. I can curse in English. The boys next door taught me.

The best people in the house live at the very top. They are lucky. They have two rooms. I call them Gino and Maria. I go to see them mostly every morning and night. In the morning I put shillings in their meter. I do that for everyone in the house. It is my favourite job. At night, before I go to bed, and after the student has read me a story, I go and sit with them. They play music a lot, we dance and have supper. I dip nice biscuits in hot milky coffee, get sleepy, and ready for bed.

Mama says they are Italian. Not like us. Gino has taught me lots of Italian words like prego, arrivederci , mamma mia, pizzeria, gelato, espresso. Their kitchen is bigger than ours and they have salami, cheese and  many different kinds of  biscuits. The smell from their cooking makes me hungry every day. Mama and papa eat with them sometimes because their food is so good.

Maria makes ice cream and keeps it in the freezer in the cellar. She has an ice cream place in the town and we always go when we are shopping.  Gino works in a shop full of Italian food. He brings it  back to the house and then I cook with him when he is not working

But sometimes I don’t go up to their kitchen. I sit at the bottom of the stairs and listen to them . If they are shouting, mama says I must not knock on their door. They shout a lot when they are mad and sometimes Maria throws things. I hear smashing. It makes me laugh. Most of the time they are happy though. I think all that good food makes people happy. Music does too.

Sometimes  I can hear a baby crying at night, in the house. I tell mama, but she says there are no babies here or next door. But I can hear it. It comes from upstairs, from Gino and Maria’s room. I think they are hiding it from me.

It’s not a loud baby. It has a sweet, sad cry, as if it doesn’t yet know how loud its voice is. I think it might be a girl and this is why they are keeping it out of my sight. There is a place that goes under the roof with a door to it. She might be in there. Maybe they are hiding her from everyone.

Every time I went to visit I asked to play ‘hide the object’ so I could look in all the places that might be secret. But the baby wasn’t anywhere. Not under the sofa, not in the cupboard or the oven. Not under the roof or in the giant wardrobe.

Then one day I asked Maria, where her baby was, I had to know. She was doing the washing up at the time and dropped a plate on the shiny floor. It smashed. I could feel her shaking.  Then she started to sob. She cried and cried. I ran to her and put my arms around her legs and hugged her tightly.

‘My baby has gone Mia.  She went when she was just two days old.’

‘Then I will be your baby’, I said.

And so I was, always, Gino and Maria’s baby girl. Mama said that was just fine.

ricciarelli Ricciarelli di Siena biscuits – recipe here. They take over 12 hours! http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanycious/cavallucci-and-ricciarelli-tuscan-christmas-biscuits/