HE'S IN RUSSIA!

Closing her eyes, Maria pressed the paper to her chest. She controlled her breathing but wanted to scream with fury.

     “Mama?” Lilia gently pulled on her mother’s apron. “What’s wrong? What does it say?”

     “Erminio is going to Russia.” A whimper escaped her lips. “I’ll never see him again.” Maria pushed through the front door, inadvertently shoving Eliseo to the side on her way into the kitchen.

     “Maria?” Eliseo reached out to console her, but she wiggled out of his reach.

     “I want to be left alone.” Maria closed the door behind her.

Lilia’s face flushed red and her eyes glazed with blinding tears. In the background, she could still hear her brothers’ laughter.

     “W-we’re never going to see Erminio again?”

Eliseo removed his glasses, looked at the pile of fabric on his table, and rubbed his neck and head.

   “Lilia, where is your papa?”

    “He’s at Pietro’s butchering a pig.” 

Eliseo grabbed his fedora and dashed through the gate while Lilia watched her mother’s silhouette through the linen curtain behind the kitchen door. An hour passed, and Maria didn’t move.

     After what felt like an eternity, Lilia heard the front door opening.

     “Liliutti?” At the sound of her father’s voice, a wave of tears erupted. Lilia buried her face in her father’s shoulder soaking his already-drenched shirt.

     “Papa! Berto delivered a letter…and Mama…Mama said that—”

     “Shh, shh, it’s OK. I know everything.” Virginio gently patted her back, as he was covered in dirt from head to toe and his clothes were stained with blood.

     “Lilia, go outside with the boys and let me talk to Mama.” Eliseo quietly excused himself and went upstairs, offering the family space.

Virginio tapped the door. “Maria? It’s me.”

Maria didn’t respond. He tapped harder, and the door gave way, opening to his wife sitting at the kitchen table—fixated on the letter in her hands. There was an emptiness in her eyes. It was as if her soul had wilted.

     “Maria, our son is not dead. He’s at war.”

     “He’s in Russia,” she replied in a monotone voice, never lifting her eyes from the table.

     “Maria—”

     “He’s in Russia!” she bellowed, shaking the letter at him.

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