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Igms issue 4, p.11

IGMS Issue 4, page 11


IGMS Issue 4

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  "I doubt there'll be a king."

  "But there'll be a governor. And other high officials. And young men with prospects. I will help you choose."

  "You will certainly not help me choose."

  "It's as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one."

  "As if you'd know."

  "I know better than you, having done it badly once. The rush of hot blood into the heart is the darkest magic, and it must be tamed. You must not let it happen until you have chosen a man worthy of your love. I will help you choose."

  No point in arguing. Alessandra had long since learned that fighting with Mother accomplished nothing, whereas ignoring her worked very well.

  Except for this. A colony. It was definitely time to look up Grandmother. She lived in Polignano a Mare, the next city of any size up the Adriatic coast, that's all that she knew of her. And Mother's mother would not be named Toscano. Alessandra would have to do some serious research.

  A week later, Mother was still going back and forth about whether they should sleep through the voyage or not, while Alessandra was discovering that there's a lot of information that they won't let children get at. Snooping in the house, she found her own birth certificate, but that wasn't helpful, it only listed her own parents. She needed Mother's certificate, and that was not findable in the apartment.

  The government people barely acknowledged she existed and when they heard her errand sent her away. It was only when she finally thought of the Catholic Church that she made any headway. They hadn't actually attended Mass since Alessandra was little, but at the parish, the priest on duty helped her search back to find her own baptism. They had a record of baby Alessandra Toscano's godparents as well as her parents, and Alessandro figured that either the godparents were her grandparents, or they would know who her grandparents were.

  At school she searched the net and found that Leopoldo and Isabella Santangelo lived in Polignano a Mare, which was a good sign, since that was the town where grandmother lived.

  Instead of going home, she used her student pass and hopped the train to Polignano and then spent forty-five minutes walking around the town searching for the address. To her disgust, it ended up being on a stub of a street just off Via Antonio Ardito, a trashy-looking apartment building backing on the train tracks. There was no buzzer. Alessandra trudged up to the fourth floor and knocked.

  "You want to knock something, knock your own head!" shouted an woman from inside.

  "Are you Isabella Santangelo?"

  "I'm the Holy Virgin and I'm busy answering prayers. Go away!"

  Alessandra's first thought was: So Mother lied about being a child of the fairies. She's really Jesus' younger sister.

  But she decided that flippancy wasn't a good approach today. She was already going to be in trouble for leaving Monopoli without permission, and she needed to find out from the Holy Virgin here whether or not she was her grandmother.

  "I'm so sorry to trouble you, but I'm the daughter of Dorabella Toscano and I --"

  The woman must have been standing right at the door, waiting, because it flew open before Alessandra could finish her sentence.

  "Dorabella Toscano is a dead woman! How can a dead woman have daughters!"

  "My mother isn't dead," said Alessandra, stunned. "You were signed as my godmother on the parish register."

  "That was the worst mistake of my life. She marries this pig boy, this bike messenger, when she's barely fifteen, and why? Because her belly's getting fat with you, that's why! She thinks a wedding makes it all clean and pure! And then her idiot husband gets himself killed. I told her, this proves there is a God! Now go to hell!"

  The door slammed in Alessandra's face.

  She had come so far. Her grandmother couldn't really mean to send her away like this. They hadn't even had time to do more than glance at each other.

  "But I'm your granddaughter," said Alessandra.

  "How can I have a granddaughter when I have no daughter? You tell your mother that before she sends her little quasi-bastard begging at my door, she'd better come to me herself with some serious apologizing."

  "She's going away to a colony," said Alessandra.

  The door was yanked open again. "She's even more insane than ever," said Grandmother. "Come in. Sit down. Tell me what stupid thing she's done."

  The apartment was absolutely neat. Everything in it was unbelievably cheap, the lowest possible quality, but there was a lot of it -- ceramics, tiny framed art pieces -- and everything had been dusted and polished. The sofa and chairs were so piled with quilts and throws and twee little embroidered pillows that there was nowhere to sit. Grandmother Isabella moved nothing, and finally Alessandra sat on top of one of the pillow piles.

  Feeling suddenly quite disloyal and childish herself, telling on Mother like a schoolyard tattletale, Alessandra now tried to softpedal the outrage. "She has her reasons, I know it, and I think she truly believes she's doing it for me --"

  "What what what is she doing for you that you don't want her to do! I don't have all day!"

  The woman who embroidered all of these pillows has all day every day. But Alessandra kept her sassy remark to herself. "She has signed us up for a colony ship, and they accepted us."

  "A colony ship? There aren't any colonies. All those places have countries of their own now. Not that Italy ever did have any real colonies, not since the Roman Empire. Lost their balls after that, the men did. Italian men have been worthless ever since. Your grandfather, God keep him buried, was worthless enough, never stood up for himself, let everybody push him around, but at least he worked hard and provided for me until my ungrateful daughter spat in my face and married that bike boy. Not like that worthless father of yours, never made a dime."

  "Well, not since he died, anyway," said Alessandra, feeling more than a little outraged.

  "I'm talking about when he was alive! He only worked the fewest hours he could get by with. I think he was on drugs. You were probably a cocaine baby."

  "I don't think so."

  "How would you know anything?" said Grandmother. "You couldn't even talk then!"

  Alessandra sat and waited.

  "Well? Tell me."

  "I did but you wouldn't believe me."

  "What was it you said?"

  "A colony ship. A starship to one of the Formic planets, to farm and explore."

  "Won't the Formics complain?"

  "There aren't any more Formics, Grandmother. They were all killed."

  "A nasty piece of business but it needed doing. If that Ender Wiggin boy is available, I've got a list of other people that need some good serious destruction. What do you want, anyway?"

  "I don't want to go into space. With Mother. But I'm still a minor. If you would sign as my guardian, I could get emancipated and stay home. It's in the law."

  "As your guardian?"

  "Yes. To supervise me and provide for me. I'd live here."

  "Get out."


  "Stand up and get out. You think this is a hotel? Where exactly do you think you'd sleep? On the floor, where I'd trip on you in the night and break my hip? There's no room for you here. I should have known you'd be making demands. Out!"

  There was no room for argument. In moments Alessandra found herself charging down the stairs, furious and humiliated. This woman was even crazier than Mother.

  I have nowhere to go, thought Alessandra. Surely the law doesn't allow my mother to force me to go into space, does it? I'm not a baby, I'm not a child, I'm fourteen, I can read and write and make rational choices.

  When the train got back to Monopoli, Alessandra did not go directly home. She had to think up a good lie about where she'd been, so she might as well come up with one that covered a longer time. Maybe the Dispersal Project office was still open.

  But it wasn't. She couldn't even get a brochure. And what was the point? Anything interesting would be on the net. She could have stayed after school and found out all she wanted to know.
Instead she went to visit her grandmother.

  That's proving what good decisions I make.

  Mother was sitting at the table, a cup of chocolate in front of her. She looked up and watched Alessandra shut the door and set down her book bag, but she said nothing.

  "Mother, I'm sorry, I --"

  "Before you lie," said Mother softly, "the witch called me and screamed at me for sending you. I hung up on her, which is what I usually end up doing, and then I unplugged the phone from the wall."

  "I'm sorry," said Alessandra.

  "You didn't think I had a reason for keeping her out of your life?"

  For some reason, that pulled the trigger on something inside Alessandra and instead of trying to retreat, she erupted. "It doesn't matter whether you had a reason," she said. "You could have ten million reasons, but you didn't tell any of them to me! You expected me to obey you blindly. But you don't obey your mother blindly."

  "Your mother isn't a monster," said Mother.

  "There are many kinds of monsters," said Alessandra. "You're the kind that flits around like a butterfly but never lands near me long enough to even know who I am."

  "Everything I do is for you!"

  "Nothing is for me. Everything is for the child you imagine you had, the one that doesn't exist, the perfect, happy child that was bound to result from your being the exact opposite of your mother in every way. Well, I'm not that child. And in your mother's house, the electricity is on!"

  "Then go live there!"

  "She won't let me!"

  "You would hate it. Never able to touch anything. Always having to do things her way."

  "Like going off on a colony ship?"

  "I signed up for the colony ship for you."

  "Which is like buying me a supersized bra. Why don't you look at who I am before you decide what I need?"

  "I'll tell you what you are. You're a girl who's too young and inexperienced to know what a woman needs. I'm ten kilometers ahead of you on that road, I know what's coming, I'm trying to get you what you'll need to make that road easy and smooth, and you know what? In spite of you, I've done it. You've fought me every step of the way, but I've done a great job with you. You don't even know how good a job I've done because you don't know what you could have been."

  "What could I have been, Mother? You?"

  "You were never going to be me," said Mother.

  "What are you saying? That I would have been her?"

  "We'll never know what you would have been, will we? Because you already are what I made you."

  "Wrong. I look like whatever I have to look like in order to stay alive in your home. Down inside, what I really am is a complete stranger to you. A stranger that you intend to drag off into space without even asking me if I wanted to go. They used to have a word for people you treated like that. They called them slaves."

  Alessandra wanted more than ever before in her life to run to her bedroom and slam the door. But she didn't have a bedroom. She slept on the sofa in the same room with the kitchen and the kitchen table.

  "I understand," said Mother. "I'll go into my bedroom and you can slam the door on me."

  The fact that Mother really did know what she was thinking was the most infuriating thing of all. But Alessandra did not scream and did not scratch at her mother and did not fall on the floor and throw a tantrum and did not even dive onto the sofa and bury her face in the pillow. Instead she sat down at the table directly across from her mother and said, "What's for dinner?"

  "So. Just like that, the discussion is over?"

  "Discuss while we cook. I'm hungry."

  "There's nothing to eat, because I haven't turned in our final acceptance because I haven't decided yet whether we should sleep or stay awake through the voyage, and so we haven't got the signing bonus, and so there's no money to buy food."

  "So what are we going to do about dinner?"

  Mother just looked away from her.

  "I know," said Alessandra excitedly. "Let's go over to Grandma's!"

  Mother turned back and glared at her.

  "Mother," said Alessandra, "how can we run out of money when we're living on the dole? Other people on the dole manage to buy enough food and pay their electric bills."

  "What do you think?" said Mother. "Look around you. What have I spent all the government's money on? Where's all the extravagance? Look in my closet, count the outfits I own."

  Alessandra thought for a moment. "I never thought about that. Do you owe money to the mafia? Did Father, before he died?"

  "No," said Mother contemptuously. "You now have all the information you need to understand completely, and yet you still haven't figured it out, smart and grown up as you are."

  Alessandra couldn't imagine what Mother was talking about. Alessandra didn't have any new information. She also didn't have anything to eat.

  She got up and started opening cupboards. She found a box of dry radiatori and a jar of black pepper. She took a pan to the sink and put in some water and set it on the stove and turned on the gas.

  "There's no sauce for the pasta," said Mother.

  "There's pepper. There's oil."

  "You can't eat radiatori with just pepper and oil. It's like putting fistfuls of wet flour in your mouth."

  "That's not my problem," said Alessandra. "At this point, it's pasta or shoe leather, so you'd better start guarding your closet."

  Mother tried to turn things light again. "Of course, just like a daughter, you'd eat my shoes."

  "Just be glad if I stop before I get to your leg."

  Mother pretended she was still joking when she airily said, "Children eat their parents alive, that's what they do."

  "Then why is that hideous creature still living in that flat in Polignano a Mare?"

  "I broke my teeth on her skin!" It was Mother's last attempt at humor.

  "You tell me what terrible things daughters do, but you're a daughter, too. Did you do them?"

  "I married the first man who showed me any hint of what kindness and pleasure could be. I married stupidly."

  "I have half the genes of the man you married," said Alessandra. "Is that why I'm too stupid to decide what planet I want to live on?"

  "It's obvious that you want to live on any planet where I am not."

  "You're the one who came up with the colony idea, not me! But now I think you've named your own reason. Yes! You want to colonize another planet because your mother isn't there!"

  Mother slumped in her seat. "Yes, that is part of it. I won't pretend that I wasn't thinking of that as one of the best things about going."

  "So you admit you weren't doing it all for me."

  "I do not admit such a lie. It's all for you."

  "Getting away from your mother, that is for you," said Alessandra.

  "It is for you."

  "How can it be for me? Until today I didn't even know what my grandmother looked like. I had never seen her face. I didn't even know her name."

  "And do you know how much that cost me?" asked Mother.

  "What do you mean?"

  Mother looked away. "The water is boiling."

  "No, that's my temper you're hearing. Tell me what you meant. What did it cost you to keep me from knowing my own grandmother?"

  Mother got up and went into her bedroom and closed the door.

  "You forgot to slam it, Mother! Who's the parent here, anyway? Who's the one who shows a sense of responsibility? Who's fixing dinner?"

  The water took three more minutes before it got to a boil. Alessandra threw in two fistfuls of radiatori and then got her books and started studying at the table. She ended up overcooking the pasta and it was so cheaply made that it clumped up and the oil didn't bind with it. It just pooled on the plate, and the pepper barely helped make it possible to swallow the mess. She kept her eyes on her book and her paper as she ate, and swallowed mechanically until finally the bite in her mouth made her gag and she got up and spat it into the sink and then drank down a glass of water and almos
t threw the whole mess back up again. As it was, she retched twice at the sink before she was able to get her gorge under control. "Mmmmm, delicious," she murmured. Then she turned back to the table.

  Mother was sitting there, picking out a single piece of pasta with her fingers. She put it in her mouth. "What a good mother I am," she said softly.

  "I'm doing homework now, Mother. We've already used up our quarreling time."

  "Be honest, darling. We almost never quarrel."

  "That's true. You flit around ignoring whatever I say, being full of happiness. But believe me, my end of the argument is running through my head all the time."

  "I'm going to tell you something because you're right, you're old enough to understand things."

  Alessandra sat down. "All right, tell me." She looked her mother in the eye.

  Mother looked away.

  "So you're not going to tell me. I'll do my homework."

  "I'm going to tell you," said Mother. "I'm just not going to look at you while I do."

  "And I won't look at you either." She went back to her homework.

  "About ten days into the month, my mother calls me. I answer the phone because if I don't she gets on the train and comes over, and then I have a hard time getting her out of the house before you get home from school. So I answer the phone and she tells me I don't love her, I'm an ungrateful daughter, because here she is all alone in her house, and she's out of money, she can't have anything lovely in her life. Move in with me, she says, bring your beautiful daughter, we can live in my apartment and share our money and then there'll be enough. No, Mama, I say to her. I will not move in with you. And she weeps and screams and says I am a hateful daughter who is tearing all joy and beauty out of her life because I leave her alone and I leave her penniless and so I promise her, I'll send you a little something. She says, don't send it, that wastes postage, I'll come get it and I say, No, I won't be here, it costs more to ride the train than to mail it, so I'm mailing it. And somehow I get her off the phone before you get home. Then I sit for a while not cutting my wrists, and then I put some amount of money into an envelope and I take it to the post office and I mail it, and then she takes the money and buys some hideous piece of garbage and puts it on her wall or on a little shelf until her house is so full of things I've paid for out of money that should go to my daughter's upbringing, and I pay for all of that, I run out of money every month even though I get the same money on the dole that she gets, because it's worth it. Being hungry is worth it. Having you be angry with me is worth it, because you do not have to know that woman, you do not have to have her in your life. So yes, Alessandra, I do it all for you. And if I can get us off this planet, I won't have to send her any more money, and she won't phone me any more, because by the time we reach that other world she will be dead. I only wish you had trusted me enough that we could have arrived there without your ever having to see her evil face or hear her evil voice."

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