Before and after

There are so many stories about where I have been. So many memories toying with my emotions. They press—these stories, I mean. I fall on them; clumsy I am. I pass on the street and something reminds me. The smells of autumn creep in, freezing the summer warmth. The park bench’s crisp black lacquer is buried under the warm blend of fallen leaves. The chalk hopscotch washed away many rains ago… These random samples remind me. I lift my head, eyes closed, senses open. Opening my eyes I see that sky: clear. No immensely large buildings block my view of the diluted, pink- and yellow-infused sunset. The sky dies after this is gone. I know that it’s dinner time when my shadow stops following me. I follow the sidewalk back to my house. The cars line the street. Family has been over for dinner.

Inside, the bustle of family hummed. I kicked off my sneakers and walked into the kitchen. The various foods, spread decadently across the island, were wonderfully coloured and the smell slowly rose from each dish. They danced in the air above the family. My eyes drifted over the wine which has been let breathe, assorted dips, lightly crisped pizza, and round rosemary bread. The family moved in sequence around the kitchen. The strip flooring didn’t give way to the heavy-hearted footsteps. Mom peeled the pizza off the tray and slid it onto the cool granite countertop. She wore her hair loosely, in a bun. Strands fell gently behind each ear. The sleeves on her blouse were scrunched up above her elbows. Her wine glass sat beside the wine rack, almost finished. I walked up to the pizza, took a slice, and dipped it in a sea salt and Kalamata olive dip. The tastes lingered in my mouth. I took another piece and added more dip. Trace Adkins played in the background, adding another layer to the hum. It was my favourite song, You’re Gonna Miss This. I smiled as the song escaped from the stereos. The smell of the cheesecake melting in the first oven whisked into the air while in the second, the lamb saturated in a marinade of Dijon mustard, white wine, and rosemary.

The chime of the doorbell broke the hum and pierced the air. I walked over to the front door. Through the decorative swirls of wrought iron I saw the remainder of the family. Zia Luisa, Zio Ingo, Zio Mario, Zia Carla. I opened the door and my cousins burst through. Mila, Marco, Jonathan, and Julia. In a hurry to find my sister and brother, they kicked their shoes off into the corner and ran in with their coats still on. Zio Mario yelled after them to take their coats off and come and say hi properly, but they were already halfway down the stairs to the basement. My mom came out from the kitchen drying her hands on the apron wrapped around her waist. My father and two other uncles came out from the library, balancing their glasses of wine. We exchanged kisses, hugs, and self-indulgent laughs. Then, quickly shuffling into the kitchen, everyone assumed their usual positions. Zia Luisa walked to the sink, checking if there were any dishes. Finding none she rested herself against the counter. Zia Carla went straight to the wine rack, filling up my mother’s glass as well as her own.  Zio Mario and Zio Rob joined my father and uncles in the library down the hall. They wouldn’t appear again until dinner.

The noise heightened, a soft buzzing filled the space: my family’s anthem. The father clock in the corner of the room continued to sway, but we didn’t find the passing time threatening. Wine glasses clinked together, the knife on the cutting board making a hollow noise with each tap. The steps on the hardwood resonated in quick pitter-patters and the musical sounds of the oven timer made me tingle inside. The rain outside attacked the windows surrounding the kitchen. Tiny clear pearls paraded down the windowpane. I sat, staring blankly through the open gaps.

I looked up at my mother standing by the sink. The moonlight shone through the large bay window that sat just above the sink. The light hit the side of mom’s face as she smiled. The sides of her mouth and the corner of her eyes rose and fell with bouts of laughter. Our kitchen looked even bigger from the floor. The silk carpet rippled underneath the back-and-forth motion of my hand: light, dark, light, dark. The chandelier that hung from the ceiling, marking the center of island, was dim and soft; the pot lights that encased it were brighter and shone directly below. The hardwood sparkled in the light’s attention and I found myself following the groves, swirls, and colours of the hardwood. The beeping of the espresso machine brought my attention back to the level of the granite countertop. The granite held the tray, which held the china, which held the espresso, which holds the heart of any Italian family.

I closed the photo album and placed it back in the collection on the shelf. I walked back to the desk and plopped myself into my father’s office chair. I ran my hand along the worn grooves and dents of the desk. I swivelled the chair around and stared out the window. The rain hadn’t stopped. It continued to pour, erasing all trace of snow and of winter. I hate driving in such weather. The snow was melting and adding to the collection of water near the drains on the side of the road. Winters here are inevitable—beautiful, but inevitable. As winter curls away you can smell the lingering spring, the eagerness and embarrassment sprinkled in the air. The snow banks had harvested what spring left behind. After a long winter, we always longed.