Home > One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer
Author: Lori Nelson Spielman

Prologue

 

 

Many years ago, in Trespiano, Italy, Filomena Fontana, a plain, bitter girl whose younger sister was blessed with beauty, cursed all second-born Fontana daughters to a life without love. Filomena resented her sister, Maria, from the first time she cast eyes on her, sweetly cradled in their mother’s arms.

And her childhood jealousy only festered as the two blossomed into teens. Filomena’s sweetheart, Cosimo, a young man with a wandering eye, took a shine to the younger Maria. Though Maria tried to ward off Cosimo’s unwanted advances, Cosimo persisted. Filomena warned Maria, “If you steal my Cosimo, you will be forever cursed, along with all second-born daughters.”

Not long afterward, while Cosimo was picnicking with the Fontana family, Cosimo trapped Maria down by the river, where he thought they wouldn’t be seen. He grabbed Maria, forcing a kiss from her. Before Maria could shove Cosimo away, Filomena arrived. Seeing only the kiss, Filomena became incensed. She grabbed a river rock and threw it at her sister. It struck Maria in the eye. She lost her sight in that eye, which forever drooped. Maria was no longer a beauty, and she never married.

Some say it’s a coincidence. Others insist it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But no one can dispute the facts. Since the day Filomena issued the curse, more than two hundred years ago, not a single second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Emilia

 

Present Day

Brooklyn


Seventy-two cannoli shells cool on a baking rack in front of me. I squeeze juice from diced maraschino cherries and carefully fold them into a mixture of cream and ricotta cheese and powdered sugar. Through a cloudy rectangular window in the back kitchen, I peer into the store. Lucchesi Bakery and Delicatessen is quiet this morning, typical for a Tuesday. My grandmother, Nonna Rosa Fontana Lucchesi, stands behind the deli counter, rearranging the olives, stirring stainless steel containers of roasted peppers and feta cheeses. My father pushes through the double doors, balancing a tray heaped with sliced prosciutto. With tongs, he transfers it into the refrigerated meat case, creating a stack between the pancetta and capicola.

At the front of the store, behind the cash register, my older sister, Daria, rests her backside against the candy counter, her thumbs tapping her phone. No doubt she’s texting one of her girlfriends, probably complaining about Donnie or the girls. Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” streams through the speakers—a final reminder of my late grandfather, who insisted Italian music created an aura of authenticity in his bakery and delicatessen—never mind that this one’s an American song sung by an American singer. And I have nothing against my deceased grandfather’s musical taste except that our entire repertoire of Italian music spans thirty-three songs. Thirty-three songs I can—and sometimes do—sing, word for word, in my sleep.

I turn my attention to the cannoli, piping cream into the six dozen hollow shells. Soon, the music fades, the smell of pastry vanishes. I’m far away, in Somerset, England, lost in my story …

She waits on the Clevedon Pier, gazing out to sea, where the setting sun glitters upon the rippling waters. A voice calls. She spins around, hoping to find her lover. But there, lurking in the shadows, her ex—

 

I jump when the bell on the wall beside me chimes. I hitch up my glasses and peer through the window.

It’s Mrs. Fortino, bearing a bouquet of orange and yellow gerbera daisies. Her silver hair is pulled into a sleek chignon, and a pair of beige slacks shows off her slim figure. From behind the meat counter, my father straightens to his full five-foot, ten-inch frame and sucks in the belly protruding from his apron. Nonna watches, her face puckered, as if she’s just downed a shot of vinegar.

“Buongiorno, Rosa,” Mrs. Fortino chirps as she strides past the deli counter.

Nonna turns away, muttering, “Puttana,” the Italian word for floozy.

Mrs. Fortino makes her way to the mirror, as she always does, before approaching my father’s meat counter. The mirror doubles as a window, which means that unbeknownst to her, Mrs. Fortino is gazing into the same window I’m peering out of from the kitchen. I step back while she checks her lipstick—the same shade of pink as her blouse—and smooths her hair. Satisfied, she wheels around to where my dad stands behind the meat counter.

“For you, Leo.” She smiles and holds the daisies in front of her.

My grandmother gives a little huff, like a territorial goose, hissing at anyone who so much as glances at her baby gosling. Never mind that the “gosling” is her sixty-six-year-old son-in-law who’s been widowed for almost three decades.

My balding father takes the daisies, his cheeks flaming. He thanks Mrs. Fortino, as he does every week, and sneaks a peek at my nonna. Nonna stirs the marinated mushrooms, making believe she’s paying no attention whatsoever.

“Have a nice day, Leo,” Mrs. Fortino says and gives him a pretty little wave.

“Same to you, Virginia.” My father’s hand searches for a vase beneath the counter, but his eyes follow Mrs. Fortino down the aisle. My heart aches for them both.

The bell chimes again and a tall man saunters into the store. It’s the guy who came in last week and bought a dozen of my cannoli, the elegant stranger who looks like he belongs in Beverly Hills, not Brooklyn. He’s talking to my dad and Nonna. I huddle near the door, catching snippets of their conversation.

“Hands down, best cannoli in New York.”

A tiny chirp of laughter escapes me. I tip my head closer to the wall.

“I took a dozen to a meeting last week. My team devoured them. I’ve become the most popular account manager at Morgan Stanley.”

“This is what we like to hear,” my father says. “Lucchesi Bakery and Delicatessen has been around since 1959. Everything is homemade.”

“Really? Any chance I can thank the baker personally?”

I straighten. In the past decade, not one person has asked to meet me, let alone thank me.

“Rosa,” my father says to Nonna. “Could you get Emilia, please?”

“Oh, my god,” I whisper. I yank the net from my hair, releasing a thick brown ponytail that I instantly regret not washing this morning. My hands fumble as I untie my apron and straighten my glasses. Instinctively, I put a finger to my bottom lip.

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