Chapter One: The Sound of Noise

Silvia Greco knew that the silence would not last.  There was not enough silence in her world, and there was definitely not enough of it since she had moved into her father’s house in New Jersey.  She knew that her father, Frank, had taken a brief break from his current project of searching for a lost frying pan, and that he would be resuming his search any second with the clattering of pots and pans and slamming of cabinet doors.  In the very short meantime, she enjoyed the sound of nothing as she sat waiting for her coffee to finish brewing as if it was all she had left in the world.

She sat at a square wooden kitchen table that took over the entire room.  It looked good from a distance, but upon closer inspection revealed several nicks and scratches that had given it a memory of its own- a bad one.  The table was bare except for an economy sized bottle of TUMS displayed in the middle like a centerpiece.  She sat on a chair that was almost too big for her little body.  A big girl misplaced inside a little girl’s body, she had a big voice, a big laugh, a big stride, a big Romanesque nose that sat proud beneath her big brown eyes.  Her big head of hair was currently chopped in some crude style of uneven lengths, the color orange on the top and black at the bottom.  Her hair style was not intended to be any sort of radical statement.  It was just an expression of her current state of apathy.  So was her attire— a paint covered T-shirt and worn out Levi jeans that hung on her like they were five sizes too big.  She usually dressed in bright bold sixties styled clothing that showed her off to the world as a happy, animated, free spirit.  Her hair was usually evenly colored and stylized to perfection.  But even with her grungy clothes and her chopped hair, she was pretty.  And her big nose seemed to add to her prettiness in a way.  Angie, her older sister, urged her to get her big nose made smaller with simple surgery, but Silvia refused to do such a thing, as if in doing so, she would be rejecting her Grandma Tucci, who had the same big nose and whom she loved fiercely.

Her father’s nose was in perfect proportion to the rest of his face, which resembled that of an aged Marlon Brando.  Despite a life time of working too hard, sleeping too little, drinking too much and smoking for the better half of his life, he still looked good.  He had all of his hair and could sweep it from side to side depending on his mood. His physique looked like he worked out at a gym on a regular basis, but he had never set foot in one.  The slight limp he developed from being maimed in a motorcycle accident in his teen years was barely perceptible through his gargantuan personality.  This was also the case with his slovenly attire of mismatched outfits and shirts buttoned unevenly with one side hanging down further than the other.

He had returned from the bathroom and wasted no time getting on with his project with a renewed sense of urgency.  He gallivanted around the kitchen like he was keeping beat to a polka song, searching for the lost pan while drinking and cooking something that smelled like an odd mixture of garlic and garbage left out in the rain.  Silvia got up to get her coffee, careful not to get in her father’s way.  As she poured some milk into her coffee, the container slid out of her hand.  It was greasy.  She imagined that Frank had previously touched it with his olive oiled hands.

“I knew you were going to do that,” said Frank who was suddenly standing over her shoulder.  She wanted to say something like “Well maybe I wouldn’t have spilled it if you didn’t get your greasy hands all over it.”  She said nothing.  She just cleaned up the spill and sat down.  She could tell Frank was really fishing for a fight this morning and would have fished deeper had he not been so preoccupied with finding the lost pan.  So rather than fishing, he just continued on his quest, moving from one side of the kitchen to another like he was accomplishing great things.  Banging steel against steel, wood against wood.

The noise, however abrasive and awful it was to Silvia, did serve the purpose of blocking her thoughts of yesterday, when she was fired from her job waiting tables in a Turkish cafe in downtown Philadelphia.  She had overheard her boss say to the cook, “I’m going to have to close the place down if she works here another day!”  And at hearing this, she marched into the kitchen and said, “I heard what you said Usef.”  She spoke to him as though he was wrong for being concerned for the survival of his business.  Although he was, like most people, much bigger than her, he hunched over and shrunk like a frightened monkey at her confrontation.  “I’m sorry Silvia,” he said in his broken English, while looking down at the floor.  And he really was sorry.  Somewhere in the back of her head, she knew he was right.  She was a coffee-spilling, plate-dropping wreck of a waitress who surprised herself the few times she got an order right.

“Why were you still working there anyway after you moved in with Dad?” said her older brother, Cosmo, in an effort to console her when she called him up right after she had been fired.  As usual, he was right.  It had made some sense to continue her career as a bad waitress when she still lived in the city and the cafe was one block away from her place.  But after she moved to Frank’s house, it made no sense at all.  She remained at the cafe, however, because jobs were hard to come by.  When she told this to Cosmo, he said that she would find another “dead-end” job before she knew it.  His attempt at consolation, while sincere, made her feel worse.  Much worse.  She needed no reminder of the fact that she had worked exclusively at dead end jobs since graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia two years ago.

She crumbled into a hunched over position and sipped her coffee that tasted markedly bitter.  Just as she was slipping into a comfortable state of misery, Frank said, “Don’t you have to be at work?  It’s eleven o’clock.  What happened?  Did you get canned again?”  She was about to speak, when he swiftly picked up a broom and began chasing a centipede that was speeding across the floor.

“Those god damn bugs run around here like they own the place!” he shouted as it disappeared under a cabinet.  He then threw the broom back in its corner like he was angry at it.  He picked up his half full drink, looked down like he was studying it, and in a quick second, he finished it off.  His insensitive remark seemed to have been wiped clean from his mind.  She would have normally laughed his comment off, knowing well that it was only his way of attempting to instigate a fight.  But a number of factors, including fatigue and getting fired from her job yesterday, conspired together to cause her to react.

“Why don’t you have another drink,” she said facetiously.

He came alive like Frankenstein’s monster, eyes bulging, face reddening and screamed back, “Why don’t you get your stuff and get the fuck out of my house?!”

Her sarcastic response, “Because I know how much you’d miss me,” heightened her father’s anger, and his eyes bulged out so far they looked as if they might pop out of his head.  He looked like he was about to start screaming in the scariest of all his angry voices.  His screams could make the house’s walls vibrate. His voice was deep, guttural, heavy and carried long and far.  So far, in fact, that she could still hear it no matter how far away she moved:  Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Chicago, Tucson.  Even when she took a summer backpacking trip through Europe, she could still hear his voiceShe could tell by the look on his face that he was about to scream one of those vibrating-wall screams when his cell phone rang.  He forcibly decomposed all that he could and walked quickly towards his phone, all the while still staring at Silvia, as if to say that that their little spat was not over yet.  He answered the phone before the first ring ended and asked the caller if he had any information about the missing frying pan.

“How the hell should I know?” the voice on the phone said. “I don’t even live with you!” The person on the other end spoke almost as loud as Frank, and Silvia could hear every word very clearly, as if he was standing right there in the kitchen.

Frank did not bother apologizing for asking such an inappropriate question, nor did he ask his friend how he was doing.  Rather, he just went right into his problems.  He went through his usual list of complaints about his children— how Vince spoke two words a year to him, how Cosmo was a failure and how Angie broke his heart by moving to north Jersey. Silvia could tell that he was about to start in on her.  But he glanced over and probably decided not to talk about her while she was sitting right there.  So instead, he spoke about how all of his children’s shortcomings were the fault of Donna, his wife, for being from a family with “bad genes.”

When the voice on the phone asked about Donna, Frank walked into the other room so he could speak about his wife in private in his not-so-quiet, quiet voice.  She had left him a little over one month ago.  She had surprised herself and everyone around her by lasting as long as she did.  Silvia suspected her mother would have left sooner, but had waited until her youngest child, Vince, was either out of the house or at least almost out of the house.  She could hear Frank lying to the voice on the phone like he lied to everyone.  She could hear him telling the voice that he and Donna just needed a little separation from each other, as if they had made some sort of mutual decision about how to proceed in their marriage.  He walked back into the kitchen to freshen his drink and complained about the property taxes that would be due very soon.  He ended his monologue of complaints with an expression he used frequently, “I can’t complain.”

Silvia thought that if Frank spent less time complaining and searching for lost kitchen utensils, he might notice the dilapidated condition of his house.  The kitchen sink always leaked. The bathroom door handle fell off every time someone tried to open or close it.  The floor creaked. The doors squeaked and hung on loose hinges from being slammed one too many times. The cracked paint struggled to cover the walls.  The broken chandelier could fall any second.  While the house was falling apart, Frank’s yard, in which he took great pride, was perfect.  Not a bush out of place.  Not one uneven blade of grass.  All of the flowers and plants were lined up straight and were distanced apart from each other as if someone used a ruler to get them that way.  His nice-looking red brick ranch style house sat on a pleasant tree lined street with other nice-looking houses with well-kept yards, though none were as well-kept as his own.

The house was on a street not far from the center of town and the town was not too far from Philadelphia, but not quite close enough to be considered a suburb.  Frank would not set foot in the city even if it were five minutes away.  To him, cities were nothing more than an added expense with their parking lots that cost ten dollars an hour and their expensive restaurants and shops full of useless, overpriced merchandise.  He preferred the smallness of his own town with its practical shops and ample free parking.  It was a real town too, the way towns used to be, with everything a person needed.  It had a street that could have been named Main Street, with the same dress shop that had been there for over forty years; the same hardware shop for fifty years; the same grocery store for over sixty years; and the same bank that had been there for almost one hundred years.

Silvia loved the town in her own way.  It was where she learned to ride a bike, where she had her first kiss from a boy, and where she spent long summer days with her grandma eating snow cones and playing hide-and-seek.  She loved the town because it had an old-fashioned quality, like it had been slightly stuck in time.  But the town began to feel too small and intimate after she had moved away for college.  After she had lived and traveled in so many exciting, international cities, it felt boring and provincial.  By then, the town was nothing more than a place where she did not belong, and she grew to resent it for making her into a misfit, a displaced person, and a girl without a hometown.  It was around this same time that her home stopped being her home and started being her father’s house.

**********

She went into her bedroom, sat upon her bed, and stared into the blank space of hopelessness.  She thought she would be protected from the racket in the kitchen, but the noise traveled fast and furiously down the long hallway to the twin-bedded room as if fueled by Frank’s anxiety. The room offered no sanctuary, and she felt nothing for it despite that fact it was the first room that she had known and where she grew up. Perhaps because it was nothing more than a room inside of her father’s house.

At one time, she and Angie had shared the room. Now all traces of Angie were gone, but evidence of Silvia remained in every corner of the room.  Her childhood relics, like old picture books and My Little Ponies, were piled messily on her shelves.  The radical junior prom dress, which she had made herself out of vintage floral curtains bought at an antique store, was still in her closet.  Old concert tickets were tucked into her mirror frame, along with pictures of her with high school friends whose names she had forgotten.  A collection of vinyl albums she inherited from her mother lived in one of the room’s dusty corners, and some belongings from her present life, including art supplies and clothing, were shoved into another dusty corner.  Her clothes were thrown in orange crates she obtained from a supermarket while at college.  She refused to move her clothing into her old dresser so as to remind herself that the stay was very temporary.  Besides, she had kept her clothes in these plastic containers for so long that they had grown familiar to her, and she had grown to like their familiarity.  They fit in well with the rest of her disposable lifestyle of used futons, cheap clothing, and plastic kitchenware.

What if she took her clothes out of the orange crates and put them in the bureaus?  Doing so would mean surrendering to the fact that she might be living with Frank indefinitely.  Such a scenario was too painful to imagine.  How could she have allowed herself to move back to this place for any period of time?  She thought of what she should have done differently to avoid ending up here.  She went through all of her mistakes in reverse chronological order that led to this point.  First, she should have never been fired from her job.  She wished that she had quit before she got fired.  Better yet, she should have never taken the job in the first place.  It had nothing more to offer her than free hummus and proximity to where she used to live.  She would not have taken the job, or even applied for it, had she not lived so nearby.  She would not have lived so nearby, if she had not moved in with her ex-boyfriend, and that was a huge mistake.  She should have not had him as a boyfriend, but there was scanty choice of men in Philadelphia.  This lack of selection brought her to her next regret, which was moving to Philadelphia.  It was the third time that she had moved to this city.  She did not like it the first time she had lived there, and she liked it less and less with each move back.

She took a break from regretting to send an email to her friend Emily, who had just moved to Portland, Oregon, and who was encouraging Silvia to come join her.  Silvia did not need a lot of coaxing to move anywhere, let alone Portland, a place she already had her eye on.  This would definitely be her next place.  She had not even visited the city, but she was somehow sure that it was the place for her.  Imagining herself in her new place gave her a much needed break from the dark, whirlwind of regrets that swirled around her.  Yet, she was unable to stay in this fantasy world too long before the regret of leaving Tucson, the place she had lived before moving back to Philadelphia, hit her over the head.  Moving from Tucson straight to Portland would have been so much easier than moving to Portland from New Jersey.  She dreaded the long cross country trip she would probably be doing alone.  She was ready to regret back even further to Chicago, Brooklyn, and eventually art school, when Vince appeared in the doorway of her room to ask if she wanted to get a slice of pizza.

“Pizza, huh?” she said, looking at her clock.  “It’s a little early for pizza, but I guess I can go for a slice.”  It dawned on her that he should be at school, but she did not have the energy or concern to ask why he was not there.  She barely had the energy to get up from her bed, but she thought that food might put some life back into her weakened body and knew there was no chance of getting a morsel of anything from Frank’s kitchen, as long as he was anywhere in the house.

The two of them sneaked out of the house.  If Frank noticed them leaving, he would ask them where they were going.  They could not tell him that they were going to get something to eat, as he did not tolerate anyone spending money on food outside of the house when there was perfectly good food at home.  Even worse than leaving the house for food, was leaving Frank in the house alone.  They both knew that he hated being left alone in the house.  His reasoning was that he was an extrovert and enjoyed having people around him at all times.  In fact, he strongly preferred the company of people with whom he was fighting than to being alone.

***********

As they exited the front door escaping Frank, the two of them synchronously sighed with relief.  They walked into the lazy late spring air, where the trees drooped with heaviness and the smell of hyacinths lingered.  Silvia’s shabby clothes may have fit her mood perfectly, but they did not match the sun shiny day.  Despite her depressed mood and shabby clothes, she still brightened the space surrounding her.  She moved through the world like a Peanut’s character dancing.  Vince moved in a straight line with precision, his head coming forward every few steps, making his shoulder length light brown hair come loose from behind his ears.  He was not tall and was not short but was somewhere in between, and his eyes shone with purpose and determination.  His left eyebrow curved upward like a Vulcan, making him look like he was hiding something.  But he hid nothing.  He was an open book in large print.

They walked to Nina’s Pizzeria only a few blocks from their house in a small strip mall. It did not look like much from the outside or from the orange plastic inside, but it had the best pizza in town.  Silvia ordered a piece of mushroom pizza and Vince got a slice of plain Sicilian.  They were both vegetarian.  Silvia had even been vegan for a while before discovering the horror of soy cheese.

“Hey Vince,” said Silvia, while blotting the excess oil from her pizza with a napkin. “Why aren’t you at school today?”

“Because I haven’t missed one day of school all year, so I figured I was entitled to it.  Besides, there’s not much going on these last few days.”

Silvia knew that he was telling the truth about only missing one school day all year.  He was extremely conscientious and he never got sick.  And, unlike the other Grecos, he never lied.

“You must be excited about going away to college,” Silvia said, switching the subject.

“Kind of,” Vince said as he chewed his pizza.  He ate fast and nervous, like somebody might take his food away at any second.

“So you’re set on Berkeley?”

“They have the best sociology program in the country, so yeah, I’m set on going there. But not so excited about going so far away.”

“I thought you’d want to get away from here,” Silvia said, with a complete lack of understanding for why Vince or anyone would not want to go far away from Frank’s house.

“Well, I’ve never been so far away, and Dad’s not crazy about the idea of me going to school on the other side of the country.  He keeps saying that he’ll help, then he gets mad at me over nothing, and says that he won’t help.  I applied for all the loans I could and I told him I’d get residency right away so the tuition would be cheaper after the first year.”

“Lucky that he even offered to help you at all.  He barely helped me.  If I didn’t get a scholarship to the Art Institute, I couldn’t have gone.  Guess I can’t blame him, though, for not giving much help.  He thought that an art degree would be completely useless.  I’m starting to think he may have had something.”

“You studied something you love,” said Vince, eyes staring right into his sister’s eyes. “There’s nothing worthless about that.”  Silvia was often amazed at how her little brother was so advanced for his age.  It seemed unusual, to the point of being weird, that a high school boy would care about making his older sister feel better about herself.  He was such a good person, and his goodness came through loud and clear in all of his actions, like the way he refused to shop at Wal-Mart because of their “bad” politics, even though it was the only store of its kind in town; the way that he thanked their mother for cooking dinner every night; the way that he remained great friends with his ex-girlfriends, even if they were not so great to him.

It was sometimes hard for her to believe there was a time they did not get along. However, had they always gotten along without a period of conflict, they would have been complete misfits in the Greco family.  Silvia resented Vince as soon as he was born, for he replaced her position as the youngest child.  He stole away all the attention she was used to getting for over four years, and even worse, he did not acknowledge his theft.  And he was by far the easiest and most pleasant of all the children.  He was not hyper like Silvia was as a child, nor whiny like Angie, nor rebellious like Cosmo.  He was the perfect child, the best saved for last, and Donna reminded her other children of this in her own quiet way.

Silvia stopped being resentful of Vince when she was about twelve and he was seven.  He won her over by sharing half of his Halloween candy with her that year when she could not go trick or treating due to being sick with the flu.  Only a seven-year-old child as exceptional as Vince would do such a thing.  And Silvia felt that she had no choice at that point but to recognize that she was lucky to have him for a little brother, and any feelings of resentment or jealousy that were inside of her melted away.

They lived compatibly for a short while before they started becoming so much like each other that they grew competitive.  They did not compete about the usual stuff that siblings were inclined to compete about, like school grades.  Instead, they competed with each other about who was more green or environmentally conscientious.  They competed ferociously.  Silvia made absolutely sure to recycle every single receipt she ever got, but Vince could clean up a spill in the kitchen with only half of a paper towel.  Silvia took five-minute showers, but Vince would practically never set foot inside a car or vehicle of any sort.  Silvia carried her own cloth bag with her so that she would never have to use a plastic bag, but Vince would not even purchase a product that was wrapped in plastic.  So it was always a close draw.  Now with Vince going to Berkeley, Silvia threw in the towel.  She assumed that he was studying sociology because it would be a good major for his ambition of saving the world, but she thought she would ask him about it anyway.

“Why do you want to study sociology anyway?”  Before he had a chance to answer the question, she added her own thoughts about choosing such a major.  “It’s one of those useless things to study, like painting.  Not that I don’t realize the value in studying what you have passion for and all.  But living in poverty sucks.  That’s all I can tell you.”

“I’m sure there’s something you can do with your degree.  What kind of job do you think you might like?”  He cleverly redirected the course of the conversation so that he would not have to bother responding to her question, which Silvia knew would be a useless conversation.  Trying to convince him of the uselessness of studying sociology was futile.  In fact, trying to sway her brother of anything was virtually impossible.  He was an extremely decisive and focused type of person.  He was born knowing what he wanted out of life and knowing exactly how to get it.  Silvia recalled the time that he was only five years old and the family went out for ice cream, and Vince knew that he wanted a blackberry flavored ice cream cone.  How did he even know what blackberry was at the age of five, let alone know that he wanted ice cream of that particular flavor?

And now because of his short life-time of focus, determination, and absolute clarity, he had no need to talk about his own goals in life.  So instead, he turned his attention to trying to work out his older sister’s life.  He had not even stepped foot in the world yet and did not understand the whole career thing, as far as Silvia was concerned, and so his attempt at helping her with her life made her feel uncomfortable.  But her feelings of awkwardness at discussing this subject did not stop her from rambling on about all of the possible paths that she had, at one time or another, contemplated.  She began with graphic design, a field she quickly dismissed as she would probably end up having to work in the advertisement industry.  She thought of being a college professor, but that was way too much of a long and arduous pursuit.  She very briefly thought of becoming a museum curator or archivist, but thought that that she would never find a job as one.  And lastly, she mentioned a billboard painter, which she added only as a joke.

“I like the college professor idea myself.  You’d be following in Mom’s footsteps.  She’d like that.”

“Yeah, but like I said, it’s a long path.  And after that big investment of time and money and energy, I’d probably be lucky to find a job in Kansas.”

“Well yeah, but finding a job shouldn’t be the most important thing.”  Now his youth and inexperience and naiveté were showing through.  Finding a job is not important when you have no concept of things like rent and health insurance.  He was young and idealistic, and probably had no concrete ideas of what he planned on doing with a sociology degree.  In fact, when Silvia asked him about his choice of study, he said that he was not sure exactly what he would do with such a degree, but he knew that it would give him the best foundation for doing something where he could really make a difference in the world at large.

“I can’t just stand by and watch the world continue to deteriorate the way it is,” he added like the superhero he was.  His eyes filled with so much sincerity that it was almost painful to look at him.

Silvia was not sure of his exact plan for saving the world, and from what she could tell, either was he.  Part of her wanted to warn him more about trying to save an irredeemable world and about studying something so impractical and useless.  But the bigger part of her knew he needed to fall on his own face.  She only hoped that he would not have to fall as hard as she had.  In the meantime, why shouldn’t he enjoy the good times?  The dreaming, the cheering, the trying.  So instead of giving him any lectures on the topic of self-preservation, she commended him for his lofty ambitions.

“Well that’s great Vince,” she said, making her face as serious and hopeful as possible.

Vince smiled modestly, and then looked down at Silvia’s slice of pizza, which was only half eaten.  She had sprinkled hot pepper flakes on it, hoping that this addition would make it more appetizing, but it still tasted like everything else had been tasting to her since she had been in this slump—like nothing.

“Not hungry?” he said.

“I have no appetite lately,” she said. “Do you want the rest?”

Vince gladly took the rest of the pizza.  While he ate, he looked around their table conspiratorially and spotted a couple eating, what appeared to be a pepperoni pizza.  Silvia knew, from the mild condescension in his eyes, that her brother was thinking about how awful it was that they were eating meat.  And like her, he might also imagine the awful existence led by the pig that made the pepperoni possible.  She sometimes felt as if their two separate minds became one.

“Oh shit,” Silvia said, sliding down into her seat to make herself less visible, “I went out with that guy in high school.”  She was referring to the young man who just walked into the pizza place.  His name was Al Santora, and she was dismayed to see that he looked really good.

“Don’t turn around,” she said to Vince, who unfortunately had already turned around, and in doing so, had caught the attention of Al, who, in turn, stared back at the table at which they sat.  It was too late to pretend that she did not see him.  Their eyes had already exchanged glances, and now he was walking towards their table.  He was dressed in a grey suit and tie with a checkered button down shirt, and had extremely bright eyes that went perfectly with his teeth that looked as if they had been painted with Wite-Out.  He was very different from Silvia, like all of her ex-boyfriends, and this could have been why she was attracted to him.

“Silvia!” he said as he walked towards the table.  She smiled an uncertain smile at him.  She didn’t feel confident today.

“Hey Al. Good to see you,” she lied.

“Yeah, you too,” he said. “How are things?”

“Things are great,” she lied again, and then quickly asked how he was doing before he had a chance to ask her any more questions about her own life.

“Couldn’t be better,” he said, exhaling as if his body could not contain all of the happiness and well-being inside of it.

“Oh, you remember my little brother, Vince?” she said, gesturing to Vince before Al had a chance to tell her about how great his life was.

“I do remember,” said Al, “not so little anymore.”

Silvia and Vince laughed out of courtesy.  Al then looked at his watch in the way that all busy, successful people look at their watches, and said that he had to be off to a meeting.  Silvia was more than happy to see him go and thrilled that she did not have to hear about his current life situation.  She imagined that it was much better than being unemployed and living with a crazy parent.

She then tried to remember why she broke up with Al.  He was a nice enough guy.  Most girls would not have found a thing wrong with him.  But Silvia was not like most girls.  She found whatever she could find wrong with a guy and would leave him for the next one who came along.

“He has bad taste in music,” she once whined to Cosmo about a boyfriend with whom she wanted to break up.

“How bad?” asked Cosmo.

“He likes jam bands!”

“Oh, that is bad,” agreed Cosmo with complete seriousness, “you should break up with him.”

**********

When Silvia and Vince returned to the house, Frank was sleeping in the den in front of a blaring television set, snoring loud and rhythmic.  Even when he slept, he was loud.  He snored and squirmed and tossed and rattled.  He slept in the den probably more than he slept in his own bed, especially since Donna had left.  The room was dark and cozy, and had a long red plaid couch that stretched from one side of the room to the other.  The built-in shelves were filled with his books from college and law school, with a smattering of Plato and Dickens and legal codes.  These reminded Frank of his accomplishments and of who he was.

“He’s passed out for the count,” said Vince, as he always said when Frank was passed out.

“I think he has court tonight,” said Silvia, semi-worried.  Frank worked as a judge in a local courthouse, and despite the fact that his family life was a wreck, his professional life was quite together.  He shined as a judge just as he had shined as a lawyer.  Silvia had gone to court with him on occasion and was almost unable to recognize the distinguished man who sat before the courtroom.

“Don’t worry.  He’ll be up in time.  He always is.  He’s never late.”

“Oh yeah,” said Silvia, as she recalled that Frank never needed an alarm clock. This was not true of herself.  Waking up was always difficult for Sylvia, even with an alarm clock.  She was inclined to push the snooze button several times after the buzz went off.  She had tried moving the clock across the room from her so that she would be forced to get up out of bed to turn it off.  But this never quite worked out.  She would get up and go over to the clock to push the snooze button and then drag the clock closer to her bed so that she could proceed to push the snooze several more times.  It was no wonder that she was perpetually late for everything.

She and Vince went into their respective rooms and closed the doors, which was another thing that Frank hated and did not understand.  “Why are people always closing doors in this God Damn house?” he would say.  He liked open doors.  He thought that there was nothing to hide.  He figured that his children closed doors because they had inherited a bad gene from Donna’s side of the family that caused them to be introverted.  Silvia thought that Frank often confused things, and that in this case, he confused independence with introversion.  She thought that her mother and siblings enjoyed being alone for the same reason that cats like being alone-  because they were independent.  She also thought that Frank was sorely mistaken in thinking that any of her mother’s family members were introverted, and Donna, herself, least of all.  On occasion, she could even be gregarious.

Frank possibly mistook his wife’s seriousness for introversion.  She was a serious person, too serious to be bothered with incidental things like small talk or the conventions of conversation.  And tonight, when she called Sylvia, she wasted no time getting right to the point.

“Hi Silvie, dear,” she said in a low voice. “I’m worried about Vince.”  Silvia could see her mother sitting in her very tiny studio apartment that overlooked Rittenhouse Square.  It was in a high rise with a neat, clean and simple, blandly colored beige and off white interior.  She moved into the place, after leaving Frank, at the suggestion of a colleague who lived in the very same building.  When Silvia had last seen it, she was struck by its complete lack of decorations.  It looked more like a hotel room than a place where a person lived.  Silvia wondered if her mother had not made any attempts to decorate because she was intent on getting back with Frank, or because the rent was too expensive for her to afford long term and that she had planned on leaving it for a cheaper apartment.  Silvia assumed that the apartment was more than her mother could afford on her part-time college professor salary.

Aside the financial stress that Silvia imagined her mother must have felt, she was also surely stressed over leaving before Vince had graduated high school and was safely out of the house.  Every time she and Silvia had spoken since she left Frank, Vince had been the focal point of their conversation.

“He sounds depressed when I talk to him on the phone.  And last weekend, when I saw him, he moped around the whole time.  I know he’s not mad at me.  I didn’t do anything to make him mad, and he doesn’t get mad.  You know the way he is.  He could be depressed.  I really hope Dad isn’t being a total bastard to him.”

Silvia was hurt by her mother’s lack of concern for how she was doing.  Yet, she was relieved that she did not have to delve into her problems, because each time she did, they seemed to grow like a big pile of trash getting higher because of a garbage strike.  Feeling hurt, while understandable, was rare for Silvia.  She never seemed to need anything from anyone, including her own mother, and never felt hurt for someone’s lack of concern for how she was doing.  But she was at an all-time low and so she felt hurt.  Of course, she made no display of her hurt feelings but rather listened to her mother continue with her monologue of worry.  She told her mother that Vince was just nervous about going so far away to college and about the possibility of Frank not paying.

“Dad will pay.  He just likes to threaten that he won’t.  And as far as going so far away is concerned, you think he’d be happy to get as far away from that house as possible!” Donna said.  Although Silvia could not agree with her mother more about how Vince should be happy to get far away, this comment caused her to sink even further down.  Fortunately, her mother caught her insensitivity.

“I’m sorry, Silvie.  I didn’t mean to put the house down.  Besides, you’re only staying there until you get yourself together.  You could stay with me here.”

“In your little studio Mom? Where would I sleep?  In the bathtub?”

“Well, you’re much better at dealing with Dad than I was.  And you’re much better than Vince.”

“He and Dad are getting along fine Mom,” she said.

“I don’t believe that, Silvie.”

“Well then I’m not sure what to tell you.”

“Hey, didn’t that weird girl he was seeing break up with him a little while ago?”

“I don’t know.  He doesn’t talk about that stuff to me.  I don’t know if he discusses his love life with anyone.  I just think he’s anxious about going far away.”

Then Donna blurted out, “I bet that Dad is trying to turn Vince against me.  Turn a son against his own mother.  Imagine that.  Do you hear Dad mentioning my name at all to Vince?”

Silvia could very clearly picture the indignant expression on her mother’s still youthful face.

“No, I didn’t hear him mention your name to Vince, Mom.”

“It’s just that I always worry about Vince.  Oh, I wish I could have stayed there longer, but I just couldn’t.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Mom,” said Silvia with a hint of sarcasm.

“Maybe he thinks I was neglectful.”

“He doesn’t think that, Mom.”

“Maybe I can plan some kind of party for his graduation.  That would be a way to make it up to him.”

“Make what up to him?” Despite Silvia’s frustration, she was beginning to accept the fact that her mother was not listening to her, so she decided to stop talking and to let Donna rant on freely.

“Yes, it can be something simple.  We can plan for a family dinner at a nice restaurant.”  She cleverly inserted the word we where the word I should have been to draft Silvia into helping her with the party she was planning.

Of course, Silvia would help her mother.  It was difficult to refuse her.  For starters, she felt sorry for her for being married to Frank.  And now, after being with the same person for just about all of her adult life, she would have to start over.  The thought of her mother being trapped between the guilt of leaving Vince and the pain of living with Frank made Silvia want to do whatever she could do to help.  Although she could not refuse her, she did wish that Donna had asked someone else for help.  But who would she ask?  Cosmo was in his own world, and Angie kept her distance from their mother.  So it was up to Silvia.

Besides, she knew that she was the only one in her family that would be able to accomplish this great feat.  All the Greco family members had not been together for over six years, since Angie’s wedding. Cosmo couldn’t hide his life-long resentment of Angie. Donna couldn’t hide her sadness for being so distant from her bride daughter. Frank couldn’t hide his sadness for losing the only child he was close to, and this was expressed in the tear-filled drunk toast he gave before the dinner. She thought of all the past holidays that they had spent together. She could only remember two Christmases that Frank didn’t rage, which was compensated with siblings fighting each other. She could only recall one family gathering that didn’t involve fighting. During the extremely rare gatherings that didn’t involve a fight, the threat of one hung in the air like the sword of Damocles. For Silvia, this threat was worse than a fight. It made a knot in her stomach that took over her entire body.

She imagined what a graduation party for Vince might look like.  Frank would be drunk and determined to make trouble.  He would show his blatant favoritism towards Angie in hopes of making his other children resent her.  He would make Donna extremely tense and uncomfortable.  He would remind Cosmo of what a failure he was for dropping out of University of Pennsylvania.  And he would remind Vince of how he had better be on his best behavior if he wanted help with his tuition.  Angie would brag about how her family lived in a three million dollar home in the same neighborhood as Bruce Springsteen.  Vince did not like her husband Doug because he worked as an investor for Goldman Sachs.  Cosmo and Angie’s bad feelings towards each other, which stemmed back to their childhoods, could have an opportunity to be further nurtured.  Donna and Angie could feel their distance from each other, and Silvia would dream about leaving this mess of a family once and for all.

Yet, Silvia noticed a shining light in the darkness of imagining.  Since she began thinking about the gathering, she had not been thinking about her own problems.  She felt good for the first time in a long time.  She was now a person with a purpose, and an altruistic purpose at that.  She was looking out for her mother and her little brother.  And in getting everyone together, she was attempting to make peace in a family that had never known peace.

She then noticed the way her body lightened and her stomach opened and was crying out for food.  She craved a big bowl of pastina with butter and salt.  Pastina was what she ate whenever she was getting over a stomach flu.  Pastina was what she ate when she could not eat anything else.  Pastina was one of the things that Grandma Tucci used to make for her when she was a child.  Entering the kitchen, Sylvia felt ecstatic to find a half full box of De Cecco stellette pasta sitting in one of the cupboards and was even more ecstatic that Frank was out of the house.  Although she continued to be apprehensive about him barging in at any second while she ate her pastina, she was able to taste her food and enjoy the act of eating for the first time in a long time.