The Hunter’s Daughter
by Alfonso Guerriero, Jr.
(This is a fictional short story)
Angelina’s smooth olive skin and long salt and pepper hair were no indication of her real age. The strong and vivacious matriarch of years past relied on others now. The constant trembling of her right arm had become more severe, leaving this frail widow confined to her bedroom.
Angelina’s only daughter lived downstairs with her family. But, like most daughters in Southern Italy, Josephine had inherited the responsibility of caring for her aged mother, as she grew more and more dependent. The male siblings, like most men there, visited their parents every day, or as often as possible. Josephine’s three brothers were no exception.
During summer vacations, Ettore, the youngest of Josephine’s twelve grandchildren, enjoyed staying in his grandmother’s home in Pistone, located in the Apulia region. Each year he traveled with his parents to the quaint little town of four thousand inhabitants and escaped from the isolated life he and his family experienced back in New York City. Here the wide open plains set against rugged mountains and the town’s quiet cobblestone streets replaced the looming skyscrapers and noisy traffic jams that Ettore had grown to disdain.
Beside the beauty of the countryside and fresh air, Ettore also noticed that everyone in town seemed to know one another, unlike the big city where the neighbors in his apartment building kept their distance and never uttered a word to one another in the elevators or hallways. For Ettore, this was home.
“Where’s Nonna?” an excited Ettore asked his aunt Josephine.
“She’s upstairs,” his aunt replied. A jubilant Ettore bounded up the spiral staircase that led to his grandmother’s bedroom. So as not to disturb her, Ettore sat in the same straw chair where his grandmother would tell stories to him as a child. He stared at the adorned crucifix covered with rosary beads beside her night table. He recalled seeing his grandmother clenching those beads in her hands as she recited the Hail Mary and Our Father every evening.
Ettore got up and quietly approached the bed, gently kissed her forehead and noticed his father’s picture on the opposite side of the bed. When Ettore arrived each summer, his grandmother would hold his father’s picture close to his face and marvel at how he resembled his father so much. She was glad, however, that Ettore at eighteen had decided to enter college in the fall and study his passion, archeology. Once Angelina took Ettore to view the Roman vestiges that stretch along the plains of Pistone, and from then on he became mesmerized by ancient civilizations. They would walk to the site as Ettore held Angelina’s hand, and she told stories about the great battles of the Roman legions that took place in Pistone.
Angelina did not go to school, she could barely sign her name. Her father, an avid hunter, believed that a woman’s destiny was in the kitchen. As a young farm girl growing up not far from Pistone, she heard many proverbs from the elders, especially her father. She constantly reminded Ettore as well as other relatives that her father’s favorite saying was “He who seeks, finds,” and suggested with her stern voice and sincere eyes that they live by that phrase.
Angelina was known as la figlia del cacciatore, or the hunter’s daughter. It was not unusual for people who lived in small towns in Southern Italy to have nicknames, particularly if they had common first and last names. At sixteen Angelina married a tall, handsome nineteen-year-old man named Paolo Dellamorte. Angelina was the envy of every man with her dark, penetrating eyes, silky brown hair and Mona Lisa smile. Paolo and Angelina had six children, one of whom died at birth, and another from malaria.
“Nonna, I wish he were still alive,” Ettore recalled saying as a little boy.
Angelina answered, “He would have been very proud of you.”
Ettore remained silent in his grandmother’s bedroom as his attention drifted back. He studied the peaceful look on her face. He closed the balcony doors abruptly and sat alone contemplating the stars. Chirping crickets and a cold breeze made him turn from his memories of his grandmother.
The cold winds picked up as he rolled down his sleeves. He heard his grandmother’s echoing voice inside his heart as the eternal light had arrived. Ettore looked away into the silent night and closed his blue eyes so he could remember his grandmother and himself talking on the balcony.
Alfonso Guerriero Jr. teaches social studies/writing at Manhattan Academy of Technology in Lower Manhattan while also teaching a course called Literature in Translation from the 17th to 20th Century at Baruch College.