Leaving Roberto

Jake held the boy in the crook of his arm. This would be the last time that he would see his “bambino,” and despite his efforts to be brave, Jake couldn’t stop the water from collecting in tiny pools at the bottom of his eye lids.

Roberto studied each stream of water as it rolled down Jake’s cheeks. The child was just 9 months, but he knew that something was wrong.

Jake was saying goodbye to the orphanage. He was being shipped home. The last fascist in Italy was either dead or in prison, and the army was now giving him a free ride back to Brooklyn, USA, with its pizza joints, Nedicks soft drink billboards, the lush green of Prospect Park and noisy summer nights spent on fire escape balconies.

Peace and home. This was Jake’s dream ever since getting called up in ’42. So why did he now want to abandon all that wishing he’d done in foxholes throughout Europe? All that time, right up until Mussolini got hung upside down, all Jake wanted was a cold beer in his favorite bar in Bensonhurst. Now, all he wanted was to stay in Bolzano with Roberto.

In Jake’s imaginings, he’d get a job, maybe with the occupation forces, and he could keep coming back to the orphanage every Sunday with packages of food and a toy or two. In his wildest thoughts, he would find an Italian girl, marry and then adopt Roberto. It would be a happy ending, just like in the movies.

It was already 4, and afternoon visiting hours were over. There was nothing Jake could do but put Roberto back in his crib. He noticed how the child immediately grabbed one of the rails, flaking with chips of white paint, and pulled himself up to try and climb out. Jake leaned over and gave the boy kisses, leaving wet marks on Roberto’s cheeks.

“That’s the last he’ll know of me,” Jake thought.

As he made his way out to the hallway beyond the ward, great sobs emerged from Jake, shocking sounds that made him hide his face in shame. The nuns looked up from their chores with the other children and watched him.

Roberto stood in his crib, holding onto a thin rail. The boy began to cry.