By Sol Dente, TIWP Student
“Now, what’s this?”
A young woman sat on a faded burgundy couch, her long black hair spilling over her shoulder like sea foam in a storm as she shifted her weight in order to show the two children beside her the green hardback book she held in her hands.
“Ladybug!” The oldest of the children cried, a girl barely seven years of age with brown hair cropped short to her ears and excitement shining in her oak eyes.
“That’s right,” The older woman said, pointing to the illustration on the pale white page. “That’s a ladybug,”
The younger of the children, another girl, this one only three years old, shifted so she could see the page. The drawing was simple, a red bug facing partially away in order to show off the red hues and black spots of its abdomen. Two words rested below it, small lowercase black font indicating what exactly the drawing was of.
“And what is it called in Italian?” The dark haired woman prompted.
“La Coccinella” The older girl read clumsy, the syllables falling off her tongue like driftwood tumbling down a waterfall, awkward, gangly and unwieldy.
“Coccinella!” The younger of the sisters exclaimed, her speech slurred and messy due to her age and the foreign taste of the word, but excited nonetheless. “Coccinella! Coccinella!”
“Coccinella!” The elder sister chimed in, the word coming a bit easier this time and lacking the hesitancy of introduction.
The older woman chuckled at the kid’s enthusiasm, reaching her free arm around the children with a smile.
That word was no different from any other in First 1,000 Words in Italian, yet it was the only one that the girls had latched onto like this. It was the magic of children to see wonder in the ordinary, to take something as benign as a word and make it seem like it was the most amazing thing in the world.
The tongue that the children spoke in was not their own, it had been carried by their father and his father on the rocking deck of a boat and down a gangway of twisted metal to come to this new land. Half their heritage was draped in green, red, and white, smelling of pizza and pasta and tasting of newly stuffed cannoli. Studies had shown that languages came easier to children at a young age, when their brains were still growing, so the girl’s parents had hired a babysitter to teach the children the language that had long since faded from their father’s mouth.
The eldest attended Italian Preschool each week, her mom would drive her to an old brown and red building with her favorite stuffed animal clutched in her hand and she would learn, or try to learn, the language of her forefathers. Her sister didn’t have the same luck, she would have to wait for that signature black Vespa to pull up to their house in order for her to try to push those foriegn syllables past her lips.
It would be eight years for one and four years for another, but eventually the two girls would stand side by side on the driveway watching that black Vespa drive away for the last time.
The nanny they got as a replacement was a fine caretaker, but it was too easy for her to forget to speak Italian and so instead of reading from the green book they skimmed American Girl Doll Magazines and instead of naming household objects they played dollhouse with windup toys and Barbies.
Eventually the words of their ancestors faded from their tongue, lost among school work and travel and birthdays and new friends. Gone like the fluff of a dandelion, a wish lost to the endless breeze.
Two years later, the girls lost their only other link to their language in crumpled tissues and black clothes, sniffles hidden behind kleenex as they watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.
Yet somehow, as genders and tenses and verbs were lost to time, one word managed to stay lodged in the back of the children’s minds.
Eight years later, when the young girl was no longer young, and hadn’t been a girl for a long time, they slowly opened the old green book and ran their finger over the faded ladybug design, a soft smile on their face,
“Coccinella,” They whispered softly, as if that one word could hold all of the grief and morning and longing they’d felt. It was an ending and a beginning, an ‘i’m sorry’ and ‘I’ll try to do better’, a broken bond and a vow all at once.
“Coccinella,” They whispered again, a million memories and a million promises coming to life like the beating of a ladybug’s wings.