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Clement's Corner: Papa's Letters

A bundle of letters can be worth much more than money - and sympathetic understanding is priceless, as Owen Clement's story reveals.

Maria closed the door as the boys left and turned to look at her father. She saw him full of confused pain as he asked, “Why they do this eh!”

“Who knows Papa?” she said brushing her lips with her hand, a gesture denoting satisfaction. Moving to the window of her father’s bedroom, she watched both O’Leary boys scuffing their feet along the dusty street as they trudged home. A wave of remorse hit her. Their weedy undernourished bodies looked so pathetic. Before she thought it through she called out, “Michael. Patrick.'' They looked around surprised and alarmed. “Come back will you?”

The boys looked at each other wondering what she wanted now. “Come on, it’s alright.''

Before they could answer, she left the window and waddled as quickly as she could through the house and out onto the street towards them. The boys did not move. Before reaching them, she noticed their mother Laura move outside of her house looking curious.

Maria, having hurried, took a few moments to catch her breath. “Now,'' she said, and then not knowing how to proceed looked at each boy in turn hoping that they would say something to which she could respond. They stayed silent waiting for her to speak. She pursed her lips before blurting out, “I don’t want you to get into trouble with the police.''

The boys, now utterly confused, once again looked at each other. Their mother started down the street towards them. “What do you want now, you old bag?” she called out.

Maria turned angrily towards her, “Do you want them to get into trouble with the police?”

Laura laughed. “You accuse them of stealing and you ask me that?”

“They stole Papa’s case with his savings and his letters. They know it and I know it. If you don’t believe me, ask them.''

The guilty look on their faces confirmed Maria’s charge. “All I want is for them to come and see how it nearly killed my father. If they had asked for money, I’m sure he would have given them some. Why they wanted his mother’s letters, he simply cannot understand.''

Embarrassed by Maria’s accusation, she hit out and struck Michael across the head. She was about to do the same to Patrick when Maria quickly pulled him away. “Please, no hitting. Come on, come and talk to Papa. You too Laura,''

Maria spoke so calmly and yet forcefully that the boys allowed her to lead them back. Laura grudgingly followed. Maria ushered them inside through to the living room. “Please sit down,'' she said to Laura, pointing to a chair on the far side of the room. Laura instead took up a stance between both her sons. Luigi made his way into the room slowly using his walker, looking puzzled.

“The boys have something to say to you Papa.”

Luigi and the boys looked at Maria.

“You first Michael,'' Maria said, giving him a gently push forward.

“What?”

“Tell Papa why you took his case.”

Laura was about to speak when Maria interrupted her in a commanding tone saying, “It’s this or the police.''

Temporally defeated Laura folded her arms again defensively.

Michael, looking sheepishly at the old man, said, “We wanted the money. We didn’t want no letters.''

“Now, tell Papa you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you just saying it, or do you really mean it?” Maria continued.

‘I mean it.”

“Okay. You too Patrick.”

“I’m sorry too Mr. Martini.”

“You boys can go home now,'' Maria said. "I want to talk to your mother for a minute.''

As they were about to leave Luigi said to them “You won’t do this again eh!”

They left without saying a word.

‘Why don’t you go and lie down Papa while Laura and I have a chat?”

As soon as her father had left the room Maria sat down. Laura, showing her curiosity, waited for her to speak.

“I’m sorry. I was so tied up with my own problems that I didn’t think to call on you earlier to see if I could help. It must be very hard bringing up two teenage boys on your own. Do you ever get any assistance from their father?”

Laura snapped ”It’s none of your bloody business.''

Maria, expecting the response, looked at Laura sympathetically, “I know you can’t see why Papa and I were so upset about some old letters. Have you ever been really homesick?”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

Maria shook her head. “You will never understand I’m afraid. As far as Papa is concerned, those letters from his family in Italy are more precious to him than life itself. Anyway, I’m glad after all these weeks that we finally got to meet, even though it’s not under the best of circumstances. I’d like the boys to do some odd jobs around here, for which I’ll pay them, if that’s all right with you?”

“I don’t want your charity, thanks.”

“It’s not charity. We need help around here. This would help both of us, don’t you think?”

“You foreigners. I bet you and your old man are pensioners over here and you have the nerve to accuse us of stealing.”

“My father worked damn hard on the Snowy River Scheme I’ll have you know, and my husband served in Korea. We earned our pensions.'' Maria stood up and moved to the front door. She opened it, saying "I think you should leave.''

“Bloody Wogs,'' Laura said vehemently as she stormed out.

Maria closed the door. Her father, hearing loud voices, came back into the room.

“That woman,” Maria said, “I really pity those poor boys.''

*

A couple of mornings later, while attending to Luigi, she heard a car horn. Looking out she saw a taxi outside the O’Leary’s. Laura and the boys came scurrying out carrying their luggage. “Doing a flit I wouldn’t wonder,” Maria said to her father.

When she saw Laura glance furtively towards her before getting into the taxi she apprehensively hurried to the bedroom. Having pulled Luigi's case from beneath the bed she was not surprised to open it and discover that the bundle of notes was not there. Wearily she flopped onto the bed.

“The letters gone?” Luigi asked nervously.

“No Papa, they’re quite safe,'' she said holding up the letters before returning them to the case. She did not mention the missing money. “Good riddance I say,'' she said. kicking the case back under the bed.

“The money’s gone though, eh?” Luigi said, making a statement rather than asking a question.

Maria nodded.

“Never mind Papa. Let’s say that it’s our contribution to those poor unfortunate children. I see big trouble ahead for them. Come on let’s have breakfast.''

© Clement 2007


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