Sylvia Schwartz

The Man Who Stopped Speaking

 

Antonio, a man aged by seventy-odd years and a daily routine, didn’t know this day would be different. He woke, as usual, before the rays of the sun stretched far and wide, like a morning yawn that would soon wake the ‘good’ town folks of Cortena. By instinct, he rolled toward his wife’s side of the bed reaching out with frail arms to fold her thin body into his, forgetting for a blissful moment, until his arms grasped nothingness, that Serafina was no longer there. She had died from a sudden illness less than a year ago. He pulled her pillow tight against his feeble chest, aching for a physical memory of her former existence, like the way her cold toes warmed themselves against his calves, but all that consoled him was a worn-out feather pillow collapsing into a shapeless form.

As his stiff joints lumbered to dress for another day at his bakery, his movements were quiet so as not wake his thirty-year-old daughter Liliana, who wasn’t needed until the bakery opened. Her long raven black hair, even tangled over her face in sleep, couldn’t hide the high cheekbones and the long upturned nose she’d inherited from her mother. Antonio shut the front door without making a sound. Once outside his cottage, he headed down the path shaking away remnants of another unfulfilled dream about Serafina. That’s when he heard her soft voice: Don’t make it a mismatch day. He stopped. Looked around. Bent over and pulled up his white pant legs. Sure enough, one sock was brown, the other dark gray. He was positive it was her voice and not his imagination because it was lightly scolding, yet equally soothing as if her message preceded with the word “darling,” a word last heard when she’d said, “Darling, watch over Liliana.” Their only child, born late in life.

He re-entered his bedroom, changed socks, and jammed the drawer in, banging it against the back of the old chest, consumed by anger and amusement that the first words from his deceased wife were about his socks.

“Are you okay?” Liliana called out.

“Shush,” he uttered, more a rush of air than a word, wanting to hear Serafina’s voice again. He had longed for her to contact him and his heart pounded as if jolted into a state of alertness that amplified everything. The ticktock of the bedroom clock, a wedding gift from her parents to remind them of each precious moment. The chirps of a few birds, who might have mistaken his bedroom light for dawn. There was also an abundance of silence as if it, too, was a sound that could be heard if only the ear strained hard enough and one was quiet long enough. In that vacuum his thoughts grew louder as if broadcasting his question to the world: Why had Serafina chosen to speak to him today?

He left his village home in a haze of excitement and befuddlement. Normally, when traversing the narrow, winding cobblestone streets to his bakery, before cars began their tight-corner maneuvering, he’d walk down the center of the street and toss out a quiet “Buongiorno” to the mother on her balcony taking her husband’s drab undershirts off the line before her baby woke. Or cast out a familiar “Ciao” to Manuel, the round-shouldered butcher laboring up the same worn steps he walked down. Or deliver a heartfelt “Come stai” to Mrs. De Luca, now always cloaked in a black shawl wandering the streets and waving her cane as she cried out: “Wake up, wake up, sleeping in is a deadly sin!” Though it wasn’t sin that concerned her, it was the thought of her or anyone else dying; her husband having recently passed away in his sleep.

Then Antonio stopped under a stone archway, slapped his forehead, and said, stupido, stupido, stupido, realizing this day, almost fifty years ago, he had proposed. He sat down on the cold curb with his elbows propped on his knees, his heavy head between his callused hands, and silently said to himself, I’m sorry again and again, hoping she could hear his thoughts, which he believed were the most genuine connection to what lay deep within one’s heart. He promised never again to forget. But his promise felt small compared with Serafina’s. Promising to give up her life in Florence, which she’d hoped one day they’d return to. Promising him a child, despite her body’s many initial refusals. Even promising to give up her one vanity, buying herself yet another new scarf to cover her hair. Scarves being her only fashion accessory at the bakery. That last promise, made during Lent, she’d meant to last her lifetime, and she’d kept it. Now that she was gone, what could he possibly give up to show the depth of his love?

He listened intently, hoping Serafina would provide the answer, but he heard nothing. Still, Antonio was a man of everlasting hope. He wooed Serafina for months despite knowing his chances with a such vibrant, strong and loving woman were slim—a woman whose eyes radiated kindness to anyone in her orbit and also could stare down and confront any injustice, like the time she called out an old man for cheating during a bocce tournament. Though he had little to offer her other than a baker’s life of long hours in a kitchen splattered in the white dust of flour and sugar, he was a good man, a man who cared about quality, never skimping on ingredients or taking shortcuts in baking; and a man who cared for the less fortunate, forgiving unpaid tabs and giving away loaves of bread. The day he worked up his courage to propose, he thrust a hand-picked bouquet of yellow daffodils into her arms along with his meager poem, whose words he had wrestled with for weeks trying to corral them into an order that, if he were lucky, would make his feelings known. Then, before he had the chance to speak, she kissed him, not needing him to say a word. She had known him the way no one else ever would.

He believed in his heart that if Serafina had contacted him once, she would surely do it again—but only if he demonstrated he was worthy of her undying love. That was when he made his vow of silence. Only by not speaking could he be sure he wouldn’t miss even the faintest sound of her voice.

At the end of that day at the bakery, while Liliana was counting the money and Antonio was cleaning up the kitchen, he normally would have asked: “How many customers today?” And those unspoken words lingered on his tongue aching for release. But instead, he mashed his lips together to keep silent and scrubbed his baking pans harder and harder until his tired arm knocked over a set of metal spoons that clanked as they scattered across the tile floor.

“Are you okay,” Liliana called out?

He wondered if a grunt constituted speaking. Then he stood in the kitchen doorway and waved a spoon in the air as he forced a smile to let her know everything was okay. Yet nothing felt right. How long could he keep this up? What would Liliana eventually think?

But as days of Antonio’s silence continued, Liliana thought nothing of it. For she was consumed with thoughts of her own: Eduardo, her fiancé in Florence, whom she had yet to disclose to her father; it still being so soon after her mother died. For now, she claimed only to visit Florence to shop for spices, a necessity, she convinced him, if they wanted their biscotti to win the mayor’s award again.

Over the weeks that followed, Antonio’s not speaking became easier. The townsfolk seemed not to notice any change in his demeanor, for he could answer them with a simple nod, a shake of the head, or a shrug of the shoulders.

As for Salvatore and Manuel, his closest friends who joined him outside his bakery after closing—where aromas of sesame-crusted loaves, whole wheat rolls baked with olives, and lemon ricotta cookies still lingered—they not only noticed Antonio’s behavior but were increasingly disturbed by it.

“Antonio, what do you think?” said Manuel, the butcher who leaned back in his chair and folded his thick arms across his barrel chest.

“Come on, Antonio, tell us,” said Salvatore, the pock-faced cobbler, whose right leg bopped up and down waiting for a response.

Manuel and Salvatore, more inclined to nudge their friend rather than to push him into a response, left long stretches of silence intact hoping Antonio would confide in them as to what was going on. When weeks of that tactic didn’t work, they tried harder to find a topic to pique his interest.

“Antonio, did you hear Mrs. Lorenzo kicked her husband out again?” Manuel said, breaking his biscotti into thirds and then popping one portion into his mouth.

“When is he ever going to stop gambling?” Salvatore asked, his hands rising in exasperation.

“I give him a week this time at his uncle’s.”

“He didn’t lose all their money. Three days tops.”

“You’re crazy. Three days is nothing.”

“It’s not nothing. What do you say, Antonio?”

Antonio missed bantering with his friends outside his bakery, but his mind was elsewhere. On Serafina. She had never cared for gossip, and now he thought the same. Was this what she intended?

When that topic failed to arouse a response, his friends shifted to politics. Local elections were coming up, and many criticized the mayor for being soft on petty crime.

“What do you think of the mayor, Antonio?” Manuel asked.

“Heard his opponent is a smart dresser,” Salvatore said.

“What do clothes have anything to do with it?”

“Just saying what I heard.”

“Well, let’s hear what Antonio has to say instead.”

But Antonio had lost interest in those affairs, too. His solitary thoughts allowed him to see the irony in the power political men sought; for they were as powerless as anyone when it came to the most important thing in life: saving the ones we love from dying. He longed to share this and other thoughts with his friends, fearing that by living in silence his friends would grow weary of him and leave. But Antonio kept vigil to his promise while his friends continued to goad him.

“But, of course, Antonio is going to vote for the mayor,” Manuel said, while the butcher’s fat fingers overwhelmed his demitasse espresso’s ascent to his lips.

“No, just because the mayor gave him an award for his biscotti, doesn’t mean the man has his vote, right, Antonio?” asked Salvatore, still mad at the mayor for getting his shoes made in Florence.

Antonio, grateful and amused by how they tried to engage him, wondered why anyone would care which way he voted?

“Come on, Antonio, you must have a thought on this?”

What he thought, he didn’t think they would understand. Something was changing. It wasn’t just his perspective on the world around him, but a quiet grace that touched him from within as his thoughts roamed, without impediment, within an unbridled silence belonging only to himself.

When he was out of earshot, his friends continued.

“There’s something wrong with him,” Salvatore said, stamping his large foot for emphasis.

“When he’s got something to say, he’ll say it,” said Manuel, draining the last of his espresso. “Not everyone is like you and needs to say whatever’s on his mind.”

***

Over the following weeks, his friends’ desire to prod Antonio to speak lessened. Something was changing inside them, too. It was as if Antonio’s silence had become contagious. His friends not only grew accustomed to long stretches of quietness but began to cherish them. Something meditative was taking place as the three of them became silently content.

***

Salvatore and Manuel’s wives, on the other hand, didn’t like this one bit.

“You can’t just sit there with him and not speak,” Manuel’s wife said, her hands firmly planted on her wide hips. “It’s not natural.”

“Eh,” Manuel responded, more a grunt than a word, for he felt less of a need to say more. As a butcher, Manuel had always experienced the world through his strength. But now, sitting with Antonio and Salvatore, he was discovering something new. The experience was peaceful. How could he tell this to his now angry spouse? A word like “peaceful,” he knew, she would mock and dissect until the singular beauty of that word, along with his experience, would disappear. No, Manuel thought, he would remain quiet on the subject, much to the continued chagrin of his wife.

***

Word of what was happening outside the bakery, men sitting and not speaking, spread from the wives of Manuel and Salvatore to the other women in town. Mrs. Rossellini, the wife of the man who ran the post office, the first to know who received letters or packages from whom, took it upon herself to call Mrs. Moretti, the mayor’s wife.

“It would be an honor to help,” Mrs. Moretti said. “As my soon-to-be-re-elected husband might say, it’s my civic duty to find out what’s troubling our dear friend, Antonio. Say no more.” She had her own reasons for wanting Antonio to speak up. With the election coming, she needed everyone, especially Antonio, who had endorsed her husband before, to let people know why her husband should continue to be the mayor—the great mayor of their town.

With this in mind, Mrs. Moretti, attired in the crisp sienna brown skirt and jacket she’d worn on her husband’s inauguration, believing it befitted her mission, marched over to Antonio’s home to talk to Liliana. She chose a time when she knew Antonio would be outside the bakery with his friends. What Mrs. Moretti didn’t realize was that Eduardo was in town visiting Liliana. He had been telling her how well his law practice was going. Liliana knew what he really meant was that it was time for her to move to Florence.

“I’ll talk with papa, I promise,” is what Mrs. Moretti overheard outside the door before she turned the knob and thrust her anxious energy at Liliana like a concerned neighbor coming to the aid of a distressed friend.

“Liliana, my child, I’m so glad to hear you say that. You have no idea how worried I’ve been. Not to mention my dear husband, the good mayor of this fine town. Yes, there’s something terribly wrong with the way your father has been acting, and you must tell him to stop it. Right this minute. You understand I’m only saying this for his own good.”

“Eduardo, this is Mrs. Moretti, the mayor’s wife, who has kindly decided to pay us a visit,” Liliana said, hoping her true feelings about the meddling woman would reach no farther than Eduardo, whose dimples softened his rugged features the instant he smiled.

“Charmed,” Eduardo said, bestowing a kiss upon the woman’s hand, which brought the edges of a smile to Liliana.

“Oh my,” Mrs. Moretti uttered, trying to recover from a flush. “Now what was I saying? Oh yes.”

“Papa’s not here at the moment,” Liliana said, “but I’ll tell him you stopped by.” “Yes, do that. Tell him I need to speak with him right away.”

***

That night, Mrs. Moretti told her husband what had happened. He was sitting on the sofa reading the paper, relieved to be out of the confines of his mayoral attire that constricted his mid-section more than he’d like to admit, and tuning out her constant chatter by muttering, “Really?” “Is that so?” and other words he’d used over the years to convey listening. His opponent was gaining popularity and the mayor’s thoughts, as he scanned the paper, were focused on the election polls.

“That man is causing trouble,” his wife continued, while she removed her jacket, undaunted by his lack of responsiveness. “He’s up to something, and no one has the guts to tell us what it is. That man needs to listen to reason. And if he won’t, then something needs to be done.”

The mayor only half heard what his wife was saying, but he knew she was talking about Antonio. She wasn’t the first to voice concern about him. But now she had given him an idea. In fact, this might be his lucky break. Everyone wanted answers. If he got them, people would see he was a man to be reckoned with.

The mayor looked up from the paper and smiled at his wife. Once again, she was turning the election table for him. Last time, it had been the rumors she’d spread about his opponent having an affair that won him the election. Never mind it wasn’t true. This time, he would be doing everyone a service by getting to the heart of the matter behind Antonio’s strange behavior.

“You know,” she said, as she sat next to her husband on the sofa, “I only have your best interests at heart.” She glanced at the mantel where the key to the town rested. Its engraving read: “To the acting mayor and his wife.” Only seven words, but she had no idea who she was without them.

***

The next day, the mayor, wearing a loose-fitting blue suit that brought out the color of his eyes, stopped by the bakery early in the morning, knowing a crowd would be there to observe him. When he entered, the bell rang above the door, and everyone’s gaze turned toward him since he typically sent someone else to the bakery on his behalf.

“Good to see you, mayor,” several customers spoke in unison, as they parted a path for him to reach the counter.

Was he getting a special cake for his wife? Thought a young girl, longing for marriage.

Was someone special visiting the mayor? Pondered a noisy, old woman.

“Please, go ahead,” said a shy girl nearest the counter.

The mayor, accustomed to his position at a podium, looking down upon the crowds, yanked on his tight collar unsure of how to get what he wanted, now that he was eye-to-eye with his constituents in this cramped bakery.

Once at the counter, however, he cleared his throat and said, “Liliana, you look lovely,” which she did, wearing slim black pants and a white blouse with ruffles at the collar that he knew must have come from Florence. She bestowed the same big, toothy and welcoming smile as her mother’s, whose photo hung on the wall behind her. His few words were an innocent enough start, but he turned his head around for confirmation. Once everyone appeared pleased, he stood even taller in his custom-made elevator shoes as he turned to Liliana and said, “I need to speak privately with your father for a moment.”

All the women in the shop whispered among themselves what a great honor it was for the mayor to request to speak with Antonio. Liliana, who was starting to pay attention to the rumors about her papa, was afraid to bring him out into the open, into the controversy, now worried something was seriously wrong.

She remembered several nights ago when they were having dinner, and she’d asked him if anything was going on. It wasn’t his silence that concerned her, but his disposition. Some moments she’d catch him sitting in his chair gazing out the window, lost in thoughts, looking happy, as if he recalling a pleasant moment or smiling at an inside joke. However, other times, she sensed he wanted to tell her something important, but then refused to do so whenever she pressed. It was as if she was losing him even though he was right in front her.

“He’s away on an errand,” Liliana lied to the mayor.

The mayor, not expecting this response, straightened his jacket, not knowing whether to demand to look in the back or to smile graciously and leave. While the more aggressive stance aligned with his disposition to get to the bottom of this, he realized it was the wrong tactic among this churchgoing crowd.

“I see,” the mayor said, and left.

Rumors, which Antonio couldn’t hear from the back of the kitchen, rippled in the mayor’s wake. Did anyone see Antonio leave? Why wouldn’t Antonio talk with the mayor? What did the mayor want? If our mayor can’t get a word with the local baker, what kind of mayor is he? Perhaps his opponent is right—our mayor is slipping, getting old, and no longer up to the task. Maybe it’s time for a change.

It didn’t take long for these concerns to filter through town and reach the mayor’s wife.

***

That night, the mayor’s wife came up with a plan of attack.

“Aren’t you overreacting?” the mayor asked.

“My dear, your opponent is a younger man. A handsome man. A charming man. If he ends up talking to Antonio before you do, it will be disastrous. He must not have the chance.”

“I can’t lock up the old man.”

“That’s precisely what you can do. Have him arrested. Get him off the streets before he causes any more damage.”

“But he hasn’t done anything,” the mayor countered.

“But he could—you don’t know what he’s thinking.”

“Hmm, maybe you’re right.”

“Of course, I am. A man who doesn’t speak must have something to hide. And he’s encouraging others to join him. Haven’t you seen how Manuel and Salvatore sit outside with him not speaking? They’re thinking about something, that’s for sure. Who knows what they’re plotting?”

“I could be preventing a crime.”

“Absolutely. And other people will think the same. Putting him away will bring you up in the polls. You’re going to win this election yet.”

***

Saturday evening, when Mrs. Moretti knew Liliana would be spending the night with her aunt in Florence—news she had learned from Mrs. Rossellini who overheard it from Mrs. Ricci —two police officers banged on Antonio’s front door.

Antonio had been tossing and turning in the midst of a bad dream. He was sure Serafina was looking for him, but no matter how loudly he yelled to tell her where he was, she couldn’t hear him. When the pounding finally woke him, Antonio’s hair was askew and his pajamas drenched in sweat. His eyes bulged from surprise, but to these men, Antonio’s eyes only confirmed what the mayor had told them: Antonio had something to hide.

“Please, get dressed. You need you to come with us. Everything will be explained at the station.”

Antonio wanted to scream: What’s happening? And those words almost left his lips until he caught himself. Is this a test? Is my Serafina testing my resolve? But why would she do this, haven’t I already proven myself by remaining silent for so long?

The officers, anxious to get to back to their wives and warm beds, ignored Antonio’s puzzled look and angry stares and provided him with no answers.

***

Antonio sunk into the sagging mattress with a set of folded sheets in his hands in a three-by-six cell. He didn’t want to look at the dingy walls marred by dried blood where a drunkard’s fist smashed into the plaster wall. With his eyes squeezed shut, he willed himself to be anywhere else.

He envisioned his sparkling kitchen and watched himself go through the daily motions of cleaning the marble surface after a long day. In his younger days, this task wasn’t a chore; it was calming. In his later years, however, Serafina commented on how his movements had slowed from the pain in his left shoulder and lower back. She’d said, “this bakery will be the death of you one day,” and urged him to retire. Though he knew his daily routine took a toll on him, Antonio knew no other life and believed his loyal customers needed him.

He leaned back onto the mattress clutching the sheets, holding onto them like he was holding onto hope, holding out for answers, as he continued to wonder where Serafina was? Why had she not heeded his silent calls? If there was any a time he needed her, it was now.

***

Early Sunday morning, Liliana took the slow roads driving back from Florence. She and Eduardo had fought. He was tired of waiting for Liliana to make the move to Florence.

“You’re acting like a child, Liliana, just tell him,” Eduardo said.

“And you’re acting like a cold-hearted lawyer who only knows how to push,” Liliana countered.

But it wasn’t the words that stung the worst. It was the quietness that followed; Eduardo’s unstated ultimatum hanging in the air.

As a child, Liliana couldn’t remember her parents ever arguing. Oh, she remembered their bouts around Easter whenever they’d make Torta alla Pasqualina, which required thirty-three layers of pastry. But she never heard them speak harshly to one other. “Don’t say anything you’ll be sorry for,” her mother once told her, “you can never take it back.” Her mother was right and Liliana didn’t know what to do.

***

While Liliana was away and Antonio was in jail, more rumors spread throughout the town. If the police had to bring him in, whatever Antonio was planning must have been bad. It obviously had to do with undermining our good mayor’s position. So that’s why Antonio’s been quiet about the election. Isn’t it always the quiet ones you least suspect? Our mayor was right to put out the word to stop this.

***

Late Sunday morning, the mayor asked the guards to bring Antonio into his office to talk. He had two cups of espresso brought in and would have had some of Antonio’s award-winning biscotti, but not today.

“Have a seat,” the mayor said, more of an order than a request. “It’s come to my attention that your refusal to converse has created a major disturbance throughout our community, causing undue anxiety, and this behavior must stop immediately.”

The mayor liked Antonio and, unlike his wife, believed there was a better solution than locking him up until the election if only Antonio would take it.

“I need you to announce to the public you’re sorry for this odd behavior and that you meant nothing by it.”

Antonio looked confused, so the mayor continued.

“Speak up, now. This strange silence of yours has gone on long enough.”

So this is what this was about? Antonio had no idea the mayor thought his silence strange. How did it affect him? If anything unusual was happening, it was happening to him and his friends. As words from his friends lessened, so had their petty arguments and their desire to boast or complain. By the time they all sat in silence, Antonio could sense their contentment.

But now, Antonio’s mind was anything but content. It was racing wildly searching for answers to appease the mayor. He didn’t know what to think. He’d never found himself in a situation he had to talk himself out of. How could he explain something so personal, and at the same time, beyond his complete understanding?

“Now, now,” the mayor barked. “You must have something to say for yourself.”

It was then Antonio realized he had nothing to say in the defense of silence. Would Serafina have told the mayor how ridiculous he was being? Oh, how he wished she was here. And why, after all this time, hadn’t he heard her voice again? Here he was alone with the mayor more irate than he had ever seen him. He didn’t know what to do. Serafina, why have you abandoned me?

He tried to let himself feel for the mayor, a man irate over something he didn’t understand. Antonio wanted to lend this man a word of comfort, of kindness, to calm him down, especially when the mayor’s face flushed brighter with each demand to speak up or else. But Antonio could think of nothing to say to make things right. So he folded his hands in his lap wondering if the price he was paying for his silence was worth it.

***

When Liliana came home and found her papa not there, she assumed he was out with his friends at the piazza, the bakery closed on Sundays. She went into her father’s room and opened the cedar trunk at the edge of the bed. Beneath the wool blankets was a long, rectangular white box that Liliana pulled out and brought into her room. She opened the box and carefully unfolded her mother’s wedding dress, letting the tissue paper fall where it might. She held the lace dress up to her full-length mirror wishing her mother was there. Then she tried it on.

***

Later that day, the mayor sent Antonio home resigned to the fact that the man posed no real danger. For if he, the mayor, and the threat of all he could do, couldn’t get Antonio to speak up, surely his opponent’s charm would have no more luck.

Antonio walked home oblivious to the new rumors that were flourishing. Thank goodness the mayor brought Antonio in before whatever he was plotting unfolded. We definitely need to keep our current mayor. Heard he might demand the closing of the bakery. Serves Antonio right. I can’t believe the mayor ever gave his biscotti an award. Won’t catch me shopping there again.

***

As Antonio made his way home, he noticed that the townsfolk kept their distance. He thought they had finally respected his desire for privacy. When he opened his front door, he cried, “Serafina!”

Liliana spun around in her mother’s wedding dress, embarrassed.

“You’ve come back,” he said, tears blurring his vision.

“Papa, it’s me,” Liliana said.

“No, no,” he said, turning around, confused.

“Serafina, I didn’t mean to speak!”

“Papa, it’s Liliana,” she said, rushing to him.

“What have I done?” he asked.

“What are you talking about?”

“I promised her.”

“Promised who?”

“Your mother,” he said and wept.

“Tell me,” Liliana pleaded, watching her papa turn away to wipe his tears. She wrapped her arms around him and said, “I miss her, too.” For a full minute they held onto each other, their mutual loss dissipating; they still had each other.

When they released their embrace, Antonio looked at Liliana afraid to speak the truth, but having already broken his vow of silence, he said, “I thought I heard your mother speak. How am I to live never hearing her voice again?”

Liliana took her papa’s hand and walked into her bedroom, opened a chest drawer and pulled out a jewelry box.

“Mom gave this to me.” It was a locket with a picture of Serafina and Antonio shortly after they’d been married. Serafina had given the necklace to Liliana when she was sick.

“Sometimes when I need her with me, I wear this. I don’t wear it all the time because I believe whatever magic I’ve given it will wear out. Silly, I know. I wore it the day you won the prize again for your biscotti just before she died. You’re not the only one who wants to believe in signs, wants to believe she’s still out there somewhere watching over us.”

Liliana then told her father all about Eduardo; how they met, both reaching for the same bunch of arugula; how they fell in love, riding bikes in the countryside. Antonio smiled, yet his joy was marred by the unspoken words that neither of them could muster. They saw this in each other’s eyes: they both ached from an inability to share this with Serafina.

Monday morning, Antonio resumed his usual routine at the bakery, not knowing anything was wrong in town. Liliana joined him at seven a.m.

But that day the chimes by the door, announcing a new arrival, never rang.

Antonio didn’t know why, but Liliana later learned the rumors, which infuriated her to the point of calling Eduardo and telling him she was leaving town the next day. She’d deal with the bakery and the house later. Her unspoken terms about her papa living with them never discussed.

Late that afternoon, while Liliana was home packing, Antonio sat outside his bakery waiting for his friends, whose wives had forbidden them from going. What he was really waiting, though, was a sign from Serafina before he left town.

Even though no sign from her appeared, part of him refused to give up hope, despite having broken his promise not to speak.

***

Antonio was silent the next day when they drove to Florence, but squeezed his daughter’s hand, realizing how much she was like Serafina. Strong, determined, even fierce—like the moment she told him about the rumors—yet, warm and loving when she explained how much she wanted him to live with her and Eduardo.

They had been traveling about an hour when Antonio caught sight of brilliant wildflowers along the roadside, the exact yellow of the daffodils he’d given to Serafina the day he’d proposed. Was this a sign? Antonio racked his brain trying to make sense of everything that had happened to him. That’s when he realized Serafina had gotten her wish. She’d finally gotten him to leave the bakery and move to Florence, his wife’s hometown. Antonio smiled, imagining his new life baking for Liliana and Eduardo and eventually grandchildren. He would pass his biscotti recipe on to them.

***

While Antonio and Liliana were on the road each fantasizing about a fresh start in Florence, new rumors circulated throughout Cortena. I can’t believe the mayor ran Antonio out of town. When is not speaking a crime? No one will ever match the taste of his biscotti. If the mayor can’t see the importance of keeping a prize-winning baker in town, then what kind of mayor is he?

***

A soft laugh escaped Antonio when he thought about how his misfortune had turned into this new fortunate turn of events.

“Did you say something, papa?”

He wanted to tell his daughter it wasn’t silence that led them down this road together but listening to their hearts. And he would, but not now. He rolled down the window content to smile and gaze at the passing field of yellow wildflowers. They were swaying in the wind as if Serafina was waving hello without uttering a sound or saying a word.

 

About

Sylvia Schwartz’s short stories and poetry have been chosen by online literary magazines not only in the U.S. where she is from but in publications originating in Spain, Canada and now India demonstrating the universal appeal of her writing. One of her stories is a finalist in Edify Fiction’s “Best of the Best” edition. Publications, where her work has appeared, include Bull & Cross, The Airgonaut, The Vignette Review, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, and Savant-Garde. Sylvia has studied literary fiction at the Writers Studio and One Story in New York. She is an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine and currently lives in Hoboken, NJ.
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