Made – J. M. Darhower

Soft cries filled the dim kitchen, a light above the stove illuminating the woman’s graystreaked hair and tear stained cheeks. It was early morning hours—three, maybe four. A turkey already cooked in the oven, while can goods and half-made pies covered the vast counter space, the food temporarily forgotten as the woman sat at the bar, sobbing. It was Christmas, and seven-year-old Corrado MoreĴi couldn’t sleep. Not because he was anxious for presents or because he wanted to catch Santa in the act. Those things might’ve kept other kids awake, but they meant nothing to him. Christmas to the MoreĴis meant a long church service and an even longer family dinner, two things Corrado hated more than anything. No, he couldn’t sleep because his parents had been fighting all night, screaming down the hallway from his bedroom. He hadn’t even known his father had come home until he heard the unmistakable sound of his mother hurling things, shaĴering glass all over their room as she berated him for whatever he’d done while away. Corrado stood in the kitchen doorway, staring at the troubled woman. Had she heard the fighting, too? “Why are you crying, Zia?” She startled, wiping her tears as she jumped to her feet. “I didn’t hear you.” “Did you get hurt?” he asked. “People cry when they’re hurt.” “No.

” She hesitated. “Well, yes. You could say I’m hurting.” “Do you need a Band-Aid?” The sadness remained in her eyes, but her dimpled cheeks flickered with amusement. “A bandage won’t help. I’m hurt on the inside.” “Why?” “I miss my family.” “You should go see them.” “It’s not that easy.” Seemed easy to him. “If you don’t want to be here, go.” “But leave you?” Corrado shrugged. He didn’t want to be there either. “I’ll be okay.” Zia offered him a small smile, a hint of brightness in the dark room.

Wordlessly, she filled a small cup with tap water and handed it to Corrado before leading him upstairs, the two of them tiptoeing down the hallway. Whimpers filtered out from the crack under his parents’ door, soft cries and whispered words. Zia covered Corrado’s ears as they passed, taking him straight to his back bedroom. “They were fighting,” Corrado said. “It was really bad.” “I know,” she said. “I hoped you and your sister would sleep through it.” “I think she did.” Corrado climbed into his bed. A small lamp lit up the space around him, illuminating a poster of the Chicago White Sox behind his head. “Katrina sleeps through everything.” “Yeah, she usually does.” Zia pulled the blankets around him to tuck him in. “You two may be twins, but you’re nothing alike.” “Mom says she’s the good one.

She likes her more than me.” “That’s because Miss Erika’s an idiot.” Corrado’s eyes widened, an abrupt laugh bursting from him. He covered his mouth to muffle the sound, not wanting his parents to hear. “I shouldn’t have said that,” Zia said, shamefaced, “but you’re a good kid. You have a heart of gold, Corrado.” “If that were true, my mom would love me… orsomebody would.” Corrado frowned, too upset to go to sleep. “Will you tell me a story? Please?” Zia hesitated before siĴing down on the corner of the bed beside him. “Hmm, have you heard The Steadfast Tin Soldier?” Corrado shook his head. “Well, let’s see… a liĴle boy, around your age, got a set of toy tin soldiers for his birthday,” she started. “One of the soldiers was different from all the others—he only had one leg. That flawed soldier noticed a preĴy, paper ballerina. She stood on a single leg too, and the soldier instantly fell for her. He thought she must be like him and could understand his struggle.

It was love at first sight.” Corrado grimaced. Zia chuckled at his childish reaction, pressing her pointer finger against his scrunched up nose as she continued. “Although he loved her from the first time he saw her, he said nothing. He couldn’t. It wasn’t in his nature, you see. He’s a soldier, and soldiers don’t show their feelings. So he chose to watch her from afar. That first night, a goblin warned the soldier to keep his eyes off the ballerina, but the soldier ignored. Can you blame him? He was smiĴen! The next day, a gust of strong wind sent the soldier falling from a window and into the street below. Two liĴle boys found the soldier, stuck him in a paper boat, and sailed him straight into the gutter.” “Why?” Zia shrugged. “Why do you boys do anything you do? The boat washed right into a storm drain, where a filthy rat demanded the soldier pay a toll. The soldier ignored him.” “His nature again?” “Of course,” she said.

“He was worn and tired by then, but he kept on going. He never gave up. The boat washed into a canal, where the tin soldier was swallowed by a fish.” “What kind of fish?” “A big one? I don’t know. All I know is that fish was eventually caught and cut open, and the tin soldier found himself once again standing on the table near that paper ballerina.” Corrado’s expression lit up. “He made it back home!” “Yes, but…” Zia eyed him peculiarly, as if contemplating whether or not to go on. “…the little boy threw the tin soldier straight into the stove.” Gasping, Corrado’s eyes widened. “What?” “The soldier thought he had lost the ballerina forever, but a gust of wind blew her into the fire with him… maybe the same wind that blew him over the ledge to begin with. She was consumed at once, burning to ash right beside him, as the tin soldier melted into the shape of a heart.” Corrado gaped at the woman as she finished the story, horrified at the ending. “They died? That makes no sense!” “Oh, it makes plenty of sense,” Zia said. “Maybe someday you’ll understand it.” She softly kissed his forehead, ruffling his untidy dark curls, before heading for the door.

She glanced back at him as he snuggled with his gray Batman comforter. “Get some sleep, okay? No more getting up.” “Yes, ma’am.” “And Corrado? I can’t speak for your mother, but I can say for sure that someone does love you.” “Who?” “Me, little man. I love you.” She walked out, shuĴing the door behind her. Within a maĴer of minutes, the silence swept Corrado away. He slept hard, dreamlessly, but was startled awake hours later by an eruption of noise. Curses echoed through the house, footsteps running the hallways and all around downstairs. Corrado rubbed his tired eyes as his bedroom door flew open and slammed into the wall. Erika Moretti appeared, eyes wild, breathing shallow. “Is she in here?” “Kat?” Corrado guessed. “No, not Katrina. That bitch of a slave!” Corrado blinked rapidly.

Zia? Erika groaned at his prolonged silence and stormed away without demanding a response. Alarmed, Corrado climbed out of bed and made his way downstairs. His father, Vito, stood at the boĴom of the stairs, leaning against the banister as he puffed on a thick cigar, his favorite gray fedora slightly cockeyed on his head. Corrado paused beside him, eyeing the man warily. There were claw marks on his cheek. “Hey, kid.” Vito’s voice was steady, as cool as could be. “How long has it been? Two weeks? A month?” “Since Thanksgiving.” “That’s what I thought,” Vito said. “You look like you’ve grown a foot since then. You keep it up, you’ll be taller than me.” Corrado stared at him, unsure of what to say. Wrinkles marked the man’s weary face, more than Corrado remembered there being. Maybe they both changed some while he was away. His mother burst in the front door from outside then, her bare feet dirty, her eyes even wilder than before.

“She’s gone! There’s no sign of her anywhere!” “Zia?” Corrado asked. The lone word set Erika off. She snatched Corrado’s arm and violently yanked him toward her, shaking him. “Zia? Aunt? That woman isn’t your goddamn family, boy. She’s nothing, you hear me? Nothing!” Tears prickled his eyes. “Yes.” “Calm down, Erika,” Vito said. “Leave him alone.” “Calm down?” LeĴing go of Corrado, she turned her rage on her husband. She punched him in the chest, knocking him roughly back against the winding banister. “Are you deaf? The bitch is gone!” Vito continued to puff on his cigar, his face a mask of indifference. “She won’t get very far.” Erika stalked upstairs, her feet like steel against the wooden floor. Once she was gone, Vito pushed away from the stairs. “Merry Christmas, kid.

” “Merry Christmas, Dad.” “Maybe after this clears up, we’ll play a liĴle ball later,” Vito said. “How about that? Just you and me.” They didn’t go to church that day. Corrado stayed in his room, clad in his worn Batman pajamas all morning and afternoon, reading books and playing with his toys. Best Christmas ever. Around nightfall, another commotion rocked the house. Corrado made his way downstairs again, finding the front door wide open. Curiously, he crept onto the porch, his bare feet abruptly stopping at what was happening. Zia crouched in the yard, filthy and bloody, struggling against a thick chain wrapped around her neck. Erika held the end of it, jerking her like a dog on a leash, before wrapping it around the porch railing, tethering her there. Without hesitation, Erika grabbed a baseball bat from the yard and wailed on the woman, viciously assaulting her. Screams shaĴered the night air, coupled with the sickening crunch of bones as blood splattered. Corrado could only stare, his feet cemented to the porch in horror.Zia, he chanted in his head, unable to get his voice to work.

Not Zia. Please don’t hurt Zia anymore. Hearing the noises, Katrina stepped out on the porch, pausing beside her brother as she fiddled the ends of her long black hair. Her eyes widened as she watched, her lips twisting with a single breathy word: “Wow.” Erika didn’t stop until the shrieking silenced, until the woman no longer fought back, her limp body a heap beside the porch. The bat was cracked down the middle, nearly split in two. Erika threw it in the grass, bypassing the kids without speaking as she stormed inside. Vito approached from out in the yard, surveying the carnage before heading after his wife. His hand clamped down on Corrado’s shoulder as he passed. “Guess we’ll need to get you a new bat before we can play ball now, huh?” Katrina and Corrado stood in silence, staring down at the motionless woman. “Is she, uh…?” Katrina looked to Corrado with wide-eyes. “Is she alive?” “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so.” A riveted smile jerked the corner of her lips. “Wow.

” Katrina skipped inside while Corrado stepped off the porch, approaching Zia. He knelt down and reached for her, hesitating, his hand hovering mid-air, before pushing her maĴed hair out of the way. Her eyes were closed, her face relaxed. No grimace, no scowl, no tears. Except for the blood, she appeared fast asleep. “Zia?” he whispered. “Are you dead now?” Zia didn’t move. She didn’t speak. She didn’t even breathe. She remained still and mute as Corrado tried to shake the woman awake. Traumatized, Corrado headed inside the house when she wouldn’t budge. The kitchen was hazy, the smoke detector blaring from the ceiling. Vito pulled the overcooked turkey from the oven, cursing as it burned his hand. He threw it on the counter, fanning the thick smoke. “Guess we won’t be having dinner tonight,” he muĴered to himself, startling when he spoĴed his son standing there, stoic, silent.

Vito’s eyes scanned him, his gaze seĴling on Corrado’s balled-up fists. “You got blood on your hands.” Vito pulled him over to the sink, using soap and water to scrub Corrado’s hands. Corrado fought back tears as he watched the red circle the drain. “Zia needs a Band-Aid.” “A bandage ain’t gonna help her, kid.” “But she’s hurt on the outside now.” “Look, it’s best you don’t get aĴached,” Vito said. “You don’t go crying that this turkey died, do you? No, you eat it… Well, notthis one, but you know what I’m saying. The circle of life, it’s cruel, but it’s unavoidable. If the shark didn’t eat the man, the man would eat the shark. That’s just how it goes.” The next evening, the family gathered together in the dining room for dinner at precisely eight o’clock. Erika took her usual seat at the head of the table, a chair nobody else ever occupied, while Vito chose to sit as far away from her as possible, on the opposite end. Corrado and Katrina sat across from each other somewhere in the middle, a few empty seats between them and both parents.

Corrado stared down at his food, eyeing the burnt grilled cheese and thick tomato soup with disgust. Katrina scraped the black from her sandwich, creating a mess of tiny charred breadcrumbs, the grating sound echoing through the otherwise stone silent room. Hunger pangs pinched Corrado’s sides as he watched his sister nibble a bit, salvaging the meal. They hadn’t eaten at all the day before, but as starving as he was, he couldn’t force himself to eat any of it. His father wasn’t eating, either, instead swirling his spoon around in his tomato soup, pulling up a spoonful and tipping it over, watching as it poured back into his bowl. The soup splashed out, small splaĴers of red staining the white tablecloth. Seeing it made Corrado’s stomach hurt worse. “This soup is cold, Erika,” Vito said. “What did you do, pour it straight from a can into the bowl?” “Oh, quit complaining,” she said dismissively, clutching a glass filled to the brim with red wine. She sipped it, completely ignoring the food on her plate. “Eat it or don’t. I don’t care.” “Of course you don’t care.” Vito threw his spoon down. “If you did, you’d put more effort into taking care of your kids.

” Erika scoffed. “You want to criticize my parenting, Vito? I didn’t see you in that fucking kitchen trying to make them dinner.” “Had I known how incompetent you were? I would’ve.” Vito leaned back in his chair, his gaze shifting from his food to his wife. “I guess I forgot, unless it comes in a boĴle with a vintage label, it means nothing to you.” “Fuck you,” Erika spat. “You have no right to talk that way when you’re never even here! You worry about your kids so much, then why don’t you take the liĴle fuckers with you? Huh? Why don’t you take them to Chicago? Why leave them with me if I’m so goddamn incompetent?” “Maybe I will,” Vito said. “God knows, they’d be better off.” Erika jumped up, shoving her chair back. “You… you…” “Me, what?” Vito challenged, cocking an eyebrow at her. “Spit it out, or are you too drunk to think of the words? What’s that, a bottle and a half already today?” Enraged, Erika snatched a hold of the tablecloth and yanked on it. All four plates skidded her way as Vito’s glass fell over, the water spilling all over the table and onto his lap. Cursing, he shoved his chair back and stood, brushing the ice cubes from his soaked pants. “You bitch!” “Looks like you pissed yourself, Vito,” Erika said, still holding her glass of wine, having not let go of it. “You might want to have that checked out, you liĴle dick motherfucker.

” Vito, nostrils flaring, lunged across the room, but Erika slipped away before he got to her. Corrado sat there, staring down at the table, his heart racing, as his sister sniffled, fighting the tears streaming down her flushed cheeks. “Don’t cry, sweetheart,” Vito said, frustration in his voice as he ran his hands down his face. “Come on, let’s go out for pizza. We can go to that place down on Fillmore, the one with the arcade. You can play some games. How’s that sound?” Neither kid answered, but they both stood obediently and headed for the downstairs closet to get their coats and put on their shoes. No shoes on in the house… it was Erika’s biggest rule, one her and Vito both seemed exempt from, but the kids were made to follow it. Vito changed clothes, pulling on a fresh pair of slacks from his always-packed suitcase. He put on his fedora and grabbed his keys. “Is Mom coming with us?” Katrina asked, her eyes puffy. “Not this time,” Vito said. They piled into Vito’s brand new shiny black Lincoln Continental, Katrina up front with their father as Corrado climbed into the back alone. The drive to the pizzeria took about ten minutes, the place packed on a Friday night. Vito parked in the only empty spot in the lot and led the kids inside, finding a small table off to the side.

Vito squeezed into the orange plastic booth and pulled out a pocket full of change, dropping it on the table. He snatched some quarters for himself before motioning toward the rest. “Have a ball.” Katrina grabbed handfuls and ran off, heading straight for the bowling game, while Corrado picked up the leftover coins and wandered around the arcade. He played a few games of pinball and tried his hand at the crane game, his eyes continually drifting between his sister and his father. Each time Vito would be siĴing there, shaking his leg, not paying attention… until one time Corrado looked, and he was gone. Panic bubbled inside of him as he stepped away from his game, seeking out his father in the crowd. Vito stood along the wall, crowding a payphone, the receiver to his ear. He paced around as far as the cord would go, his mouth frantically moving as he fed coins into it. He stopped pacing after a few minutes, his eyes darting around. He spoĴed his son standing there and waved him over. “You got a quarter left? Let me hold it.” Corrado handed the coin over. Vito stuck it into the slot, shaking his head as his focus turned back to his call. “I’m still here.

I’m at an arcade with my kids. Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t have called… I just, I don’t know what to do. They’re my kids, you know? But I get it, Boss. I get what you’re saying. Gotta do what we gotta do.” Corrado lingered for a moment before strolling away, wandering over to a game of Duck Hunt. He put a dime into the coin slot, having to step on a stool to reach the aĴached rifle. Lining it up, he waited until the birds flew by on the screen before squeezing the trigger, trying to shoot them. A few ducks fell but most breezed on past, unscathed. “You’re pretty good, kid.”


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Updated: 7 March 2021 — 07:00

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