Under the Fig Tree - Young Adult Novel Submission
Frankie swallowed hard. She had to just say it while they were all together at the dinner table.
“Ma, Pop.” She took a deep breath and pictured Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner. Frankie had been a sales girl all summer. Two days ago she bought her sisters and brother their first pairs of brand new shoes. She knew she could get rid of the girls' flour-sack dresses too, but she'd have to leave high school, and there was no easy way to break that kind of news to her family.
Her parents looked up, and three smaller heads turned to look at her, too. Whew! Frankie took another deep breath to slow her racing thoughts. Even Margaret Sullavan would sweat with all these eyes focused on her like spotlights.
“It’s like this,” she stumbled. One glance at the ice box she knew she could replace with a gleaming Frigidaire and Frankie's mind was made up for the hundredth time. “I’ve been thinking about something.”
“Boys!” Eleven-year-old Agostina snickered. She reached around Frankie’s back to poke nine-year-old Caterina who giggled behind the hand she put over her mouth.
“Shush, Tina, and don't pinch Rina." Frankie sputtered, "Let me finish! I've been thinking about something important.”
“Ooh, that’s what you do in high school, Frankie.” Six-year-old Giuseppe laughed. “Lots and lots of important thinking. Carmine told me so.”
“Carminuccio, che buon figlio.” Frankie’s mother patted her son’s head. “You’re lucky we have such a nice boy like Carmine in the neighborhood. He’s like a big brother for you, Beppe.” Frankie’s mother understood English well enough, but she always spoke in Italian. Her voice was sweet and smooth, and Frankie imagined it sounded like an echo from the Alpine mountains where her mother had been born. Tonight, Frankie didn't want to listen to the family chatter. She just wanted to tell them all what she had decided to do.
“No more. Basta.” Frankie’s father waved the table knife he held in his right hand. He always spoke half in Italian, for his wife, and half in broken English, for his children. “Ascolta. Listen to Francesca.” He pointed the knife at Frankie.
Frankie swallowed again.
“I want to quit school and work full time,” she said so fast the whole sentence sounded like a single word.
There, I told them. She grimaced. Not a line you’d ever hear in an Andy Hardy movie. Four sets of spotlights swerved from Frankie's face and focused their heat on her father’s.
“No,” her father said. His knife scraped across the plate as he gathered the last bit of boiled greens onto his fork.
“Pop, look,” Frankie began again. “Ever since I started working at Grant’s quarter store last summer, the men have been leaving to enlist. The store needs workers, and I could make some money for the family.”
“Francesca,” her mother’s voice was soft and low, “aren’t you hungry? The greens are still warm.”
Frankie sat up and chewed. Ma's giving Pop time to calm down, she reasoned. Maybe she'll take my side in this. In six months or so, I could get her a refrigerator. I want to hear that sweet smacking sound the door makes, like a kiss from me to Ma every time she takes the milk out. She could hang around all day like Andy Hardy's mother, and I could have that gorgeous green dress in the window of Madison's Department Store. I'd look like I owned the whole chain of Grant's stores in that outfit.
“It’s a swell dinner, Ma.” Frankie smiled. “Please, Pop. I want to help.”
“No, Francesca.” Her father shook his head. “You have to graduate from high school. I came to America so my children could get an education and be something.”
“But I can be something now,” Frankie argued. “The way things are going, I could be off the sales floor and in the cash office by June.”
C.M. Under the Fig Tree- Tuscany Prize 2015 Young Adult Novel Submission
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