Natali Petricic is a finalist for The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
We were the only family in the village to spend a few dinars on a photo. This was right after the second World War. Dalmatia was freed of Italian rule, and we were all poor, but I had a feeling I’d need that picture one day. I sat on a boulder, holding little Tomislav, bundled in woolen blankets, not more than a year old. Branko stood beside me, his hand on my shoulder. He was eight. A pile of wilted dark leaves were strewn around the large rock. Even though it was cold, I made Branko wear his good shorts with suspenders. His long pants were worn thin and patched at the knees. We all stared ahead, even Tomislav. It was as if he understood something important was happening and this wasn’t a moment for fussing.
Aloysius is missing. The thought flickers through my mind each time I look at the photo. I never mention the baby I lost. Why burden others? But I think about him every time I hold the black and white, willing him to appear.
My sister-in-law criticized me about the photo, cackling in the fields with others. “She spent money on a photo, while he slaves away on the boats. My brother’s wife, from the other island…” She began all of her laments about me like that. As if in the polje voices don’t echo. As if I were deaf. As if sooner or later, one by one, the villagers wouldn’t absorb me as one of their own in spite of themselves, as people do in these parts. They called themselves Catholics—church-goers, all of them. In my village, they warn of the self-proclaimers. If you do something, just do it. Don’t announce all over the hamlet that you never miss church. Don’t announce the amount you place on the plate passed around.