Lost River



“There are eight million stories in the Naked City and this is one of them.” As the narrator’s voice ended, the screen faded to black.

The air was warm and heavy with the smell of scorched popcorn and stale butter. The three friends headed toward the exit in the half-light, their feet making small ripping sounds as they walked across the slightly sticky floor .

“Wow! That was a great movie. Man, I wish I lived in New York City instead of Lost River,” Hank said.

Sonny agreed. “Me too. Nobody in this town’s got a story worth telling.”

“And nothing exciting ever happens here,” Matt added. “Georgia’s got to be the most boring place in the world.”


Story # 1, MRS. CONTI


            Most of the time, Carmelina slept through the gun shots. They were part of the air like the bees buzzing through the wild flowers and the olive trees. A nuisance, but not dangerous unless you aggravated them, then their sting was deadly. Sicilians were used to invaders with guns. The old women in their black dresses rattled off the island history like beads on their rosaries. They had seen and survived it all.

“Everybody’s tried to rule us starting with the Greeks, then the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish, Napoleon, and now those Italians.”  It was 1860, and the latest trespassers were the last straw.

It took several years, but when her home town of Palermo revolted, Italy send ships to shell the city and soldiers to deal with the trouble-makers. They executed hundreds, put ten times that many in prison and deported others. No one was safe. Carmelina’s family made plans to escape before they could be rounded up.

Small suitcases only. Each person had to carry their own bag. Her mother insisted that although the weather was hot, they each wear two of everything. In addition, they packed two sets of underwear, a change of work clothes, one nice outfit, three pairs of socks, an extra pair of shoes, a sweater, a heavy coat and one “special thing.” Carmelina took a book.

On the day they were to leave for America, Carmelina went with her mother to the courthouse to pick up some papers. As they were leaving, they saw soldiers dragging the school principal Mr. Esposito by his feet over the cobblestones in the square. They stood him up by the fountain and shot him in the head. He fell into the water and it turned red with his blood.

“Run home! Hide!” her mother whispered.

Carmelina expected to see friends or neighbors outside, someone who might help her, but  the street was completely empty and deadly quiet. She reached out to open her front door, but she couldn’t turn the knob. It was slippery. When she looked at her hand, it was covered with blood. She quickly wiped it on her dress, then hid under a bush and waited for her mother to come home and let her in.

What happened next was a different kind of nightmare. Families rushing to escape, roads clogged with people all carrying luggage, sleeping on the docks in the rain because there was nowhere else to go, being hungry and scared and finally getting crammed into a boat and being seasick for an eternity.

Since they had to leave without her father, her mother and brothers went with friends who moved into the Italian community in East Harlem. They did their best to survive, but they were farmers and their skills were useless in the steel and concrete of New York City.

The one place where workers were needed was the rural south. The Civil War had all but wiped out a generation of young men. Recruiters combed the streets of Harlem offering jobs to anyone willing to move south. And so Carmelina’s family moved to Lost River. Two brothers went to work logging and the rest of the family signed on as share-croppers for a local farmer.

When she was 15, Carmelina married Adamo Canti and they had three sons, Anthony, Salvador and Vincent. By the time she was in her 80s, her family was a vital part of Lost River.

Over the years, she had lost track of most of  the twists and turns of her life. She had learned English, but as she got older, it was just easier to revert to the language of Sicily she spoke as a girl. She was now one of those old women in  black dresses. She had forgotten many things, but she never forgot that doorknob.