staff feature: Kimberly duffy
February, 1918—New York City
“I don’t see why that man should come, Papà, when I can make a better pizza than anyone.” Vittoria Scollo clapped her hands together, sending a puff of flour into the already well-floured air of Antonio’s Tomato Pies’ kitchen. She put her hands on hips—a trifle too ample, if she was being honest, but she did enjoy partaking in her work and wouldn’t be persuaded not to—and glared at her father, Antonio himself.
“And when I am buried beneath the ground, how will you run the restaurant? Women aren’t even allowed in the dining room.” Papà smacked the pillow of dough, curled up like a fat, naked baby, before draping a damp towel over it.
“That would be the first thing I would change.”
Her father chuckled and clasped her arms, landing a wet kiss on her forehead. “No doubt, Vita. You would turn my pizzeria into something I wouldn’t recognize. But I like the way it is now.”
“Bah.” Vita stalked toward the door cutting them off from the dining room. Raucous laughter and Italian arguing slid beneath it anyway. It was the music of her childhood, paired with the scent of yeast and anchovies. “You are too old-fashioned.”
“Be that as it may, Salvatore is coming. Today. And he will one day own this place. You have known this since the two of you were children. You should make peace with it now.”
Vita said nothing. Only leaned against the wall, arms crossed, and closed her eyes against the angry tears that would only prove herself incapable of running the family business. They had been close, she and Salvatore. And she’d once thought they would marry. But then his mother died and his father had taken him to New Jersey.
“He is my godson, patatina.” Papà’s voice had softened, and it did more to undo her than his stubbornness. “What am I to do? With his poor father’s death, he has no one. He needs a family. And I need a son.”
Vita huffed and flung her hands into the air. “Fine.” She went to the long counter and took up a knife and bowl of ripe tomatoes. “Six daughters,” she muttered, the knife going thud thud thud as she sliced. “Six daughters and his heart yearns for a son.”
“You will bruise them,” Papà cautioned, and she gentled her movements. “And it isn’t my heart yearning, but my hips. And knees and back and shoulders. I’m tired.”
All the fight in her spilled out. It wasn’t Papà’s fault he couldn’t conceive of leaving Antonio’s to a daughter. He was from a different time and place—born fifty years ago in Naples—and he was right…women generally didn’t eat in pizzerias. It was a haven for immigrants working long hours for few coins.
But how she loved making pizza. She yanked a fistful of dough and, with fingers made flexible and strong from years in the kitchen, stretched it into a circle. “I haven’t even seen him since he was twelve, and he will take over. I hardly remember him.”
“You will get to know me again.” The voice drew Vita and Papà around, and there he stood, the boy she’d once known. The stranger bent on taking from her what she most wanted. He had a nice smile, yes, but everything else was wrapped in—Vita’s gaze swept over Salvatore and she sniffed—well, wrapped in a nicely muscled package, but very much beside the point.
“Sal!” Papà hurried forward.
While the men caught up, Vita withdrew a pizza from the coal-fired oven. The mozzarella bubbled and tomatoes had released their juices. With a gentle toss, the pie slid from the peel onto the counter. “Papà, you’ll need to bring this out.”
Papà kissed Salvatore’s cheeks before hurrying to deliver the pizza and greet any new customers. Vita rubbed lard over the dough and reached for the bowl of anchovies, quickly filleting them. She ignored the man in the kitchen. Her kitchen. It had been so since the last of her sisters married and her mother died.
“I hope we can be friends,” Salvatore said, nearer than she expected. “We were once close.”
Vita whirled. “Why should it matter?”
He grinned and Vita wanted to slap his perfectly handsome face with the braided garlic hanging above them. “Because I don’t know the first thing about making pizza, and I’ll need your help. Because I promised to return anyway, Vita, and marry you. Don’t you remember?”
She rolled her eyes. “I won’t hold you to your childish vow.” She turned back toward the counter, slid the peel beneath the pie, and tossed it into the oven against the far wall. Then she set about making another.
“What if I want to be held to it?” His warm voice did something stupid to her insides, but when she didn’t respond, he sighed. “Will you teach me?”
She tossed him a round of dough. “Don’t roll it like a French pastry chef, but coax it into a circle.”
He gingerly poked a dimple into it, and she laughed. “What have you been doing in New Jersey?”
“I clerked for the owner of a textile factory.”
“A clerk? I’m certain that pays better than running a pizzeria. Why did you come here?”
“I miss my parents. Speaking Italian. Being around people I share a culture with. Being around you.” He gave her a crooked smile and her blood began to simmer. “I felt as though my history was slipping away, and I’m grateful to your father. But I don’t want to reach for everything I want if it means you lose what you want.”
She stepped nearer him. “I want the pizzeria.”
“Perhaps,” he leaned down so that his breath tickled the hair curling about her temple, “that isn’t the contradiction you think it is.”
Vita lifted her brows. But before she could respond, the scent of burning bread assaulted her nose and she yelped, grabbed the peel, and whirled toward the oven. With one smooth motion, she’d tossed the unrecognizable pie onto the counter. “I’ll have to make another.”
She reached for the round of dough, but he placed a hand atop it before she could pull it toward her. “If you show me how, we can do it together.”
“Together?” She drew her lip between her teeth.
“Don’t you think that’s the best way to be?”
She draped her fingers over his. Pushed until the dough spread beyond their hands. “As long as you know who’s in charge.”
He turned his hand over, and captured her floury fingers. “I wouldn’t dream of doing it any other way.”
Kimberly is the author of A Mosaic of Wings and A Tapestry of Light (Bethany House Publishers). Her latest novel, Every Word Unsaid, released November 2, 2021.