• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 09

Mamma’s Boys

Mamma always said the most important thing was family. Her boys were never sure she meant it. She screamed at them if they so much as breathed on her special cheese sauce while it boiled, and they were often woken before sunrise by the sound of her scuttling out to start the farm work. And for all her talk of family, she barely even mentioned their papa.

Her boys asked, of course. They were young when he passed; in the only photograph they had of him, he was balancing them both on his lap with ease, his beard drooping to brush their chubby faces. Mamma once let slip that the wine she sipped every evening had been his favourite, so her boys trained themselves to withstand its vinegary bite.

They found the instruments entirely by accident. Mamma sent them to the attic to fetch something, and they stumbled upon the cases. The accordion wheezed pitifully as one boy extracted it, but as the other unwrapped the guitar, they heard a clatter.

The photograph was old, a cheap wooden frame and sepia tones, but they recognized Mamma with her long hair. She was wrangling suitcases – it was the day she emigrated to England, the sky behind her full of the ship’s smoke. Papa stood beside her, clean-shaven and smartly dressed. The guitar was strapped to his back, the accordion case wedged against his hip. Mamma and Papa weren’t looking at whoever was taking their photograph, too busy laughing into each other’s smiles. It was the brightest the boys had ever seen Mamma’s face.

So, they learned. They took turns with the instruments at first, when Mamma was out in the fields or tending to the animals, until they settled into one each. It took time to grow the callouses on their fingers, to teach their ears and their muscles what was right, but they worked hard.


Mamma’s Boys

They were closer to men now than boys, but Mamma still called them that and they didn’t correct her. They were too busy squirrelling themselves away in their attic with schemes and second-hand music books.

Finally, they decided they were ready. They fell asleep to a red sky – farmer’s delight, a good omen – and the next day, they invited Mamma out for a picnic. She made her special cheese sauce and mixed fresh pasta into it, while her boys went to the market to find Papa’s favourite wine. They smoothed the blanket across a stretch of field and arranged their instruments. At the last moment, one of the boys suggested they bring out the photo frame. They polished the glass so the setting sun would catch it.

Mamma wept openly when she saw the photograph. She only just steadied her hands to set out the food. When they began to play, she almost howled. They feared they may have upset her, but they had barely finished the last chords before she was hauling them both into the tightest hug.