The Four Winds
The next morning, Elsa woke late. She pushed the hair from her face. Fine strands were stuck to her cheek; she’d cried in her sleep.
Good. Better to cry at night when no one could see. She didn’t want to reveal her weakness to this new family.
She went to the washstand and splashed lukewarm water on her face, then she brushed her teeth and combed her hair.
Last night, as she’d unpacked, she’d realized how wrong her clothes were for farm life. She was a town girl; what did she know about life on the land? All she’d brought were crepe dresses and silk stockings and heels. Church clothes.
She slipped into her plainest day dress, a charcoal-gray with pearl buttons and lace at the collar, then pulled up her stockings and stepped into the black heels she’d worn yesterday.
The house smelled of bacon and coffee. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her she hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s lunch.
The kitchen—a bright yellow wallpapered room with gingham curtains and white linoleum flooring—was empty. Dishes drying on the counter attested to the fact that Elsa had slept through breakfast. What time did these people waken? It was only nine.
Elsa stepped out onto the porch and saw the Martinelli farm in full sunlight. Hundreds of acres of harvested wheat fanned out in all directions, a sea of rough burnished gold, with the homestead part taking up a few acres in the middle of it all.
A driveway cut through the fields, a brown ribbon of dirt bordered by cottonwoods and fencing. The farm itself consisted of the house, a big wooden barn, a horse corral, a cow paddock, a hog pen, a chicken coop, and a windmill. Behind the house was an orchard, a small vineyard, and a fenced vegetable garden. Mrs. Martinelli was in the garden, bent over.
Elsa stepped down into the yard.
Mr. Martinelli came out of the barn and approached her. “Good morning,” he said. “Walk with me.”
He led her along the edge of the wheat field; the shorn crop struck her as broken, somehow, devastated. Much like herself. A gentle breeze rustled what remained, made a shushing sound.
“You are a town girl,” Mr. Martinelli said in a thick Italian accent. “Not anymore, I guess.”
“This is a good answer.” He bent down, scooped up a handful of dirt. “My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family. We plant, we tend, we harvest. I make wine from grapes that I brought here from Sicily, and the wine I make reminds me of my father. It binds us, one to another, as it has for generations. Now it will bind you to us.”
“I’ve never tended to anything.”
He looked at her. “Do you want to change that?”
Elsa saw compassion in his dark eyes, as if he knew how afraid she’d been in her life, but she had to be imagining it. All he knew about her was that she was here now and she’d brought his son down with her.
“Beginnings are only that, Elsa. When Rosalba and I came here from Sicily, we had seventeen dollars and a dream. That was our beginning. But it wasn’t what gave us this good life. We have this land because we worked for it, because no matter how hard life was, we stayed here. This land provided for us. It will provide for you, too, if you let it.”
Elsa had never thought of land that way, as something that anchored a person, gave one a life. The idea of it, of staying here and finding a good life and a place to belong, seduced her as nothing else ever had.
She would do her best to become a Martinelli through and through, so she could join their story, perhaps even take it as her own and pass it on to the child she carried. She would do anything, become anyone, to ensure that this family loved the baby unconditionally as one of their own. “I want that, Mr. Martinelli,” she said at last. “I want to belong here.”
He smiled. “I saw that in you, Elsa.”
Elsa started to thank him, but was interrupted by Mrs. Martinelli, who called out to her husband as she walked toward them carrying a basket full of ripe tomatoes and greenery. “Elsa,” she said, coming to a stop. “How nice to see you up.”
“I . . . overslept.”
Mrs. Martinelli nodded. “Follow me.”
In the kitchen, Mrs. Martinelli took the vegetables from her basket and laid them on the table, plump red tomatoes, yellow onions, green herbs, clumps of garlic. Elsa had never seen so much garlic at one time.
“What can you cook?” she asked Elsa, tying an apron on. “C-coffee.”
Mrs. Martinelli stopped. “You can’t cook? At your age?” “I’m sorry, Mrs. Martinelli. No, but—”
“Can you clean?”
“Well . . . I’m sure I can learn to.”
Mrs. Martinelli crossed her arms.“What can you do?” “Sew. Embroider. Darn. Read.”
“A lady. Madonna mia.” She looked around the spotless kitchen. “Fine. Then I will teach you to cook. We will start with arancini. And call me Rose.”
Copyright © 2020 by Kristin Hannah