- 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 14 by Annette Komma
December – 1949 – North Carolina
“Peter? Where are you?” his mother, Giuseppina, sang out. They played hide-and-seek a lot. Their home had a lot of closets for him to hide in. His tiny hand would creep up to the smooth iron knob on the door, and he would carefully turn it. Once he had it open a crack, he would put his head against it so he could look through the crack to see his mother. She would tip-toe down the hall and open each door slowly, looking for him. He liked to hide in the last one, so that he could jump out and surprise her. He waited.
Then the front door opened and his father came in.
“Pina! Have you seen this mail?”
“No, Andre, I haven’t. What is it?”
“It’s a letter. For you.”
Peter remained in the closet. His father’s voice was angry, and Peter didn’t want to be yelled at. He would wait for it to be over, wait for his father to leave, and then he would leave the closet. His mother would need him.
“That other man in Aachen. The one that flirted with you!”
“Yes! That’s the one! Why is he writing to you?”
“I don’t know.” She lied.
Before Pina could stop him, Andre ripped the envelope open and tossed it at Pina. He began to read the letter aloud.
“My dearest Pina, my brother and I have finally settled. It may not be for long, but it is home for now. Antonio has made quick work getting to know the shopkeepers and their suppliers, as well as the bankers. He’s had me running all over town as well, looking for office space. We are tired. Tony has himself a girlfriend. Her name is Stella. She’s a dancer. I wish you were here. I think the two of you would get along great. Tony tells me to get my head out of the clouds. I guess it’s the gypsy in me. I hope you are getting along all right with your own gypsy. What was his name? Andre? I hope you and yours are well. Always you have my love, Joseph Grimaldi.”
Peter froze in the closet. He had never heard of this person before. He wanted to hear more, but his father went on.
“Pina! This is the last straw. You are with me, and that is my son you carried. You are not his.”
“Andre, you were the one I wanted to make my life with.” Pina’s eyes dropped to the floor.
“Enough! Where is Peter?”
“Where is he? Peter! Peter! Where are you?”
“Andre. Please, we were playing hide-and-seek. He’s somewhere in the house.”
“Well, he’ll have to come out now. Peter! Come on out here!”
Peter slowly turned the door knob to the closet door and slowly poked his head out of the closet.
“Ah! You see, there he is. Pina, this is it. You have two minutes to say goodbye to your son and get out.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m throwing you out. Peter stays here. You’re not taking my son with you. Go to your precious Joe. I’m through with you.”
Peter didn’t understand what his father was saying, but he understood his mother had begun to cry and plead with his father. It did no good. In the end, his father had come and picked him up like a sack of potatoes and left the house with him over his shoulder. Pina had come after them, but his father had grabbed a cab. Together, they left Pina standing in the road.
Pina did what Andre had told her to do. She looked at the address on the envelope and packed a few small possessions and left for Kansas. She and Andre had never married in actuality, despite their having Peter. This, more than anything, was the last straw for Pina. She knew Joe wanted her. She had left the house within the hour. When Andre and Peter returned at dinner time, she was gone.
December – 1949 – Kansas – The next evening
“Joe, I’m so sorry for showing up like this,” said Pina.
“Bella Mia, don’t worry. I wrote you the letter, like I said I would, didn’t I? What else would you have done? If you had done differently, my heart would have been lost.”
“What am I supposed to do, Joe? He was so angry, and I can’t leave Peter there.”
“First, will you marry me?”
“It would be for the best.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The courts would be happy to order a child to go with his mother. However, if that mother makes an improper move, such as living with another man while not being married, the courts might decide otherwise. So! You marry me, in a common law marriage, like we discussed. We look like a good couple, no? And the courts will see we can take care of Peter.”
Pina froze. It sounded so simple. Joe could snap his fingers and make the world stop, she was sure. Pina took a deep breath and just nodded. She didn’t trust herself to speak.
“Aha! Wonderful!” said Joseph as he picked her up and twirled her around the room.
They made their union legal, but even so, Andre retained custody of Peter. Pina was so sad she could only look out the window, day after day. Joe began to use his business connections to keep tabs on Peter and Andre for Pina’s benefit. They lived their lives to the fullest, always with hope that one day mother and son would be reunited.
Spring – 1953
After Pina’s death, Joe had written to Andre, requesting a chance to speak with Peter. Now Joe sat in his library, holding the letter he had just received. It had been sent third class, so it was a good week old. The house was very still, and Joe weighed the option of simply burning the letter compared to actually reading it. Holding up a lighter, almost to the edge of the envelope, he tested his resolve and found it was still strong. In disgust, he tossed the lighter across his desk and tore open the envelope. Andre had written back.
“Pina left us, so now we leave her. I’m taking Peter to Istanbul. It is my homeland, and there will be family there for him. What little he knows of his mother will be replaced by his grandmothers and aunts. By the time you get this, we will already be on a plane.”
His hands shook as he lowered the letter to the desk. The few years he’d had with Pina had been the best years of his life. Joe dropped his head between his hands and took big breaths. He held them in his lungs until he thought they would burst, and then let them out, only to repeat this practice a few more times to calm his anger. He had been robbed by the cancer of a lifetime with Pina. Now he was robbed again, by the loss of her son.
When Joe lifted his head to stare at the windows across the room, he vowed to find Peter. Someday he would find him.
Winter – 1960 – Turkey
He stood smoking a cigarette, leaning against the wall of an old stucco building. It was three stories high, and the two windows directly above him belonged to his grandmother’s apartment. He was a lanky teenager – skin and bones, from what Joseph could see from across the street. His hair needed a good cut. And he needed to have someone knock that cigarette out of his hand.
“Peter?” The grandmother had come out on the balcony and searched up and down the streets, looking for the errant boy.
Joe felt a slow smile spread across his face as he watched the lanky teenager remain aloof and quiet, standing directly under his grandmother’s balcony. She could look all day in either direction, but if she didn’t look down, she would never see him.
“The boy is getting too smart for his own good,” Joe said to himself. He finished the coffee in his cup and left a little money on the table he had been sitting at for the last hour and a half. He had found this to be Peter’s address, but the boy hadn’t shown up until about fifteen minutes ago when he’d exited the building, apparently to have a smoke.
Grandmother had gone back inside, giving up on the boy. Joe took his time walking across the deserted road, his mind racing for a way to talk to the boy. He decided to take a shot with the Slovakian language.
“Can I have one of those?” Joe asked.
“Get lost.” Peter had not budged. His eyes, slanted with suspicion, spoke volumes.
“I can pay.”
“I don’t take strangers’ money.”
“Then you don’t know what you’re missing. That’s the best fun – to take a stranger’s money. Or hasn’t Andre taught you that?”
The use of his father’s name caught the boy’s attention and he looked up, startled. His eyes were brown, like his father’s, but his hair wasn’t as dark.
“And who are you?”
He watched Peter’s eyes narrow again, wondering, most likely, if he should remember the name.
“My father doesn’t know any Joes. I don’t want your money. Go away.”
“Can you keep a secret, Peter?”
Ahhhh, that got the boy’s attention. It was one thing for someone to know his father, quite another for a stranger to know his name. He had probably gone about life being as nameless as a fly.
“How do you know me?”
“I told you I could pay for the cigarette. Do I get one?”
“This is my last pack, and money is hard to come by. I’ve got to hang onto it as long as I can. How much are you offering?”
Joseph reached into a pocket and pulled out a gold coin worth fifty dollars. He grabbed Peter’s free hand and slapped the coin into it. He curled Peter’s hand over it, making it all look like a handshake. As he withdrew his grasp, he deftly pulled a cigarette from the pack.
Peter felt the coin. He slowly opened his palm until he saw a glimpse of the gold. He quickly closed his hand again and looked about him. Money of any kind was enough to get yourself beaten, but gold was enough to lose your life. Peter put the coin in a pocket and pulled out his matches to light Joe’s cigarette.
“Walk with me for a bit,” said Joe as he began to stroll down the sidewalk.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Joseph Grimaldi. I’m from the States. Kansas to be exact.”
Peter screwed up his face, apparently thinking hard about the name this time. Joe guessed that it rang a bell, but was probably so foggy that Peter couldn’t place it.
“You used to live in the States too.”
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago.”
“How do you like Istanbul?”
Peter avoided the question and looked around. Joe felt his stomach drop. He should have fought harder to get custody of Peter. Pina would have been thrilled, but now he saw it was Peter who suffered the most from the separation.
“You have family here?”
“My father’s family.”
“What about your mother’s?”
“She wasn’t from around here.”
“Do you ever get to see anyone from her family?”
“Father says there was a war on. Most likely her family is all gone.”
Joe remembered when he was Peter’s age. He had lost family too. It was funny how he was just then realizing the pain never went away.
“I knew your mother.”
Peter stopped walking and turned in the middle of the sidewalk to stare at Joe. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the coin, careful to keep it hidden in his hand. He held it out to Joe.
“Take it back. I don’t want it. You’re filth!”
Joe looked at the hand curled into a fist, and then looked the boy in the eyes.
“I’m the reason your mother left your father, but she never meant to leave you, too. I wrote that letter.”
The boy may have been skin and bones, but he was lighting quick. Before Joe saw it coming, Peter had tackled him to the ground and had landed a few good punches into Joe’s stomach and face. He knew he deserved it, but he didn’t want to lose his teeth for it, so Joe blocked the next punches and eventually wrestled the boy off him.
They sat, sprawled in the street, breathing heavily and glaring at each other.
“You’re filth!” Peter spat at the ground near Joe.
“Maybe. You keep what I gave you. Your mother never knew I had it. It’s difficult to trust people with a secret like that.”
“What are you doing here?” Peter got up and started walking even further down the road. Joe hopped up and stumbled after him, rubbing the spot where his heart would be, the bullet from the war still lodged there. It bothered him when he exerted himself.
“Your mother and I wanted you. We tried everything that was within the law. They wouldn’t budge.”
“You carry around THIS? THIS you carry around with you, and you worry about the law?” Peter held up his fist with the gold again, furiously shaking it.
“That’s exactly why we worried about the law!” Joe was getting angry now. His chest hurt, and he was being challenged by this punk teenager who had been the true love of Pina’s life. He reached out and grabbed the back of the boy’s shirt and spun him around to face him.
“Your father was right! There was a war going on!” Joe growled. Lowering his voice even more, he continued, “People took risks without thinking of the consequences. They did things that changed their lives. People even died for what you hold there in your hand, and their secrets were buried with them. If it hadn’t been for that, your mother and I would never have met. And I wouldn’t be here now talking to your stubborn self.”
Joe felt his anger boil up, and he spat on the ground as if he could expel the ugliness in his memories. He shook Peter and let him go, and he paced in a circle before coming back to Peter and grabbing his shirt again.
“I could leave you here in this squalor to live your life without ever knowing what freedom tastes like. But your mother didn’t know what I was sitting on. She went along with the arrangements because I did. She never went one day without wondering how you were, where you were. That’s why I’m here now.”
Joe shook Peter once and let him go. He had to double over and catch his breath. Peter watched for a moment, suddenly looking like a scared boy again. He then looked around to see if anyone was watching from the neighborhood. Everyone was indoors or in their backyards. It was that time of day, too hot to be doing too much. People were not roaming the streets. Peter began to get an eerie feeling about this meeting.
“So what do you want?”
Joe stood up and looked around as well. When he was satisfied they were alone, he focused again on Peter.
“I can’t just steal you from your father. As much as I’d love to, after what Pina suffered, I can’t do that. And you’re getting too old to be treated like that anyways.”
Joe took a few more steady breaths.
“All I can do is to tell you you’re not alone. I loved Pina. I loved her regardless of how little time we had together. Kind of like you and her, no? She loved me back, but only with part of her heart. She gave most of it to you.”
They both stood awkwardly, looking away from each other for a moment. There was a sense of loss being shared even though they wouldn’t admit it.
“In a few years you’re going to have to decide what to do with your life. How are you at school?” asked Joe.
Peter’s face was blank for a moment before he let out a sarcastic yell.
“Ha! School? I stopped going two years ago. Where were you then?”
“You don’t go to school? Why not?”
“Money. It’s hard to come by. Unless of course you know a guy named Joe.”
Joe couldn’t help himself and grinned as he shook his head and looked at the ground. This was going to be easier than he thought.
“Well okay then. You need money. You need to get back into school. Who helps you with that? Your father?”
“He works. Grandmother stays home.”
“Okay. So, I need to talk to Grandmother then, no?”
“She won’t agree to anything without talking to my father.”
“Of course. I’ll do the talking. I didn’t finish my own schooling, but I have made my living for longer than you’ve been alive.”
Joe swung Peter around with him and walked back to the grandmother’s apartment. Peter was tucked just barely under his arm. It amazed them both how easy it was. Grandmother was only too happy to have someone vouch for Peter’s education. She began cooking and turned out a feast for Joe and Peter. They were both full long before Andre ever returned from work. By then, Joe had already left, with Peter and Grandmother swearing to keep the secret. An extra gold coin for Grandmother had sealed the deal.
Summer – 2013 – Northern coast of Africa
In an old broken down building, along the northern coast of Africa, a man in his mid-sixties with a full head of grey and brown hair was laying on a hard dirt floor. His five foot eight inch frame had withered to almost skin and bones. He hadn’t had anything to eat for a few weeks, and the water he had been given was making him sick. He lay curled in a ball, slowly rocking himself. Even so, he felt himself smile.
It had been a good life. For thirty years or more, he had been an architect and construction contractor. He had designed and built for the wealthy and the poor, for state buildings and for charities. The United Nations, the Peace Corp, and others had all sought his skill. He knew it wasn’t just his skill, though. They also sought his gold. Peter used gold-leaf within his designs. For the wealthy, they liked to look important. For the poor and their hand-carved religious icons, it added an awe-striking beauty to their creations.
Peter’s smile began to fade. He had worked all this time within the realm of his homeland and had never feared for his life, regardless of where or when bombs would explode. His last project had been to build a modest school for those that were willing to teach college level courses to women. That had been completed a little over six months ago. Shortly after that, he had been made afraid.
Boots were coming down the hall, dragging something with them. Peter rolled over to see them come through the doorway. His captors brought in a younger man – a foreigner. They dropped him on the floor and then left. Peter sat up and grabbed his aching stomach. He crawled to the other man and shook him.
The man’s face had been beaten badly, but when he opened his eyes, Peter saw the striking blue and knew he was not from around here.
Taking a shot in the dark, Peter asked in English, “Who are you?”
The man was barely able to focus on him, but spoke English too. “James.”
“I’m Peter. We need to talk.”
It was too late. James had passed out. Talking would have to wait until later.
Chapter 15 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/novel
About Annette Komma
Annette was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, from the Oakland community to the Seaman school district. In 1998 she married her husband Darin, and they have made Topeka their home. Authors she likes to read from include Erma Bombeck, Clive Cussler, Judith Krantz and Martha Grimes. In November of 2013, Annette participated in the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library’s “NaNoWriMo” writing challenge. Within one month she completed a short novel with a minimum of 50,000 words. She enjoyed the experience so much that she continued to follow other plans the library had for writers. This recent project is her first attempt to be part of a published work. She is very excited to be a part of the community novel and hopes the readers enjoy Superimposed as much as she has.
An Interview with Annette Komma
What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write? (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Genre?)
I don’t have an official background in writing. Sometimes I’ll be waiting in line somewhere or on a long road trip and an idea will pop into my head, and I’ll build around that. I think it would be best to say I write fiction and sometimes I’ll write a little poetry.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Are there books, poems, or stories that have inspired your own writing?
I think I take a little inspiration from just about anyone I read. I found sarcasm and irony when I read Erma Bombeck. With Shakespeare, I think I learned how beautiful and powerful language can be. I found Stanley Elkins a few years ago and I’ve only read the one book, “Pieces of Soap”, but I loved it and I want to read more. Lately I have really enjoyed reading Martha Grimes. I think she manages to have her characters develop pretty quickly, so I feel like I’m part of the story early on. And if I’m really looking for drama, I’ll pull out a Judith Krantz novel. I love them. They’re my soap-operas.
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
I’ve been looking for ways to test my writing skills. And I saw the library was putting this opportunity out there for anyone to try, so I thought I would give it a shot. I figured it would be a small way that I could get my feet wet, so to speak, with a project that would really and truly be put out into the public.
Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?
No; this is the first time I’ve ever tried to mold my writing in with other writers. I liked the challenge.
Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined? Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?
I write in bursts, typically. I can get a lot down on paper quickly that way, which is nice. I can also take my time and plan though too. When I sat down to write for this project, it was a little backwards for me. I didn’t want to write a bunch of stuff only to have to put all of that aside because it wouldn’t fit the story. So, I had to think first and write second.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project? What challenges you about them?
I love the premise of the story. It’s the kind of story I would pick up to read myself. I love Joseph Grimaldi because he is a character that knows who he is, even if we don’t. Holly is the opposite and seems relatable I think because of it. Having the story written a chapter at a time, each time by a different writer, is a challenge because we have no control of the other chapters. So not only do each of us have to write what we want to write, but we also need to be flexible enough to leave open ends for the other writers to lead off from.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
My jaw dropped. I really hadn’t expected that kind of a jolt just yet. It was a little bit of a rush though because if that chapter had not gone the way it had gone, I don’t think I would have put as much thought into what I was going to write.
What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?
The previous chapter made the characters move. So I wanted to be sure to keep the momentum going. I like that I made an effort to bring some threads of the story together a bit more. There are a few characters that we only briefly mention in earlier chapters and I tried to bring them back in a bit.
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
I like a story to have twists. I would like to see this story give us a well thought out turn at the end. At this point, we don’t even know if Holly will even be standing when it’s all over, and why or why not; and I think that’s something dramatic to look forward to.
What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects?
I honestly don’t know. I am always working on something; I’ve got a story set in an old folks’ home centered on a woman who isn’t sure she’s happy there, and another idea is about a pair of middle aged women with nothing better to do than travel and stir up trouble. My biggest challenge is getting them finished. This is my first attempt to get my writing out publicly, so if nothing else, I might be back for next year’s community novel. This was fun!