Candied Almonds on My Way to Rome

by Mariano Zaro

My aunt Alba invites me to her house for tea. Come through the back
door, she always says. She doesn’t serve tea. She serves liqueur that
she prepares in a decanter with cherries, cinnamon sticks, and
carnation petals. The carnations are just for color.

She is in her seventies. I am twelve or thirteen. My aunt fills the
glasses to the very top. Take your time when you drink, she says. She
is married to Emilio. My aunt Alba is twenty-five years older than
her husband.

We drink from little thimbles of thick crystal with my aunt’s initials
engraved in the center. The liqueur is the color of garnets. She also
serves candied almonds and chocolate-covered hazelnuts.

When they got married my uncle Emilio was twenty-six, she was
fifty-one. He was a widower and had two children under the age
of three. The liqueur echoes on your palate, like body heat in your
bed after you get up.

My uncle Emilio comes to the living room. He is tall, wears sun-
glasses. He rolls the sleeves of his white shirt. He has thick veins in
his forearms. I want to feel his veins on the palm of my hand.

The wedding was quiet, secretive. People did not approve of the
relationship. They were married in a small chapel at six in the
morning. My father and two other men signed as witnesses.

My aunt drinks slowly. She has long fingers. She asks questions.
Her questions make me feel older; they are from a place where I
have not been.

My uncle rests his hands on my shoulders. Come back soon, he says.
The liqueur makes me sweat. I rest my head on the couch. You can
take a nap if you want, he says. I drink a little more. He leaves the

My aunt shows me an old picture. This is a picture of our honeymoon,
she says. We went to Rome. Her hand holds the picture as you hold a
live butterfly.

Is this the only picture? I ask. Yes, it is, she says. But I remember everything.
Things I cannot tell you. She looks calm in the picture, wears a thin
coat with a belt made of the same fabric tight at the front. Emilio
is next to her. They look alike, like brother and sister. Now she
looks old, much older than him. I think she knows; that’s why she
doesn’t go out very often. That’s why she uses the back door.

You will go to Rome one day, she tells me. She gives me some candied
almonds before I go. I leave the house through the garden. It has a
large empty table where I sit for a moment. I eat the almonds, rub
my forearms against each other. I am drunk on sugar, liqueur, and
honeymoons. I cannot wait to go to Rome.

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