I have never seen so much blood in my life … which isn’t saying much, considering I am only 7 years old. Regardless, I am horrified as I watch the blood pour out of my kneecap from three different deep scrapes.
I sit dumbfounded for a good 10 seconds, silently watching the crimson cascade down my leg before I feel the sting.
Once the pain comes, the tears follow.
I close my eyes and through increasingly pathetic sobs, I call out for my older cousin — who apparently hasn’t realized I am no longer trailing behind her.
“Rosaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnaaaaaaa! Come back! I … I … I … f-f- fell!”
Rosanna’s dark, wavy hair whips around her face as she stops short and turns toward me. As soon as she spots me sitting on the ground, she bursts into a sprint, just as it starts to rain. By the time Rosanna covers the 500 yards between us, the sky has completely opened up and I am a sobbing, soaking, bloody mess.
“I tr-tr-tripped! On that branch!” I point at the offending stick.
“Okay, well let’s go home and take care of that.” I expect her to be annoyed with me. We were supposed to be walking to the video store to rent “Grease 2,” but if she is frustrated, she doesn’t show it.
“I wish my mom was here!”
“Well, she’s all the way in Boston, and we’re here in Queens … so let’s go home. My mom will clean you up and you can call her, okay?”
Reluctantly, I push myself to my feet and hobble back to my aunt’s house. As we make our way up to the front gate, a crack of between rings out and Rosanna and I both scream. Rosanna runs ahead of me, through the lion statues that flank the front gate, while calling for my Zia Rosalba.
I follow — slowly — still sobbing. As I limp down the long hallway toward the kitchen, I pass the forbidden white room: a glamorous living room in which I’ve never been allowed to set foot. In addition to white plush carpeting and luxurious love seats, there is a glass cabinet that displays colorful crystal figurines just begging me to take a closer look. As I gaze at the forbidden room of treasures, I remember I am trailing blood behind me. I veer toward the other side of the hallway and keep my distance from the white carpet.
As I approach the kitchen, my aunt comes rushing towards me. “Daniela, what happened?”
“I tripped! On a branch!”
She ignores the fact that I’m covered in blood and gives me a big hug. As she helps me into a kitchen chair, I realize I’ve ruined her shorts. After she cleans out the wounds, she covers the cuts with four band-aids, which I immediately bleed right through.
“Why won’t it stop?! Make it stop!”
“You just have to wait and be patient, Daniela. It will stop.”
At that moment, the doorbells rings and a few moments later, Rosanna finds us in the kitchen with a middle-aged woman I’ve never met before. She is dressed in mom jeans and a mustard-stained white t-shirt. At least, I think it’s mustard. Rosanna explains that this is the next-door neighbor.
“Hi there. I saw your fall from my window. Are you okay?” Her voice is raspy but sincere.
“Not really. The bleeding won’t stop.”
Mustard turns to my aunt. “I’m sorry to barge in, Mrs. Pisicchio, but I wanted to check in on your niece. You know, I have a foolproof trick for treating deep cuts like this. I use it on my boys all the time. Stops the bleeding lickety-split.” She snaps her fingers on the last word.
At that moment, my Zio Mario strolls nonchalantly into the kitchen. Like most of the Italian men in my family, he works long, hard hours. In fact, he’s usually asleep at this time in the afternoon — a break between his shifts. Apparently, the commotion woke him from his nap. He looks around the kitchen and casually takes in the scene.
“Ma hat the hell happened?” He asks calmly in a broken English slang that is all is own.
“Daniela fell down outside. This is the neighbor from the across the street, you remember? She is explaining a trick to stop the bleeding.”
He shrugs his shoulders as to say, “Va bene.”
He takes a seat at the head of the long kitchen table. We all turn expectantly toward Mustard.
“Yes, well, my boys fall and scrape themselves ALL OF THE TIME. When the bleeding is bad, I take a slice of wonder bread and lay it across the wound. And then, I pour a cup of milk over the bread and let it sit. That usually stops the bleeding.”
My cousin Rosanna covers her hand with her mouth and snickers. Zia Rosalba has a better poker face; she just silently nods and smiles. I’m bleeding through the new set of band-aids so I’m game for this little home-ec project. I’m about to say, “let’s try it,” when Zio Mario breaks the silence.
“Wonder-a Bread? Che cosa wondera bread?”
My aunt explains in Italian, “Pane americano … lo sai. Pane bianco e morbido.”
“Ahhhhhh. Okay.” He turns toward the neighbor and claps his hands a few times in applause. “Tank you very much!”
Zio Mario quickly ushers the weird woman out of the house. While he’s seeing Mustard out, Rosanna erupts into giggles, “She wants to make French toast with your legs!” Despite my misery, I start to laugh as well.
Zio Mario saunters back into the kitchen. He says something to my aunt in dialect that I don’t understand, and then turns to my cousin.
“Rosanna, go make Danielle a chocolate milkshake. I’ll take care of this blood.”
Both my aunt and cousin look skeptical, but follow Zio Mario’s lead.
“Are you gonna do that bread and milk thing?”
“Noooooo, we are going to fix this the Italian way. And then you can have a milkshake.”
“You know the word, ‘ubriaco’?
“It means ‘nnn-drunk.’ We are going to get your knee ubriaco and then it will be so happy — the bleeding stops! I’ll be back.”
He disappears into the basement and is gone for just a few minutes. When he returns he is carrying a jug of homemade wine.
“Vedi? We are going to pour this on your knee and get it drunk.”
He spends the next 10 minutes dabbing my cuts with a paper towel soaked in homemade wine. In between gulps of Carvel chocolate milk shake, I tell my uncle about how I fell. He listens as I ramble on and on about the branch and my tumble and the rain. He chuckles every so often and I’m delighted that I am able to make him laugh. When you have Zio Mario’s attention, you feel like you are the only person in the world.
About 20 minutes later, the bleeding does eventually stop and I decide my uncle should have been a doctor.
Later that afternoon, my mother calls and I tell her the whole bloody saga — how I almost died, the arrival of the Mustard lady, and Zio Mario’s drunken cure. While she is sympathetic to my pain, she is horrified that my uncle has wasted his homemade wine on my knee. She instructs me to hang up the phone, go find my uncle and thank him again for his help. She also tells me to stay out of the white living room. I hang up and find my uncle outside, putting chlorine in the pool.
“Whatsu matta? You bleeding again?”
“No, I just wanted to say thank you. And I’m sorry you had to waste your wine. I know you worked really hard on that.”
“Ohhhhh … what a cute. Ma non ti preoccupare, Daniela. I’m smarter than that. It wasn’t my wine … it was a jug your dad brought the last time he was here.”