The Sacrifice of Gemma (Skia)

Font: Skia (Greek for “shadow”)

Year created: 1994

Chapter: “The Sacrifice of Gemma”

Book: Little Ragdoll

Written: 4-7 December 2010

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

I really, really had been hoping to have finished Justine Grown Up by now so I could spotlight “Sing Blue Silver Snowstorm” on the S day, but I feel I made the right call to put that WIP on hiatus. But if you happened to be at the Duran Duran show in Hartford on 13 March 1984, “please, please tell me now!” I’d love to interview you so I can get firsthand details for the dramatic penultimate chapter.

So I went with Chapter 10 of Little Ragdoll. Oldest sister Gemma takes the lead here for the first time in the book. In the book’s earlier incarnation, Gemma was some one-dimensional snobby bitch who deserved to be forcibly married to some much-older abusive man. But in recasting these events so many years later, I really began to feel for her, and she emerged as a sympathetic character.

After she underhandedly divorced Francesco and aired all their dirty laundry at a family gathering in Part II, she was not permanently written out as I’d originally planned. I’d grown to kind of admire and like her, and wanted her to fulfill her deferred dream of going to college and to someday marry for love and have children she wanted. Given the circumstances she’s been raised in, the oldest of nine unplanned children in a poor Lower East Side family, how could I hate her for wanting to get above her raising and spending all her free time working or with her friends? And it was just juvenile how I’d hated her for being a cheerleader. Stereotyping much?

Some highlights, so to speak:

“Whose car is that parked outside our tenement?” Gemma asks as they’re walking up Essex Street. “It’s not bad. You think we have a new neighbor?”

When they get to their tenement on the eighth floor, a greasy-looking man with a cold, hard face is standing in the living room and talking to their parents and Mrs. Troy’s former co-worker Mrs. Rossi from the third floor.  He turns to Gemma and smiles at her in a way that makes her sick to her stomach and gives her a foreboding of something very bad about to happen.

“Get used to saying, writing, and spelling it, since you’re gonna be saying and writing it a lot in the near future,” Francesco smiles. “Don’t you modern women wear clothes anymore?  I don’t want my future wife walking around wearing a bikini.  Go put some decent clothes on.” He walks over to her and smacks her on the behind very loudly. “Hustle it up, woman.”

“You heard your future master, girl.  Go to your room, change outta that revealing thing, and put on decent clothes,” Mr. Troy says.

“No woman of mine is gonna go to college.” Francesco spits on the floor, narrowly missing one of the chickens, who’ve finally begun to lay a few eggs. “What kind of disreputable institution is this that they admit girls?  Next thing you know, they’ll be teachin’ cows to drive!”

“I don’t approve of higher education for women.” Francesco slaps her on the behind again. “Nor do I approve of bikinis.  After you change, I’ll go through all your clothes and pick out the stuff I won’t allow you to bring to our new home together.”

Francesco smiles a partly toothless grin at her when she emerges.  Gemma wants to vomit when he coarsely grabs her face and forces a French kiss on her.  While this is happening, her parents and Mrs. Rossi are standing by without saying a word or even moving to pull Francesco off her.  Suddenly her happy day at the Hamilton Fish Park Pool seems like a distant memory that happened to someone else entirely.

Gemma stifles another urge to vomit. “I know I’ve said I’d like to marry an older guy, but I meant five or six years older, not twenty years older!  He’s old enough to be my father!”

“I saw posters on your walls and records next to your bed,” Francesco says, spitting on the floor again. “Those won’t be coming with you when you move in with me.  Elvis can’t sing or act his way out of a paper bag, and the only man you need to be dreaming about will be me, not Elvis, William Holden, Cary Grant, or Rock Hudson.  You won’t even have time to go to the movies or listen to your trash records when you’re running a household and birthing babies.”

Gemma grabs the papers and rushes into her room.  Her stomach lurches when she opens the box.  Francesco bought her a bunch of ugly, utilitarian, grandma-style bras and underwear, presumably to replace the pretty ones she has now.  The list of demands is handwritten in very sloppy printing.  Gemma isn’t too surprised to find Francesco doesn’t know how to write cursive, though she thinks her youngest sisters can print better than that, despite being at least thirty years his junior.

Lucine can’t decide whether to laugh or cry as she starts reading. “He wants you to clip his fingernails and toenails, brush his hair, bathe him, dress him, and light his cigarettes?”

“It doesn’t matter what the mother superior thinks.  She’s only a woman,” Father Raimundo says coldly. “I override her.  Why I could order all the nuns to walk around naked down Houston Street, and they’d have to obey me.”

Gemma grins and bears it as she’s walked down the aisle by her father, knowing she really is literally being given away to become Francesco’s property.  There’s nothing she can do about it now but plot revenge while pretending to smile and keep sweet.