Made (Forever 0.4)


by J.M. Darhower

PROLOGUE

A drizzle fell from the overcast sky, the asphalt glistening from the spiteful evening rain. Barricades were set up around the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, leading from the front entrance, down the sidewalk and to the curb, a pseudo-red carpet of drab concrete. Hoards of people pressed against the flimsy metal railings, waiting with bated breath, as more gathered across the street. The overflow surrounded the 53-foot tall sculpture on the plaza, the blood red structure jutting into the gunmetal gray air.

Some of the onlookers carried notebooks, others with their finger on the button of old tape recorders, while black cameras hovered above the crowd. They all watched, and waited, and watched, and waited, for the man of the hour to show his face. Optimism shined from their vigilant eyes, but they’d be disappointed.

He’d give them nothing.

He saw them before they saw him. He’d expected the media to be circling like vultures, ready to pick him apart like dying prey, but the protestors and so-called ‘fans’ puzzled him. It seemed society suffered from a case of amnesia, desensitized to men like him. Even the high brought on from a 'not guilty' verdict in such a high-profile RICO case wasn’t enough to ease his tension when he saw how many had gathered for a glimpse of him.

Inhaling deeply to steel himself, Corrado Moretti opened the door and stepped out into the dreary evening to face their judgment.

Flashes of bright light blinded him as cameras went off in rapid succession. Bitter bystanders threw out insults while relentless reporters shouted questions… the same vexing questions asked every other time he found himself here.

“How do you feel?”

“Did you do it?”

“Are you innocent?”

“Can you tell me what really happened?”

Ignoring them as usual, Corrado kept his expression blank and head down. Flanked by armed security, his lawyer by his side, he led his wife, Celia, to a black Chevy Suburban idling along the curb. The trek took only a few seconds time, but an eternity dragged by with him stuck in the spotlight.

Corrado ushered Celia into the back of the awaiting vehicle when a female voice called out from the crowd. It was quiet, not as pushy as the others, but the words she spoke made him pause.

“What made you this way?”

He blinked away the light rain as it hit his long lashes, and after decades of no comment, he finally… finally… broke his silence.

“Sweetheart, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

1

Soft cries filled the dim kitchen, a light above the stove illuminating the woman's gray-streaked hair and tear stained cheeks. It was early morning hours—three, maybe four. A turkey already cooked in the oven, while can goods and half-made pies covered the vast counter space, the food temporarily forgotten as the woman sat at the bar, sobbing.

It was Christmas, and seven-year-old Corrado Moretti couldn't sleep. Not because he was anxious for presents or because he wanted to catch Santa in the act. Those things might've kept other kids awake, but they meant nothing to him. Christmas to the Morettis meant a long church service and an even longer family dinner, two things Corrado hated more than anything.

No, he couldn't sleep because his parents had been fighting all night, screaming down the hallway from his bedroom. He hadn’t even known his father had come home until he heard the unmistakable sound of his mother hurling things, shattering glass all over their room as she berated him for whatever he’d done while away.

Corrado stood in the kitchen doorway, staring at the troubled woman. Had she heard the fighting, too? “Why are you crying, Zia?"

She startled, wiping her tears as she jumped to her feet. "I didn't hear you."

"Did you get hurt?" he asked. "People cry when they're hurt."

"No." She hesitated. "Well, yes. You could say I'm hurting."

"Do you need a Band-Aid?"

The sadness remained in her eyes, but her dimpled cheeks flickered with amusement. “A bandage won’t help. I'm hurt on the inside.”

“Why?”

“I miss my family."

“You should go see them.”

“It's not that easy.”

Seemed easy to him. “If you don't want to be here, go.”

“But leave you?”

Corrado shrugged. He didn’t want to be there either. “I’ll be okay.”

Zia offered him a small smile, a hint of brightness in the dark room. Wordlessly, she filled a small cup with tap water and handed it to Corrado before leading him upstairs, the two of them tiptoeing down the hallway. Whimpers filtered out from the crack under his parents' door, soft cries and whispered words. Zia covered Corrado’s ears as they passed, taking him straight to his back bedroom.

"They were fighting," Corrado said. "It was really bad."

"I know," she said. "I hoped you and your sister would sleep through it.”

“I think she did.” Corrado climbed into his bed. A small lamp lit up the space around him, illuminating a poster of the Chicago White Sox behind his head. “Katrina sleeps through everything.”

“Yeah, she usually does.” Zia pulled the blankets around him to tuck him in. “You two may be twins, but you’re nothing alike.”

"Mom says she’s the good one. She likes her more than me.”

“That’s because Miss Erika’s an idiot.”

Corrado’s eyes widened, an abrupt laugh bursting from him. He covered his mouth to muffle the sound, not wanting his parents to hear.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Zia said, shamefaced, “but you're a good kid. You have a heart of gold, Corrado.”

“If that were true, my mom would love me… or somebody would.” Corrado frowned, too upset to go to sleep. "Will you tell me a story? Please?"

Zia hesitated before sitting down on the corner of the bed beside him. "Hmm, have you heard The Steadfast Tin Soldier?"

Corrado shook his head.

"Well, let's see… a little boy, around your age, got a set of toy tin soldiers for his birthday," she started. "One of the soldiers was different from all the others—he only had one leg. That flawed soldier noticed a pretty, paper ballerina. She stood on a single leg too, and the soldier instantly fell for her. He thought she must be like him and could understand his struggle. It was love at first sight."

Corrado grimaced. Zia chuckled at his childish reaction, pressing her pointer finger against his scrunched up nose as she continued.

"Although he loved her from the first time he saw her, he said nothing. He couldn't. It wasn't in his nature, you see. He's a soldier, and soldiers don't show their feelings. So he chose to watch her from afar. That first night, a goblin warned the soldier to keep his eyes off the ballerina, but the soldier ignored. Can you blame him? He was smitten! The next day, a gust of strong wind sent the soldier falling from a window and into the street below. Two little boys found the soldier, stuck him in a paper boat, and sailed him straight into the gutter."

"Why?"

Zia shrugged. "Why do you boys do anything you do? The boat washed right into a storm drain, where a filthy rat demanded the soldier pay a toll. The soldier ignored him."

"His nature again?"

"Of course," she said. "He was worn and tired by then, but he kept on going. He never gave up. The boat washed into a canal, where the tin soldier was swallowed by a fish."

"What kind of fish?"

"A big one? I don't know. All I know is that fish was eventually caught and cut open, and the tin soldier found himself once again standing on the table near that paper ballerina."

Corrado's expression lit up. "He made it back home!"

"Yes, but..." Zia eyed him peculiarly, as if contemplating whether or not to go on. "...the little boy threw the tin soldier straight into the stove."

Gasping, Corrado's eyes widened. "What?"

"The soldier thought he had lost the ballerina forever, but a gust of wind blew her into the fire with him... maybe the same wind that blew him over the ledge to begin with. She was consumed at once, burning to ash right beside him, as the tin soldier melted into the shape of a heart."

Corrado gaped at the woman as she finished the story, horrified at the ending. "They died? That makes no sense!"

"Oh, it makes plenty of sense," Zia said. "Maybe someday you'll understand it."

She softly kissed his forehead, ruffling his untidy dark curls, before heading for the door. She glanced back at him as he snuggled with his gray Batman comforter. “Get some sleep, okay? No more getting up.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And Corrado? I can’t speak for your mother, but I can say for sure that someone does love you.”

“Who?”

“Me, little man. I love you.”

She walked out, shutting the door behind her. Within a matter of minutes, the silence swept Corrado away. He slept hard, dreamlessly, but was startled awake hours later by an eruption of noise. Curses echoed through the house, footsteps running the hallways and all around downstairs. Corrado rubbed his tired eyes as his bedroom door flew open and slammed into the wall.

Erika Moretti appeared, eyes wild, breathing shallow. “Is she in here?”

“Kat?” Corrado guessed.

“No, not Katrina. That bitch of a slave!”

Corrado blinked rapidly. Zia?

Erika groaned at his prolonged silence and stormed away without demanding a response. Alarmed, Corrado climbed out of bed and made his way downstairs. His father, Vito, stood at the bottom of the stairs, leaning against the banister as he puffed on a thick cigar, his favorite gray fedora slightly cockeyed on his head. Corrado paused beside him, eyeing the man warily. There were claw marks on his cheek.

“Hey, kid.” Vito's voice was steady, as cool as could be. “How long has it been? Two weeks? A month?”

“Since Thanksgiving.”

“That’s what I thought,” Vito said. “You look like you’ve grown a foot since then. You keep it up, you’ll be taller than me.”

Corrado stared at him, unsure of what to say. Wrinkles marked the man’s weary face, more than Corrado remembered there being. Maybe they both changed some while he was away.

His mother burst in the front door from outside then, her bare feet dirty, her eyes even wilder than before. “She’s gone! There’s no sign of her anywhere!”

“Zia?” Corrado asked.

The lone word set Erika off. She snatched Corrado’s arm and violently yanked him toward her, shaking him. “Zia? Aunt? That woman isn’t your goddamn family, boy. She’s nothing, you hear me? Nothing!”

Tears prickled his eyes. “Yes.”

“Calm down, Erika,” Vito said. “Leave him alone.”

“Calm down?” Letting go of Corrado, she turned her rage on her husband. She punched him in the chest, knocking him roughly back against the winding banister. “Are you deaf? The bitch is gone!”

Vito continued to puff on his cigar, his face a mask of indifference. “She won’t get very far.”

Erika stalked upstairs, her feet like steel against the wooden floor. Once she was gone, Vito pushed away from the stairs. “Merry Christmas, kid.”

“Merry Christmas, Dad.”

“Maybe after this clears up, we’ll play a little ball later,” Vito said. “How about that? Just you and me.”

They didn’t go to church that day. Corrado stayed in his room, clad in his worn Batman pajamas all morning and afternoon, reading books and playing with his toys.

Best Christmas ever.

Around nightfall, another commotion rocked the house. Corrado made his way downstairs again, finding the front door wide open. Curiously, he crept onto the porch, his bare feet abruptly stopping at what was happening.