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  • We're eating fruit at the dining table. Aunt Mary has gathered every breadcrumb from the tablecloth and has brought out the fruit, the coffee, the filberts.

    My father knifes off a slice of pear and hands it to my sister, who is sitting on his lap. "Jimmy, tell the kids about the time you were abducted." His sideways smile, his glance at me beside him betray his intentions.

    "What happened?" I haven't heard this one before.

    Uncle Jimmy's eyebrows lift into his cap, his eyes still looking down at the glass ashtray before him on the table. Carefully, slowly, he spins his cigarette with nicotine-yellow fingers, making its tip a perfect pencil point of ash. "Rosie, you don't know."

    He raises his eyes to meet mine across the table. "When I was a kid, I slept on a shelf in the wall. This is a true story."

    Aunt Mary touches her brother's shoulder. She can't wait. "It is true."

    "In Sicily, our house was stone, with big windowsills built in. There were a lot of kids. I slept on the shelf by the kitchen window, not in the bedroom. We always locked the door at night. Always."

    "Come on, Jimmy, always?" My father plays with his brother. It makes the story better.

    Aunt Mary looks at my father. "Always, he's right." She remembers this.

    "One night I got home late. I was eleven. I went to bed like always, my mother locked the door."

    My father bounces my sister on his knee, brushes broken filbert shells into a pile on the tablecloth. He is trying to hide his laughter, but he does a terrible job.

    "You don't know, Sal, you were sleeping. I went to bed like always. The door was locked." He lifts the cigarette, squints his eyes, takes a drag.

    "It was." Aunt Mary can't help herself.

    "But when I woke up, I was cold." The eyebrows go up. The hand waves the cigarette. "I looked up and I saw a dog. I was in the street!" Uncle Jimmy lowers his head for emphasis, his eyes looking directly at me now. "When I went to the house, the door was still locked." The cigarette returns to the ashtray. Uncle Jimmy looks down and sharpens the cigarette again.

    "Jimmy, Jimmy. So what happened?" My father isn't trying not to laugh anymore. "Did a ghost take you through the wall and move you into the street?"

    "What, you think it's funny? It's true!" My uncle stands up, still spinning the cigarette, and pounds the table with his free hand. "Sicily's an old place, you don't question the ghosts." He burns his eyes into me as he leaves the now dead but still conical cigarette and walks past the table to the living room sofa, where he will sleep until the kids come in to watch TV, the table is cleared again, and it is time to play cards.

    Aunt Mary and my father can stand it no longer. They laugh, their bodies shaking in rhythm, and Aunt Mary leans over the table to whisper to us kids. "My sisters and I put him there. Don't tell him."

    This is the first time I have heard the story. But it is not the last.
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