November 3, 2019


 She revealed with secret delight she had a cousin named Grace, in the US. Emigrated long ago yet faithfully writing, decade after decade. Such affection from someone who had upgraded, changed status (having moved to a part of the world meaning glamour and wealth, without need for verification) made her unbelievably proud. 

Grandma knew nothing about cousin’s finances or lifestyle, but the mere fact of being ‘American’ put her relative on a pedestal. Having thrived in a mythical land where all was magnified—people included—warranted her a sort of badge of honor, sparkling gold. 

Grace’s letters didn’t mention any kind of event. For what I recall they were just an orderly list of greetings. She addressed everyone she could think of on our side of the sea, on account of everyone who was there. Those endless regards filled Grandma with joy… You would have thought that she wasn’t cataloguing relatives, but reading the Torah, the Psalms—getting deeply in touch with her past and future, with the map of her human belonging. 

What I most remember of those flimsy missives is the signature on which Grandma lingered, ecstatic, probably as a means not to part from the whole experience.  She was puzzled by the G of cousin’s initial, traced in a slightly different style from what the nuns taught in school. That G read as an I. She wondered about the name Irace, with great awe. Strange—she said—did you notice? They don’t say Grace overseas! They say Irace. 

That sounded exciting, exotic, but alas I had a sense of Grandma being wrong. Lacking serious, old-fashioned calligraphy training, often hesitating on tricky capital letters, I could easily conceive handwriting ambiguities. I suspected cousin Grace to be cousin Grace on either side of the ocean. But I never told Grandma.

Truly, Irace would be a contradiction of terms, juxtaposing anger and sweetness. Who could be called that? Only a mythological creature, an amazon, a mermaid… Anything could happen, though, once you passed the Atlantic to never return. Sending back these things thin and precious, these black notes on velum, fragile threads creating the legend, stretched over oblivion.


About the Author

Toti O'Brien is an Italian accordionist with an Irish last name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, musician and professional dancer.

Her work has most recently appeared in OVS Magazine, The Adirondack Review, Colorado Boulevard, Mothers Always Write.

You can also find her here: