New Kid on the Block
It's 1899, and Calogero is new to Tallulah, Louisiana. He is
staying with some men he calls his uncles who run a grocery in town. He sees one
of his uncles, Francesco, get into an argument with a white man and then take out
a gun to try to scare that man into being nice to them. Carlo, his brother,
thinks this is stupid and dangerous. The scene for our story is officially set:
we're in the Jim Crow-era South, a
time and place where being Italian means being not white, and where being not
white brings a lot of danger with it.
Death of a Goat
Fear and power struggles between white men and Calo's
Sicilian family are the norm. The white men want to be treated like they're the
most important dudes around, but Francesco refuses to treat them any differently
from the way he treats his black customers. Francesco also keeps ignoring Dr.
Hodge's requests to keep his goats tied up at night.
The goat problem escalates, and as it does, it isn't just
Dr. Hodge who gets angrier—it's the white townsfolk in general. They don't like
that Calo's family treats black people like, well, people, and they don't like
that Calo's family refuses to defer to the white folks all the time.
The conflict comes to a head when Dr. Hodge loses his temper
and kills Francesco's goats. Francesco is too sad to do much about it, but Carlo—usually
the pacifist in the family—yells at the doctor, who responds by beating him up
and then trying to shoot Giuseppe. He misses, but then Giuseppe shoots the doc in
the leg in order to get him to stop beating his brother. Things are officially
beyond tense now, and the white townsfolk are out for Sicilian blood.
The Ugliest Word
The worst part is when Calo watches as an angry mob decides
to murder his uncles and Cirone in the slaughterhouse. Calo feels guilty and
desperate to save his family, but he can't; he's completely helpless.
Although he really
doesn't want to, Calo has to run away. With dogs after him and
the white men hot on his trail, Calo runs through a swamp and jumps into the
river just as the mob reaches the bank.
Joseph finds Calo and things slow way down. At Joseph's
house, Calo mourns his dead family and his life as he knows it, and he takes a
day to rest and eat and bum out while Joseph takes care of him. Then Joseph
sends Calo off with supplies, a canoe, and a plan for what to do next. Calo
might be emotionally gutted at this point, but the threats to his safety are fading
Rollin' Down the River
Calo floats down the river, thinking about how he will see
his brother again and about how someday, he'll return to Tallulah. The end.