Lisa lifts the blind a tiny bit, just enough to check if the sun is still high. Her mother told her to stay inside until five, but she can’t read the clock yet, so she goes to the window to see if any of her friends are already out. She goes back to sit on her grandmother’s bed, making the rusty springs squeak, but her mum doesn’t mind as long as she doesn’t wake her little sisters up.
Lisa lifts the blind once again and this time she sees her friend Rosa in the courtyard. She’s standing in the shadow of the old fig tree, looking up at the kitchen window as if in doing so her friend could sense her presence. The two girls look at each other and wink. In a second Lisa is already running down the stairs, yelling at her mum that she’ll be back before dinner. And waking her sisters up, as always.
Lisa and Rosa have been friends since they were three, not a long time since they are not yet seven years old. Lisa’s big brother told her that best friends are always together and that’s exactly what she and Rosa do.
They live in a small village, perched on the side of a mountain, where there isn’t much to do, especially now that the dads and older brothers are at the Front. Of course, they don’t know where this Front is. They think that maybe it’s somewhere close to Rome, but they don’t even know where Rome is, they only know their village, the little church up, up in the mountain, and the fields around the village. For Lisa and Rosa, Rome is very far away, because their mums told them that it will take a long time before their dads come home.
The fields are their favorite place to play, and now that the grass is tall they barely see each other. They like the grass, and not just because it’s a good hiding place. They have already lost quite a lot of their invented toys; they hid them so well that it’s impossible to find them now. Rosa’s grandmother knows everything about the different kinds of grass, she knows all the names too, but Rosa only remembers a few of them: Baby Jesus Little Hands are the small pinkish flowers that point to the sky, as you do when you pray; Dandelion is the yellow flower that they pick to put in salads, its leaves are also good in salads. Red clover is sweet to suck, and Rosa remembers it because she has a sweet tooth.
On their way to the stream, Lisa picks a few white campion buds and, quick as a little fox, she bumps them on Rosa’s shoulder. Rosa lets out a shriek and starts laughing because she has a handful of barren brome leaves ready for her friend, she turns and throws them at Lisa. Who is not surprised: they always play this game, so they know that now they have to stop and count how many leaves are still attached to Lisa’s dress: one, two, three, four, and five, Lisa will have five boyfriends. Lucky her?
Down at the stream, there is an old mill that is no longer working, because the water is not as strong as it used to be. Kids are not supposed to go to the abandoned mill, but they love to go there to play, especially Lisa and Rosa.
Lisa and Rosa always do the opposite of what their mums say, sooner or later they’ll be in some trouble.
The old stone wall has many cracks because it’s old, grandpa says it’s older than his own grandpa. Even if the girls have never met him, they just believe what grandpa says, they always do. In the cracks of the wall, there are big bunches of lichwort, a strange plant with magic leaves. The girls know they are special, they discovered it one day when Lisa wanted to climb a wall to get inside the mill.
The leaves are sticky! You pick them one by one and you stick them to your dress, you can draw a heart, a flower, a house, and when you don’t like it anymore you can change and you always have a new dress. Isn’t it clever?
When Lisa and Rosa are satisfied with their new outfits they hold hands, and at the count of three, they dive backward in the tall grass and close their eyes. They imagine this Front place, where their dads are. Maybe they could visit and surprise them, they could decorate their shirts with the lichwort. They would be impressed and kiss them on the cheeks.
With their eyes still closed, chewing a long stalk of sheep-sorrel, the two girls imagine going to the Front by bike. They are the fastest of the village. They want to see this place because if their dads are still there, maybe they like it at the Front? The whole family could go there and finally live together again.
A sudden rumble in the distance startles them. They share a quick look and smile, they can’t be fooled anymore. It’s not real thunder, it won’t rain.