Chapter 22: Family

Its blood, it’s friendship, it’s at work, home, it’s love.

It’s there when you need it no matter what.

When her mother was pregnant with her she didn’t know what to do. Her relationship was fading and he didn’t want to keep the baby. Her mother called her brother crying, asking for advice as what to do with the life inside of her. Her brother pointed out that a man can always leave you, but what’s inside you now, is, and always will be your family….forever.

Michele had abandoned her at the sink with Erika, who wouldn’t stop talking. She was grateful for this as it meant that she had to talk less. Also, she was rambling on in Italian. Were it not for the extreme hand gestures miraculously slipped in between the potato peeling she would have been lost. Four huge pots were bubbling on the stove. More wives had entered the kitchen at the same point when the last minute subs entered the pitch on the TV. Eighty-fifth minute, time for that little bit of extra help to win the game.

One of the wives handed Erika a wine and hurried her away from the sink as they dumped out the steaming pasta. The kitchen became a sauna. The game ended and the men stumbled to the table. The women were running around as if to a stopwatch and a husband would sneak a kiss in here and there. They beat off the kisses with smiles and adjusted their aprons.

“Go, go…vai” Erika insisted while she untied her apron and beckoned one of her sons to take her to the table. Then there she was again, sat alone with five guys. She sat there awkwardly while they stared at her like a bush baby and she smiled back in silence.

“Capisce Italiano!!?” The one guy yelled at her, convinced that if he said it louder it would increase her comprehension. She wobbled her head and smiled harder. Michele must have thought she was really cool.

“Si Papa” confirmed the younger brother as he pulled himself up to the table. He continued to tell the story of how they’d met at the beach and how she can speak Italian but only to little people and maybe dogs. Then the boy grabbed the carafe with two hands and topped up her wine. She winked at him with gratitude. Michele smiled at her with pride but he didn’t rescue her. She didn’t need a prince, she needed a challenge.

The brigade of wives marched in with plates, pots and bowls in hand.

I Primi.

The first course in Italy is pasta. Pasta is its own language and religion, a passion passed on, a time-consuming activity that has been created and mastered by Nonna after Nonna after Nonna. There are over four hundred types of pasta. Keep the pasta family in the family.

Finally, they were all seated. Let the games begin. A game it was! Dodge that bowl, toss that spoon, spin that plate. All of her senses were heightened.

Of course, everybody has their favourites.

Riccardo (Younger Brother)

“Dammi I Spaghettini al Olio” 

Spago means rope or lace. So this is mini laces with garlic and oil. Quite ironic as he only just learnt how to tie his own laces.

Francesco (Drunk Alpino uncle who wasn’t quite sure which niece’s house he was at)

“Io il Orrechiette al Broccolino”

Pasta shaped like little ears with a broccoli puree. Also ironic as his ears were huge as was his nose and his laugh.

Zia Mathilda (A proud stout woman whose husband was currently unknown as all hands feared her)

“Fusili al pesto per favore”

Named after a Fuso, a spindle used by the spinners to create twists.

Erika (The tired sister)

“Penna Arrabiata per piacere!!”

The pasta is shaped after a quill and the slightly spicy sauce after the rage. Fitting as she wrote anger perfectly. 

The Italians ate the pasta at Olympic speed. She was still figuring out her fork. They all spoke too! Eating and speaking without thinking. They’d all already finished their plates and now even more food was coming out.

Pasta Fear: The fear of not being able to eat pasta as quick as Italians. 

The women were up and down like meerkats and the men enjoyed their bellies as they leaned back in their chairs. More plates were filling up the table.

White asparagus with truffle and Spezzatino al Boscaiolo with Porcini mushrooms. Oh boy, now she was sweating under the pressure. Eat faster eat faster. Zia Mathilda sat down next to her and concentrated on the small beads of sweat forming on her forehead. This scared her even more. Zia Mathilda had the presence of a warrior Goddess mixed with Yoda. So much strength and knowledge it oozed off of her and into the air.

She scooped some food onto her plate and took her fork out of her hand and placed it onto the table. She said nothing and just stared out at the huge table. Michele and his cousin were arguing about football and little Riccardo was trying to join in but Michele just kept pushing his head away. The other brother was crawling over Erika while she was trying to eat and listen to Francesca’s story about the argument she had over Asparagus this morning. Franco was asleep. The other wife was buzzing around the table filling up plates and glasses and had already done three laps in two minutes. The combination of their yelling voices created its own song. All of the sounds came together like a musical web suspended in her head and for a moment it felt like time stopped. She wanted it to stop, she wanted to be in that chaotic moment forever where nothing and everything was perfect.

Assuming her silent lesson had been taught, Zia Mathilda picked up the fork and handed it back to her.

“Mangi. Sei in Famiglia” She whispered as she turned around and swiftly tapped Riccardo on the leg for climbing over the table to reach more pasta.

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