by Jerry Vilhotti
The second course consisting of white fish and cod filets, both covered with tomatoes, onions and garlic, strewn chunks of lightly burnt crusted Italian bread, broccoli rape, roasted potatoes fully browned, shrimp bathed in a red fiery hot sauce and lettuce with onions drenched in vinegar and a bit of olive oil — the too much vinegar should have been outnumbered two to one by the olive oil — brought on the initial hits to the father’s head by his very own hand. The first course of linguine with clams, a deep dish of bacalla that was smothered beneath broccoli and lastly octopi copulating with sardines swimming in a deep olive-oil lake — had gone well.
After the completion of all the eating, the father began tapping his forehead with a fork handle, blinking slightly after each hit as if contemplating something missing.
He wanted everything to be perfect in honoring the feast of seven fishes, even ignoring spilling of sodas and waters by the little ones and not going into a mini-rage: biting the side of his hand.
Like a thunderbolt from Zeus — it hit him!
“Where was the seventh fish?” he said as he tried very hard not to look at the visitor, “Mamasu,” the word he semi-invented to identify his wife’s mother which in the Appian way kind of dialect meant “her damn mother.”
Mamasu had been deposited by the father’s brother-in-law, whose face he had changed during a ten-minute fist fight when they were young men after the four-year younger Deo had told the guy with a reputation worse than the Babe’s that he was not allowed to see his sister, who said he had business in New Haven teaching a guy, who might have been his half-brother from the family his father had created years before naming all his USA children after the ones he left behind in the Mezzogiorno, on Wooster Avenue how to make real New York City pizza and would be back in a few hours.
That was said early the day before Christ was born.
“If it was up your nose — you’d know it!” This was said by Mamasu around seven in the evening of Christmas Eve.
Again the father repeated his question, only much louder, adding a mispronounced swear word, too, “Where is the facking seventh fish?”
His mother-in-law Mamasu volunteered her repeated suggestion once more.
All the adults tried to suppress giggles while some of the children giggled along to join the fun, not really fathoming the joke.
Nervously, his wife went through them all twice. Even the little ones tried to help in a tense way by counting on their trembling fingers while repeating their grandmother’s names of the various fish consumed and again all came up with the “universally lucky” number seven!
“Cod can’t be counted twice!” he said biting the back of his hand savagely to purple indentations resembling shark teeth.
This made everyone recount again which sounded like midnight prayers in a church but as hard as they tried for the miracle —they could only come up with six; the first number of the devil’s three sixes.
“Squid! There was no bitching squid! Remember Mama — you made a lot this morning!” ten-year old Johnny, the father’s favorite, said in American, knowing that swear words in that language had little shock value when heard by the older people thinking and speaking in the language of their birth; recalling his mother telling him that morning how she hated having to prepare all the smelly fish that was an invention of some pope being paid off by fishmongers to have it eaten on Fridays and holy days but even making it more prosperous for them by instituting the idea of eating seven fishes on the Eve of Christmas. Johnny did see with his own eyes her making a large platter.
“I confirm you the big jerk’s favorite brat!” Mamasu said as she threw water at the boy, simultaneously doing two sacraments and then adding a third by getting their eyes riveted to her mouth vehemently chewing a lump of white bread being captured by globs of spittle like churning waters, trying to show how ridiculous it was to perpetuate superstitions.
Then to add vinegar to her son-in-law’s open wound, she added with a tongue though boneless that could break bones, “You should have been aware of Greeks bearing gifts!” She was referring to her son Deo’s bringing of Bronx bread to a Connecticut that had no idea of how to make good crusty bread as if water had not been invented in Burywater so to steam the oven making the bread grow a crusty crust of dark brown.
The father turned sickly pale as he lifted his glass of wine with trembling hand to his twitching lips before saying, “For the love of God, take it out and we can have it with coffee!”
His wife’s shaking of her head with eyes closed tightly made him go into an anguished crying that had everyone at the table lower their eyes and head as if in prayer.
Recovering to get everyone’s attention, the mother blurted out, “Tommy Tom-Tom ate it this morning after he came in early this morning from his whoring around!” Then, she gripped the edge of the table with both hands as her two daughters and their husbands were pinching crumbs with trembling fingers from the surface of the table.
“Nothing left? Not even an inch? Why did you have to have calamari for breakfast?” the father shouted at his eighteen-year old son as he pulled his arm free of his grandson Larry’s tight grip to form a fist and then allowed it to make contact with his head that was readying itself for the upcoming haymaker.
“I didn’t know, Papa. I swear to God I didn’t know what I was doing. My leg was hurting me because I walked all the way from downtown,” Tom said, hoping his father had not heard the woman dropping him off with her husband’s car
“Pa! Pa! One of us had seven fishes on Christmas Eve — so it will count for all of us!” Johnny said trying to get his brother Tom off the cross for eating the calamari.
“I ordain you a Deacon!” his grandmother said doing another sacrament on the holy eating to show her contempt for the hypocrisy of people selling their souls out for possible benefits in the future. Then in a quick move she attempted to touch the body of Christ which was being herded by her daughter — far from her mother’s reaching hand that hadn’t been washed in days.
Though his older siblings, Tina of the Troy, Leny One-N and Tommy Tom-Tom (Alice had often protected Johnny from “them” making Johnny become the baby doll she had asked for), disliked Johnny immensely, they applauded his probable solution as they nervously awaited the father’s reaction.
The man nodded tentatively.
“Hey numb nuts — which thing is doing your thinking? The upstairs or the downstairs one with the one eye? Didn’t Christ say to deny nature was to deny your existence? Jesus, with all your falling into the smiles of any woman who could just about walk and talk at the same time — why can’t you forgive the eater of the seventh fish?”
The father closed his eyes so tears would not come to view and with a trembling voice he told his favorite child that indeed what he said had the wisdom of Christ in it, but he would nevertheless go to church every morning and place his envelope holding a dollar bill in the corporate money plate guarded by lit candles and the military-corporate partnership that would take over the country and then try for the world as the great Ike had forecast in his farewell speech and then hit his head with another mighty shot that made him slump back into his chair — as everyone grabbed for the fruits, chestnuts and shelled nuts.
The father awoke when Mamasu shouted, “If you believe that, I got a bridge that goes over the East River that the church fathers sold a million times to people who couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag and with the so-called leaders of the scam sold a nice Guy out Who was only trying to get us to love one another! Compassion is the mother of love!” Mamasu said and then proceeded to do the seventh sacrament by pouring olive oil over her head doing her last sacrament on the night before Johnny and Christ were born into a crying world.
Copyright © 2008 by Jerry Vilhotti