“Yes, I know. Linate,” I say.
“No, the other one,” says the aunt, derisively.
“Malpensa?” asks N, surprised.
“No,” the aunt says, “the other one.”
“Fiumicino?” he suggests, laughing.
“No, it isn’t that one either,” she says, refusing to acknowledge the joke.
A while later, she indicates a field of poppies and asks, “What are those flowers?”
Still annoyed, I hesitate to answer.
“They look like poppies,” N tells her.
“Yes, they are,” I say.
But the aunt is not convinced. “No. Those are not poppies,” she says. “They are too small and too dark, and their petals look doubled.”
“Maybe that’s because they aren’t completely open yet,” I suggest.
The aunt, ignoring me, wonders aloud what they can possibly be.
I begin to doubt myself and spend the next few minutes squinting at distant red flowers. They are poppies.
Some time later, when we exit the highway, we come to a stop alongside a field of red flowers.
“Look,” I say, glad to see them up close. “They’re poppies.”
“Yes, those are poppies,” says the aunt, “but they aren’t the same flowers.”
In the evening, the aunt calls to me across the dinner table. “I know what airport it is,” she says with a self-satisfied grin. “Linate.”
All eyes on me, I cannot help myself. “Yes, that’s what I told you,” I say with a fake smile.
The next day she stops me as I pass her in the hallway. “I know what those flowers were,” she tells me proudly.
“They were poppies.”
“Yes, that’s we thought they were.” I remind her.
I spend the rest of the day avoiding any conversation that begins with a question asked by the aunt.
Later we have dinner in a grand restaurant to celebrate our nephew’s First Communion. The aunt wonders aloud whether there is too much cheese in the risotto.
It is perhaps the lightest risotto I have ever eaten. I tell her so. “It doesn’t have very much cheese at all,” I add.
“I don’t eat much cheese and I know when something has a lot of cheese in it.” she insists.
“But this doesn’t,” I tell her, despite the voice in my head singing, la la la la la la. I’ve had a long day of holding my tongue.
N turns to me and says, “She is saying that she is sensitive to the presence of cheese because she doesn’t eat it.”
“Does it seem like it has a lot of cheese to you?” I ask him. “Aunt,” I tell her, “if you’re that sensitive, a little will seem like a lot.”
She will not hear of it. “This rice is creamy,” she protests. “You can see the cheese!”
I have been waiting for this moment. This is a game I cannot help but play. I explain risotto to her. Her eyes are glassy by the time I get to the word amilopectina. (Let me say in my defense that I become a pedant only when someone refuses to acknowledge that I know a thing.)
N decides to take another tack. “Aunt,” he tells her, “Karen often adds a lot of cheese to her risotto. She knows when there’s a lot of cheese.”
“Well, I wonder if they put too much cheese in this rice,” she says, starting from the top.
My head hurts. I realize that that I’m allowing an excellent dinner to be ruined. “La la la,” sings the voice in my head. I listen to it.
After dinner, one of the waiters brings a plate of cookies to Pata. Among them are five tiny meringues. The aunt picks one up and asks, “What is this?”
“La la la la la la,” says the voice. I give a meringue to Pata, and then another.
“Mommy, these are good good,” she says. She takes one from the plate and gives it to me.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the aunt staring quizzically at the meringue. She catches my sidelong glance. “Chissà che cos’è,” she says. (“I wonder what it is.”)
I’ve never been much for listening to voices. “I don’t know what it’s called in Italian, but in English it’s a meringue,” I tell her.
She looks at me as though I am an idiot.
Sigh. What was that song again? My mother-in-law, who was fascinated by my discourse on risotto, asks me how meringues are made.
“With egg whites-”
“We have that too,” the aunt interrupts, “It’s meringa. But this isn’t a meringa,” she says, shaking the meringue at me.
“Believe me, it is. I just ate one.”
“No, this is something else,” she tells my mother-in-law.
“It’s a meringue,” I say, just for the sake of it.
A few seconds later, the aunt pronounces the final verdict. Speaking with a mouth full of meringue, she announces, “This is a meringa.”
I shrug my shoulders. “Se lo dici tu,” I tell her, (“If you say so.”)