The phone rings. I answer it. “Pronto,” I say.
“Pronto!” barks the aunt. I roll my eyes.
“Aunt?” I say.
“Pronto Nicò!” she shouts, calling me by the nickname she uses for my husband. “I left some fish.”
“Yes, I know,” I tell her. In fact, earlier in the day I nearly tripped over a small red and white plastic container that had been placed on one of the steps leading downstairs. As I lifted the container to inspect it, a fishy odor announced its contents, and made me afraid to examine them.
“How are you going to cook it?” she demands.
“It’s raw?” I ask, alarmed. I remember the whole fish she once left, wrapped only in a white plastic bag, and wondered if I’d have to leave yet another surprise in BIL’s freezer upstairs.
“No, it’s cooked. How are you going to serve it?”
I try to imagine all the possible answers to that question, but can think of just one: “On a plate.”
Apparently it is not the right answer. “What?!” she asks, incredulous.
I decide to have some fun with my next attempt. “In a bowl.”
“Serve it with spaghetti!” she commands.
“I can’t. We’re having tagliatelle with mushrooms and speck.”
“That’s even better, use the tagliatelle.”
“But I’m making them with mushrooms and speck,” I remind her.
“Serve the tagliatelle with the fish instead.”
I don’t know whether to be more offended by the idea that I shouldn’t be allowed to choose what to cook for dinner in my own house, or by the orders and inquiries that follow every gift this woman makes. I have wanted to tell her just that, a thousand times, perhaps, but I know that the only result would be an angry call from N, demanding to know why I have been disrespectful to his aunt.
“Then what am I supposed to eat?” I ask her. Six years of conversations about how I can’t eat fish, and we are still at square one.
“Then serve it with bread,” she says, adding, “it’s better that way.”
“We don’t have any bread,” I am pleased to tell her. I can sense that an old Italian lady’s head is about to explode.
“Then you must serve it with spaghetti. Don’t cook it for too long.”
“The spaghetti?” I ask.
“No, the fish!”
“I thought you said it was already cooked.”
“It is, I meant to say, don’t reheat it for too long, or the fish will be tough. Take the fish out of the sauce before you reheat it for the spaghetti.”
“What spaghetti?” I ask, feigning ignorance.
“I meant the tagliatelle,” she says, exasperated.
“This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to dump the fish in a pot and heat it up, and then I’m going to dump it in a bowl and serve it as a second course. Because we’re having the tagliatelle with mushrooms and speck.”
“Well, serve it with bread, then.”
I consider the comic possibilities of “But we don’t have any bread,” but at the last minute, I remember her high blood pressure, and feel a slight stirring of compassion. “Yes,” I tell her, “that is exactly what I will do.”
“Va buo’, ciao ciao, ciao ciao.” she says
“Ciao zia! Grazie tantissimo!” I respond with exaggerated politeness.
“Non c’è di che!” she tells me, obviously self-satisfied. “Don’t mention it!”
Oh, someday I will, zia. I guarantee it.