Lately the aunt’s food drop-offs have taken on a social character as she comes upstairs to hand deliver her gifts, rather than leaving them on the stairs for us to trip over. Tired and lonely, she sinks into one of the armchairs in our living room, stretching out her swollen legs and resting her head against the cushioned chair back, and in a voice fraught with exasperation, recounts her tales of woe to whoever will listen.
The other day she came bearing a single egg from one of her mandarin-fed chickens. She began her monologue as she always does, grousing about the workmen she hires to do maintenance on her property. After enumerating the multitude of tasks they had performed over the last few days, she paused for a few seconds, and then raising her voice, announced the amount of money they had asked to be paid. Her indignation was apparent.
Though I found nothing unreasonable about their price, I opened my eyes wide in feigned shock and said, “Davvero?!” (“Really?!”)
“C’aggia fa?!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms up into the air. “Nun cià facc cchiù!” (I can’t take it anymore!”)
I shook my head and sighed audibly.
Satisfied by my show of sympathy, she changed the subject and began to list all the food she had eaten since last I’d seen her. The aunt’s diet being rather repetitive, I started to daydream, but when I perceived a silent pause, I realized that she had asked a question.
“Che cosa?” I asked, scrunching up my face and pretending not to understand.
“Did I tell you about the cabbage soup I made?”
I was sure that she had told me about her cabbage soup at one time or another, but I wondered whether there were something different about this particular one. “No.” I told her.
“Really?” She asked, surprised.
I paused, pretending to search my memory. “No,” I told her, shaking my head.
She smiled, visibly pleased by the opportunity to recount her story.
“Last Friday, I had to see a doctor in Mondragone. They told me to be there at 10:30. I left at 10:00, because, I thought, how long can it take to get to Mondragone?”
I wondered what any of this had to do with cabbage soup.
She continued, “My doctor told me to go there. Do you know how many doctors I’ve seen? Nobody understands anything. They’re a bunch of fools.
“I found a beautiful cabbage at the market. It was really big! I made a soup of chickpeas, onions, and cabbage. I put the pot on the stove and turned the burner on, and then I left.”
I was alarmed by this, but I said nothing because I have grown tired of having my well-reasoned arguments dismissed out of hand.
“I left at 10:00. How long can it take to get to Mondragone?! Madonna Santa!” she exclaimed, “All the one-way streets and the stop lights, there were so many! I committed some infractions! By the time I arrived it was noon. I parked the car in front of the hospital and some old man told me I couldn’t park there!
“I had to ask where to find the doctor. There were so many people waiting outside her door! When someone came out, a woman stood up and walked to the door. I told her that I just wanted to ask the doctor a question, and she let me go in with her. When I went into the office I didn’t say anything. The doctor asked me who I was.”
Pointing to herself, the aunt giggled and said, “I’m your 10:30 appointment!
“And the doctor said, ‘Ebbè?'” (‘So?’) Now the aunt sat up straight in her chair, and looked down her nose at me, mimicking the demeanor of the haughty doctor.
“I told her again, ‘I have an appointment!’ And she said I had to wait my turn! So I said, ‘But my appointment is for 10:30 and it’s already past noon.’ She said it was my fault that I was late and that I had to wait. Madonna santa! My appointment was for 10:30, and I left the house at 10:00!”
I wondered how the aunt, having lived for so long, could have such a poor understanding of how things work. (Of course, I was about to be reminded yet again that the opposite was true.)
“‘Dottoressa,’ I said,” continued the aunt, “what about my cabbage soup?!”
“‘Signo’, the doctor began.
“I made a beautiful soup this morning. I put it on the stove before I left. I thought, how long can it take to get to Mondragone?! I left at 10:00. Now it’s going to be all burnt!”
The aunt began to laugh.
“What happened then?” I asked.
“The doctor saw me.”
“Così,” she said, with a wave of her hand. (“Just like that.”)
“But what about the other woman?” I asked, thinking of all the times people like the aunt have cut the line in front of me.
“The doctor told her to wait outside. When I got home there was smoke everywhere, in every room! The cabbage and chickpeas were black! It was a big pot of soup. I had to throw it all away. But what a beautiful cabbage! Managgia! That’s why I didn’t bring any cabbage soup last week.”
“Oh, I see,” I told her. I hadn’t been expecting cabbage soup.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured me, “I’ll make another soup next week if I find another nice cabbage at the market.”
“But what did the doctor say?” I asked.
“I have to go back next week for the results.”
“Just don’t start cooking anything before you go,” I suggested, half in jest.
“Why not? After all, now that I know the road, how long can it take to get to Mondragone?!” she protested.
I will never learn.