Food For Thought

And there it was, simply bursting over his tongue. No one made eggplant Parmesan like Rosie.  No one.  

The flavor took him back; how long had it been? He took his time, eyes closed as if he were dreaming, savored the rich combination. Eventually he swallowed, then looked up across the table at Vito.  He had felt Vito’s eyes on him from the start.

“She teach you to do this?” Marco asked.

“No, it was in the freezer.” Vito broke his gaze and reached for his glass of wine.

It was hard to read the man.  One did not expect lighthearted banter or easy smiles from a friend who six months ago had lost his wife of 42 years.  However when said man invited you to travel over 400 miles to spend a weekend, one expected some sort of engagement–conversation, music, maybe even a short, stupid trip to the park if he wasn’t up to a round of golf. Instead there had only been days and evenings of clipped, dead-end conversations. Now, with just one more night until Marco’s flight home in the morning, Vito served up Rosie’s eggplant Parmesan. Why?

Marco hated his lack of sympathy skills, at a loss for what to say, what to do to make this less awkward. Rosie’s absence dangled between them like some ghost piñata.  Only they seemed to be trying hard not to hit it.  He had just taken the first swipe, though. Would anything fall out from this point? 

“No one has ever made this like Rosie.” Marco stabbed another piece with his fork, aiming closer at the same time.

“She said the secret was in sweating the eggplant,” Vito said.

“Nah. It’s her slow-cooked sauce.”

“Maybe. Funny, you’ve not eaten this dish in almost three decades yet you instantly recognize it as hers.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

Vito looked him in the eyes again, as though he were searching for something. Apparently he didn’t find it. “I suppose I would,” he said as he focused once again on his plate.

Marco placed his utensils on his plate and took a deep breath to steady his voice.  

“Look, Vito.  I wish I were better at this kind of thing. I’m sorry about Rosie. You must miss her terribly.  She was one fine and special lady.”

There.  That should rupture something.  Let the spilling begin. 

Vito once again looked Marco in the eyes. “You, my friend, know better than anyone else what it is like to lose her, don’t you?”

Marco’s heart seized in his chest, while the blood drained from his face. If he had known what to say, he still would not have been able to utter a word.

“It’s alright, Marco. No vendetta here.”

Marco’s body began to function again, cautiously. 

“I know what you did for us, those many years ago,” Vito said, as he grated fresh Parmesan over his plate.  He offered the grater to Marco.  Marco declined, wordlessly, and tried to resume his meal as though no deeply buried secrets had just been unearthed. Long shut-down feelings welled up alongside.  He stared at his plate and let a sea of emotion wash through him.  Amazingly his hand did not shake when Marco reached for his wine instead.

“I–I’m sorry, Vito,” he said, after a long drink and a deep breath.

“For what? For sacrificing your job, your home, starting over again miles and miles from where you grew up? For loving her enough to honor her? Those things you must never, ever regret.  Ever.”

“All these years, you knew?”

“Most of these years, I knew.  But I did not fully understand.  Not until now.”

“How?”

“Rosie told me.”

Marco sat back in his seat in disbelief. “I left so that there would be nothing to tell. We tried to stay away from each other…do the right thing. In the end, I had to leave.”

Marco could see this very table, draped in a pink tablecloth, morning sun filtering through the curtained window, lighting up the crystal vase and warming the pink carnation resting in it. He had focused on her long slim fingers clenched around her coffee cup so that they wouldn’t reach out for his, wouldn’t beg him to stay while her words agreed it was best that he left.  To this day her smile came into view every time he smelled a carnation, even though there was no smile for him that day.

“I know.” Vito’s voice brought him back. “I was such a self-centered pig in those days.  It’s a wonder she didn’t leave well before she began enjoying having someone–a real man–she could talk to, share things with.  I didn’t see her pain until she lost the baby.”

“There was a baby? Oh, Vito….She wanted so badly to be a mother. That must have been devastating–”

“Go ahead and finish.  —For her.  And I didn’t even know that.  Can you believe it?  Well, of course you can. I can’t understand how I could actually have felt lucky that our house wasn’t teeming with kids like our other Catholic friends’ homes. Her grief was so intense. Scared me. Finally, I held her hand, listened for a change.  You gave me that chance, Marco.  I had to thank you properly.” He gestured toward his plate.

Silence fell.  The eggplant Parmesan began to smell good again.  

“Why now?” Marco asked. “Why ask me to come to your home now?”

“Why did you accept?”

“I wanted to say good-bye.”

“I wanted to give you the opportunity. But that’s the unselfish version. After six months everyone else’s life has gone back to normal.  Not mine.  I needed the company of someone who truly understands what I am going through.”

Marco nodded.  A comfortable silence settled while they cleaned their plates.

“I think it’s her homegrown basil,” Vito said, patting his stomach.  “Fresh mozzarella doesn’t hurt.”

“It’s all of it combined, greater than the sum of it’s parts,” Marco replied.

“And the love mixed in.” Vito looked Marco in the eye and smiled. 

——————————

Today’s prompt is from The Daily Writer by Fred White. Page 15 (date at the top: January 13; obviously I am disregarding that. 🙂  ):

Write a scene involving two or more individuals meeting over dinner to discuss serious business or to celebrate a special occasion. Work in detailed descriptions of the food and the way is has been prepared together with the particulars of the get-together. 

Should I ever revise this piece, I would probably work to do more “detailed descriptions of the food.”  

What do you think would make this piece better?

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