Congratulations to Sarina Dorie of Oregon City, Oregon. She is the February Penn Cove Literary Arts Award. Enjoy.
by Sarina Dorie
It wouldn’t have happened if I was out watering the garden with my fourteen-year-old brother, Antonio. He got to play in the water with the bambinos. My head would have been clearer if I’d been where there was a breeze instead of being stuck in a muggy kitchen stirring red sauce for the past six hours. Mama thinks that’s where I belong cuz I’m the youngest and a girl. And that’s the way they did things back in the old country. But merda, it was hot.
I was rinsing the homemade fettuccine noodles in the strainer, trying to catch a breeze from the open window when I noticed a dumpling on the gray counter. I set down the strainer in the sink and nudged it with a wooden spoon.
It had to be a gnocchi. Mama called them ‘little ears’ since our family’s tradition was to press and drag two fingers into the potato dumplings. The indentions made them look like ears. Only thing is, she hadn’t made any gnocchis lately. Then again, maybe the noodles had gotten mixed up in the drying racks in the basement. If I’d been thinking right in that terribilmente heat I would have remembered you don’t dry out gnocchi.
I stirred the pot of bubbling red sauce, eying that gnocchi. It was definitely as pale as a potato noodle. But it was far too plump and large. I picked it up and turned it over. I would have sworn it was an ear, only that wouldn’t make sense cuz it wasn’t cut off looking or crusty with blood. It was softer than a potato dumpling noodle. Maybe it was a shriveled apple.
Well, I figured if it was in the kitchen, it had to be something good, right? So I popped it in my mouth. It was chewy like rubber, pretty much flavorless. Maybe a little salty. I couldn’t chew through it, though.
It had to be raw, right? Oh well. I ladled out a spoonful of red sauce onto a saucer. If I dipped it in, that would add a little flavor at least.
Mama came into the kitchen. As usual, she was wore her red fazzoletto, or kerchief. Her gold hoop earrings sparkled in the sunlight. How embarrassing. She looked like an Italian peasant woman holding one of the bambinos on her hip.
My little cousin wore a fresh set of overalls. I knew what that meant.
I asked around my mouthful. “Did someone poop his pants again?”
Mama moved the strainer and picked up the hot pads from the counter. She asked in her thick accent,
“Where’s Giuseppe’s ear?”
“You know, his genetically grown ear?” she threw up her free hand in the air gesturing dramatically. “It fell off. Antonio said he threw it in through the open window so it wouldn’t get lost.”
That’s when I saw the hole on the side of my cousin’s head, his ear missing. No one had ever told me he had a genetically grown ear. Why am I always the last to know important stuff like that?
I spit it out. It flew across the room, hit the fridge and dropped on the floor. Giuseppe clapped his hands, laughing and gurgling.
Mama crossed herself and then swore in Italian.
I swear I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never eat anything that looks like an ear on the counter, or nothing else left out either. And hey, it’s not like I swallowed it . . . like I did with that finger at my aunt’s house that I thought was a yellow carrot.
But that’s another story.