A Surfeit Of Pesto

A Surfeit of Pesto

“Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead,excessive grief the enemy to the living.”

(Lafeu, All’s well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 1

What to do about Liza? 

All her life, she had lain awake and overheard the sussurri from below. Papa would close up after midnight, sit with Mama awhile at a red-check table, and loosen his tongue with a few glasses of honey-shiny Grappa.

The girl is soft in the head; it must come from your side. Never any pazzi in the Cavallaro family . 

Hush, Vicenzo, Mama would say, she feels thinks deeply. What does a man know of such things?      

Now they were gone and it was her big brothers, Vinny, Salvo and Joey who sat late at night and debated the Liza problem. The old-fashioned restaurant near the corner of Mulberry and Canal, not far from Umberto’s where the Irishman shot Crazy Joe Gallo, needed a serious injection of cash and the boys just didn’t have it.  

I was kinda hoping that schmuck, Tony Russo, might fall for her. Those Russos are in demolition – they got big dough.      

Nah! He caught on she was as crazy as a poked crab. We’ll have to try the Gambinos before they realize. 

Her head’s in the clouds with all that play-acting and hanging round Broadway. She thinks she’s Sophia Loren. 

But boy, can she cook! You taste that Aubergine Caponata tonight?  Eccellente!

Little did they know that she and Larry were going to elope. He’d got an Aunt in Ancjorage, Alaska, who’d take them in. It had been instant love from the moment she first saw him serve a Pesce Spada alla Siciliana with that white linen napkin folded delicately over his arm.       

But they did know and, one Friday night Larry didn’t show for work; didn’t show Saturday neither; never showed again.    

Sleepless Liza must have wept the Mediterranean that week, and the Hudson River too. Her penne was troppo morbida; her eyes like empty clam shells. She could see Larry in her mind’s eye, his face tinged blue and his eyebrows coated with snow. Had he gone to Alaska without her? 

One evening she ran out of shrimp and opened the chest freezer in the basement and there he was,  her handsome Larry, iced like a side of Sicilian pig. She couldn’t just leave him there in his pristine waiter’s uniform. She fetched the cleaver she’d sharpened earlier for slicing ham hocks, took off his dark Montelusan head, wrapped it in a dish towel, and fled up to the rooftop garden to her herbs and tomatoes.  In the far corner was a copper urn that her grandfather had brought over from Catania where she grew her basil. She clawed out some compost, lovingly planted Larry’s head deep underneath, and replaced the clumps of basil.

fine Pesto Calabrese but now even Trip Advisor was praising her basil delights: a perfect Tagliatelle of cuttlefish with pesto; spectacular Pesto alla Trapanese, pesto with pistachio, pesto with cheese, rigatoni with tomatoes and pesto. 

But she was spending far too much time in between smoking and talking to herself up in that roof garden where she grew her bits and bobs. They couldn’t afford for her to go pazza again. Vinny snook up there one night when she was busy shucking scallops. The smell was like the Bowery sewers and it was coming straight outta Granpa’s urn. Larry was discovered the three guys consigned him to New York Harbour that night to bobble with the fishes.

That was the end of the pesto fest. Liza was back to looking like wilted asparagus. She struggled on, preparing a poor Linguine Alfredo and a worse Mushroom Risotto but not a morsel passed her own redundant lips. The New York Coroner listed the official cause of death as anorexia nervosa. Vinny, Salvo and Joey ended up on downtown garbage collection.      

Bernadette Lynch