SUCCOUR by Salvatore Difalco
On a pure day in late August, sunlight dazzling the windows, summer winding down, I am sitting at my mother’s kitchen table, watching her make gnocchi. She had asked me what I wanted for my birthday pranzo, and I requested gnocchi with tomato sauce, my favourite meal. I turned 30 today. I am overeducated, underemployed and single, living day-to-day, hand to mouth, head in ass, with no long-range plans, few prospects, and zero motivation. My mother worries about me. A good mother always will, particularly when her beloved child turns out to be a total fuck up.
She’s wearing a red-and-white striped apron with the words BEST CHEF emblazoned on in thick black letters. When I gave it to her last Mother’s Day she seemed unimpressed. She enjoys cooking, but only on her terms. She wants no one to think that she cooks because she has no choice, or that she’s a slave to it, something my late father—who became quite the cook himself— discovered early on in their marriage. That said, my mother is a wizard in the kitchen, or rather, an artist, with the brilliance and mercurial temperament of one, the passion.
She cuts some boiled potatoes in half and passes them through a red metal ricer into a large bowl. While they cool she wipes down and flours an end of the table. In a small bowl she mixes flour with salt. When the potatoes have cooled she adds a beaten egg to them, then the flour mixture. She blends this with her hands until the dough clumps together. She wipes her floured cheek with the back of her hand, flashing a smile. She transfers the ball of dough to the floured end of the table and starts kneading it gently.
Sunlight fills the kitchen. Several large tomatoes on the windowsill throb like lamps. I stare at my hands, trying to summon words that won’t corrode or diminish the moment. None come to mind, so I keep silent. My mother’s hands, economical, precise, and yet almost tender, move in concert with a frequency I can only intuit or imagine. This is how it has always been, as far back as I can remember. Her blue eyes twinkle as if she’s in on some secret, as if she intends to tell me something funny or beautiful, or both. But she says nothing.
I want to tell her everything, I do. But it would only worry her unnecessarily. I know I am always welcome here. I know that if push came to shove she would do anything for me. But anything more than this would be too much to ask. I know where she has been. I know what she needs right now and it isn’t my sorry story, my pain. I smile. I am happy. I can watch her cook forever. It is something I have loved since I was an infant, something that grounds me in this world, that incarnates me.
It’s warm in the kitchen. A black fly buzzes around me annoyingly. Happy Fucking Birthday To You, it seems to sing. My mother and I don’t talk. We are comfortable with each other’s silence. Yet I can no more articulate my state of being to her than I can to myself. Ma, I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and my life is off the rails. No. She is concerned, but only so much. All she can provide is unconditional love and a beautiful meal, and that’s about all I can ask for right now. My mother’s fingers move quickly, efficiently.
She covers a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkles it with flour. She rolls out the dough into a rope and with a bench knife cuts it crosswise every inch or so, ridging each piece with a fork. She arranges the gnocchi in a single layer on the baking sheet. When all the gnocchi have been cut she sprinkles them with more flour. She turns to the stove and stirs the bubbling tomato sauce with a wooden spoon. She has grown the tomatoes, garlic and basil for the sauce in her own garden. I close my eyes and breathe.
We eat in silence. It’s just the two of us. I don’t tell her how good the gnocchi tastes—I think she knows. My mouth puckers with every forkful. She smiles as I burst into a sweat. It’s warm in there. The fly drones around us. I eat and eat until I can eat no more. She takes away my plate and brings out a cake with white icing and HAPPY BIRTHDAY SAMMY piped in blue over the top. One spiral blue candle juts out of it. She lights it with a match and gently blows out the match flame.
Salvatore Difalco is the author of two books of stories including Black Rabbit (Anvil Press). He splits time between Toronto, Canada and Sicily.