Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BEAT AROUND THE BUSH (05/25/17)
- TITLE: The Good Old Days
By Phillip Cimei
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The bone jarring ride and dusty roads wouldn’t overshadow the love Alfredo had for his mother. He tried to pass the time with thoughts of her spicy Italian cooking and her constant pleading to, “Eat, eat, eat.” He missed her. He missed the farm. Finally, they had arrived.
Carmella leaned over the back-porch railing. She waved as if nothing in the world was wrong. Alfredo, though American born, emphasized every word with hand gestures—a notable Italian mannerism, “Mamma, what is going on? I’ve been sick with worry.”
His heart softened at the sight of her robust figure donning a well-worn apron and her warm smile. “But Mamma, I drove all this way and…”
Carmella interrupted his plea with a broken-English diversion, “Come’a in, I fix’a you some’a spaghetti and’a meat’a’balls.”
He grabbed her face with both hands, planted a kiss on both checks, and said, “Oh, Mamma, what is so urgent?”
“Uncle’a Tony’s Pascuale died.”
Uncle Tony wasn’t really their uncle. He came to America from Italy with Carmella and Alfredo Sr. His colorful personality added character to this little farm. He was known for two things, his pet raven Pascuale and his unique greeting, “Half’a day tomorrow”—placing emphasis on half”.
Tony meant that tomorrow everyone only had to work half a day. Toni never worked part of a day in the last thirty years let alone half of a day. His work, since Alfredo Sr.’s death, was to watch over Carmella, be irritated by the twenty-one grandchildren teasing Pascuale, and smoke his Toscano cigars—short, hard Clint Eastwood cigars.
“Mamma, please tell me I didn’t drive four hours to hear that Pascuale died.”
Carmella ignored his plea and pointed to the back porch, “I need’a you to go on’a the porch’a and pluck’a Stubby.”
The smell of wet boiling chicken feathers greeted Alfredo. He had plucked many a chicken on that back porch. But stubby was the pet rooster. He had one leg shorter than the other. Apparently, he had pecked at Carmella’s legs once too often as she shuffled to the outhouse—outside toilet.
He succumbed to her pleading and dutifully started plucking. His mind wandered back to his childhood fears about chickens and the outhouse.
As a kid, he would stand around and watch Carmella grab a chicken by the neck with one hand, its legs with the other, and place its head between two bent nails. Wide eyed he would watch her wield that dull ax and give several whacks until the head popped off like a bloated tick on a hound dog.
“Aaaeeeee,” he would scream as she flung the headless chicken down. Terrified, he would dodge the floundering chicken, blood flinging everywhere. His only refuge was the neighboring outhouse. He would bear the rank odor until the sound of flapping wings had ceased. His mind returned to plucking Stubby.
Alfredo sighed. The sound of Carmella scurrying around in the kitchen stirred memories. When he was finished, he walked up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and whispered, “I love you, Mamma. So, tell me what is going on.”
“Freddie boy,” she called him, “one’a more thing’a. Please’a, Please’a. I need’a you to fix’a the seat on’a the out’ahouse.”
“Mamma why do you keep putting off telling me why I am here? What’s wrong?”
“Just’a fix’a the seat. Then’a you eat. Go, go.”
“Okay, Mamma. When I come back, you tell me why I am here.”
Alfredo hated that outhouse. This monster with bad breath haunted his childhood. It was a two-seater. He never could figure out why two seats. Who in their right mind wanted to sit down next to someone in an out-house. And he knew one day he would fall down one of those seat holes. What a way to die. He did what Mamma asked.
The stench, the flies, and the heat made him wish he could burn that nasty thing down. Car horns startled him. Then, a yell. “Freddie boy, come quickly,” Carmella yelled.
The outhouse door flung open. Dumbfounded, his widened eyes and scrunched nose telegraphed him wondering, “Was this the dilemma?”
He sprinted to the house.
“Surprise! Happy birthday to you…”
Outhouse, chickens, and an evasive Mamma. Mystery solved.
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