She owned a sauce company – Mama Rosa’s sauce company, to be exact. Well, her dad owned it, but her dad was kind of a dropkick, so it was up to her to run the family business. I met her out one night – there was a bar, there was alcohol, and that meant the night could last forever. She had an accent. She was beautiful. I was horny. I liked the way she said my name (Siiiiimon) making me sound like someone you’d heard of before. She liked the way I asked for her number.
I didn’t even wait three days to call. Her voice was even, unsurprised – as though this sort of thing happened to her all the time. I asked her to a movie – she had a different idea.
She taught me how to make pasta – the real kind, from scratch. The closest I’d come to this before was a packet of maggi noodles – I’m more a meat and three veg kind of guy. She showed me how to fold the dough, using a speck of water and a tiny bit of salt, mixing my hands in with hers, lightly touching me on the shoulder to show me what to do next. I learnt how to thread the pasta machine, big hands clumsy in their motions, more used to tossing a footy around then spinning dough, turning and turning like the gramophone my granddad used to have. The pasta didn’t play a tune, but she put the radio on and we danced to our own music anyway. We got flour in places people shouldn’t ever get flour. Weren’t we the cutest things you’d ever seen?
My first bite – the flavours knocked me for six; there were olives and mushrooms and basil and tomato, so much tomato I nearly couldn’t breathe, but it was the best kind of not being able to breathe in the world. Suffocatingly hot; it was delicious. With that bite, fork held up to my mouth, grinning at me wearing nothing but an apron, she ruined my mum’s cooking for me forever.
She took me to restaurants – Italian, always Italian – she showed me how you knew the food was good before you’d even tasted it. She taught me about colour, she taught me about smell. She had this weird idea that everything you saw or smelled or touched or tasted was yours, your very own to keep, bottled up inside of you, locked up tight so that no one could get at it but you. I told her it wasn’t healthy to keep things bottled up inside of you, but she laughed at me. She laughed at me a lot, and I used to smile because I liked hearing her laugh.
“She’s passionate,” I said to Jason when he asked me why I liked her. He had this look on his face I couldn’t work out, but I didn’t have time. I was too busy confusing feeling scared with feeling invigorated. She was a volcano about to erupt, she was an avalanche the second before it begins, pulsating with a tensile energy I couldn’t get enough of. Sometimes, I used to just watch her, watch the way she did things. I saw the quiet tension that bubbled beneath her skin, the tiny expressions that crossed her face when something annoyed her. I used to imagine that all those bottles locked away inside of her were quietly simmering away; boiling over into everything she said and did. She didn’t like it when I watched her.
Sometimes she was exhausting – she’d had another fight with her dad, she’d gotten drunk or high or both and called me up. “Why can’t you come pick me up?” she’d say. “My dad’s kicked me out.” Never mind the fact it was 6 in the morning and I was already at work, picking up extra hours because she’d been sick the week before and had needed me. “You’re never there for me. And now you’re going away and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
She moved in with me the week before I went on my trip. I had booked it months ago, before her, before the Italian and the best sex of my life. I was going with Jason, we’d been planning to get out of town for ages, go somewhere no one knew us and just chill out. “I don’t get it,” she’d say, and move to sit next to my roommates Dave and his girlfriend on my couch, trying to punish me for being neglectful. Suddenly she was everywhere, in my kitchen, in my bathroom, in my bedroom, trying to make me stay. She cooked me a meal the night I left – lasagne – and there were candles and wine and she was wearing her apron. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting. It’s just. You’re good for me, you know?” She looked up at me from her plate, tears in her eyes. “Sometimes I just get scared about what might happen if you’re not around.” I held her and told her not to worry, told her she was beautiful, told her everything was going to be okay. That night, sitting on the plane, I truly believed that.
Three weeks later I returned home, and she met me at the door with a plate of handcooked ravioli, little mouthwatering pockets I’d never tasted before. We sat at the table together, her watching me eat. There was a long silence and then, she told me with a look I’d never seen her use before.
“I slept with Dave."
When I was fourteen, I’d been hit in the balls by a footy kicked by someone with terrible aim. I had gone down then, body wracked with the slow pain that throbs its way from the inside out, making you feel sick somewhere deep in your stomach, winding you from the shock of it all. This? This was worse than that.
Later, I realized that look on her face was sorrow; she was sorry she’d hurt me, sorry because she’d warned me and I hadn’t listened, sorry she cared enough about me to feel bad about what she’d done.
I don’t eat Italian food anymore.
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