Medigan (meh-di-ghan): a seriously non-Italian person.
“Megan!” I hear my mother calling me with her slight Irish lilt. My mother and father wanted to fit in when we came to New Jersey after Gram died. I’m not really sure why we had to move to America, but leaving my beautiful Irish cottage behind was hard. Erin was two and I was five when we moved here. Erin and I have authentic semi-Jersey accents. That would have made us fit in to this all Italian neighborhood except for our flaming red hair and milk pale skin. We stick out like firecrackers exploding on a hot July night.
“Megan! I’m not calling you again!” my mother screams.
I jump down the stairs in the hall and scamper past my sister sitting on the couch watching T.V. in the living room.
“Mom wants you,” Erin says, never taking her eyes off the screen.
“Yeah thanks, I heard,” I quip sarcastically. As I cross the room, I brush my hand across the strings of my harp that sits patiently waiting for me every day. The only time I feel complete and content is when I am seated securely behind it.
In the kitchen, my mother is standing by the sink peeling potatoes. I know-cliché.
“I need you to go to the store for more potatoes and eggs. The O’Connells are coming for dinner now, and I don’t have enough for all of us.”
The O’Connells are another Irish family that we spend time with. My mother met Mrs. O’Connell at a church meeting. They don’t live in our neighborhood. They live a town over. They have two sons. Connor is Erin’s age, fourteen. Troy is a year older than me, eighteen. He graduated last year. Me? One more year, thank God. Knowing it’s almost over is enough to keep me going. Notre Dame here I come. I received an early acceptance.
I grab Erin’s old red wagon. I always take it to the store when I go for my Mom. I know it’s stupid but I really don’t want to carry the groceries four blocks. I have been trying to convince my dad to get a second car, but he keeps saying no. My mother doesn’t drive, and I’ll be headed to college. He says it’s not necessary. They did let me get my license though.
I pull the old wagon out of the tiny garage onto the city sidewalk. There is no grassy buffer between our house and the sidewalk. It is house, sidewalk, busy street. That’s how close it is. There’s no breathing room. Not like Ireland. When I was young, my mother and I used to have to walk half a mile to reach a road. I remember being small and holding her hand as we strolled through lush green groves. Then we came here to cement, exhaust fumes, and a culture we’ll never fit into.
Block one down. I pass the pastry shops making Tiramisu and Cannolis. Then the bakeries making breads, pizza, and rolls. It’s a hot August day. All this stuff would smell great, if it wasn’t for the smog and bus exhaust. The wheels of the wagon rumble along the lines of cracked cement.
The thumping of drums echoes thickly through the air as a shiny black Cadillac with darkly tinted windows bowls up the street. The car slows down and paces me. My heart races nervously, and I keep walking-faster.
The tinted window slides down to reveal a guy I recognize from school. He has a dark complexion like most people around here. He’s handsome in a mischievous way. I can’t remember his name, Quedo, Zito, Lito….
“Hey, Red? Looking mighty fine pulling your little red wagon. How about I let you pull on something else? I got what you need right in this car.”
There must be more people in the car because I can hear them snickering. I ignore him and keep walking.
“What’s the matter, baby?” voice suggestive. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride.” His words are laced with double meanings.
“Leave her alone Vito!” a female voice calls from the backseat. “Andiamo!”
Vito (Oh yeah, that’s his name) laughs wickedly and hits the gas. They spin away, and I make it to block three. Sweat is gathering on my forehead from the August heat and the run in with the senior hoodlums.
The grocery store is packed as usual. A lot of Italians in the neighborhood like to get their groceries fresh, almost every day.
Concetta the cashier, totals my food. “That’ll be $9.50 Megan.” I hand her ten dollars. “You getting ready for school to start?” she asks bagging my food. She always has a pleasant smile.
“Yes, thanks,” I hook my hands in the bags and head outside. Waiting patiently is the little red wagon. I am always surprised that it is still there when I come out of the store. I am sure one of these days someone is going to pilfer the rusty thing or throw it in the dumpster because they think it’s trash.
I sip on the ice cold cola I bought at the register. It feels good on my dry throat. I flip the handle of the wagon in to my hand and start back up the street. Block four down.
Block three coming up. I always play this little game with myself. It makes the uncomfortable, lonely walk tolerable. Bakeries at block two. They’re in my sight, a few more buildings. Lost in my thoughts, I don’t notice until I am steps from him. Oh no! I feel my chest tighten. No, no, no…shit, shit, shit. Antonio Delisi, Jr. Shit!
If you are going to avoid anyone in this town, avoid Antonio Delisi, Jr., the Mob boss’s son. I’ve managed to basically stay clear of him and his friends over the many years we’ve lived here. These moments don’t happen often but when they do they’re frightening. My mom says, ‘He’s got the devil living in him.’ She may be right because seeing him right now; he looks nothing like an angel.
I’m just going to keep walking. Maybe he’ll ignore me. My hand tightens on the wagon handle, slipping with sweat. I drop my soda bottle to my side, my steps planted with determination.
Antonio confidently pushes off from the cherry red Camaro he’s leaning against and flicks the butt of the cigarette he was smoking into the street. He steps right in front of me glaring down at me. He’s blocking my path. Shit!
I look down to the ground, face heating. He makes my heart race because he is the most beautiful “devil” I’ve ever seen. I try to step around him. He blocks me. I timidly glance up into his face that’s a foot higher than mine. Our eyes lock, and there is an unidentifiable emotion on his face that passes quickly. His dark brown hair hangs slightly into his dark brown eyes. His mouth is pulled up in a half grin that says either ‘Don’t fuck with me’ or ‘I’m hot and I know it.’ Goosebumps surface on my skin, despite the scorching heat. His low riding jeans and white sleeveless t-shirt hug his swarthy muscled body.
He probably learned at the age of three how to kill someone with his pinky finger. A couple weeks after we came to Jersey, my mom had taken me to the playground near the elementary school. She wanted me to play with the kids in the neighborhood. You know, get to know them.
I was in the sand box letting the rough sand filter through my fingers. A little boy came over and sat in it too. It was Antonio. His skin was darkly tanned and smooth. Antonio made up a game in the sand called bakery. We made sand pies with buckets and pretended to make different kinds. Antonio was a cute kid. He even pretended like he was eating some of them. He kept saying, ‘mangia, mangia.’ I remember laughing at the funny word.
My mom had Erin on her lap and was sitting on a bench talking to a pretty lady who had on lots of makeup. It was weird…one minute my mom was talking, the next she was at the sand box grabbing my arm. She was trying to lift me out. I started crying that I didn’t want to leave. She dragged me down the street with Erin on her hip towards home. I never even said good-bye to Antonio.
Five-year-old Antonio was cute; eighteen-year-old Antonio is chilling- beautifully scary, dazzlingly intimidating, heart-throbbingly gorgeous, and standing in my way.
A sharp voice pulls me from my trance like the vortex of Antonio’s striking eyes. “Tonio!” An old grandmotherly woman leans out the window of the house next to us. I’ve seen this woman before. We talk sometimes when she’s sitting alone on her steps. She starts gesturing with her arms and yelling in a Sicilian accent. “Tonio! Leave ta medigan alone! Come, mangia!”
A wolfish grin crosses his face, and he climbs the steps two at a time. He looks back at me before heading into the house. I let out the breath I didn’t even realize I was holding and pull the red wagon home.
Mangia (mahn-ja): to eat, and eat, and eat more (even if you’re not hungry)
I walk into Nonna’s apartment still thinking about her-Megan. I’ll admit I saw her coming. So I dragged out my cigarette a little longer than necessary. How could I not see her coming with that shock of beautiful red hair on her head? Ever since her family moved in, I was always silently checking my surroundings for her at school, the movies, even the streets.
Meatballs, tomatoes, and basil mix into an aroma that wafts through from the kitchen. Even when Nonna isn’t cooking you can still smell the ghost of Italian food in the air and on the plastic covered furniture.
“Tonio!” she yells again, “You leave ta girl alone, gabish!” Nonna scolds with a ladle, waving it at my face.
“What, Nonna? I wasn’t doing anything.” Nonna’s orthopedic shoes shift on the linoleum floor.
She harrumphs, “I knew boys like you. I was young too, ya know! I saw yous lookin’ at her like she was strawberry gelato! You’re your father’s son!”
“Nonna, please.” I shake my head.
“You gotta prove your worth!” You could always count on one thing with Nonna, yelling. It’s how she talks. When she’s quiet-you’re in trouble. “Now set the table!”
Nonna loads me up with dishes of food to take home to my ma. I place it all on the floor of the backseat of my car for the two-mile drive home. I kiss her good-bye like the good grandson.
My phone beeps with a text message from Vito:
Vito : Where r u?
Tonio: Jus leavin’ Nonna’s
Vito: Meet me @ the dock
Tonio: Can’t. gotta meet Pop
Mom’s beamer is there when I get home. I carry the food into the house.
“Ma! Nonna’s got food for you.” I call out heading over to the fridge to put the dishes in. While my head is still in the fridge, Mom comes around the corner.
“Hey, Sweetie,” she leans into kiss me.
“Hi, Ma,” I flip the door closed and pop a can of soda. Caramel-colored soda sprays all over the front of my white shirt. “Ugh, fanabola!”
“Hey! Don’t swear,” My mom yells and clips me with her hand on the back of my head. Her slap echoes in my skull.
“Sorry,” I mumble as I strip my shirt off. “I gotta change before I go see Dad.”
I climb the stairs to my room. My room hasn’t changed much over the years. I’ve added some posters and pictures of friends but that’s it. I rummage through my drawer to find a clean t-shirt. Wow, I really need to do laundry. I fish to the bottom of the drawer and feel a piece of paper. A picture, an elementary school class picture from 5th grade. This must have been stuck at the back of my drawer for years. It makes me laugh. I scan up and down the rows of pictures. Vito, Ronnie, Alessandra, Louie and there in the third row, Megan O’Neill. Her freckled face and wild red hair made my heart slam even all those years ago. I had drawn a heart around her little tiny picture. What a stunad I was!
I throw an old black t-shirt on and hurry down the stairs. Pop will be mad if I’m late for a meeting. Turning eighteen means that I have to attend; it’s not optional anymore.
I jump into my Camaro, an eighteenth birthday gift from my dad, and race to the restaurant. All the meetings take place at Gino’s Restaurant. It’s a co-owned place that I sometimes work at as a waiter when I’m needed. The heads of the town’s families all own it. My father started it and named it after his father, my grandfather, Gino Delisi.
I walk in, and the first person I see is, Mr. Maranzano, my friend Alessandra’s father.
“Ah, Antonio!” he beams, “What a boy?” He grabs my face in his hands and kisses me on both cheeks. “You’re eighteen now, you call me Vinny! Eh!” Then he smacks me gently. My mother calls them ‘love taps.’ I call them annoying and sometimes painful.
“Thank you, Vinny,” I say appreciatively to Mr. Maranzano. People are already starting to treat me differently.
I spin around to see Luigi Prazzo. I watch him size me up. He looks me up and down. Instead of a greeting, all I get is a nod in my direction. I never liked him. I don’t trust him either. His son Dino is an asshole.
“Is that my lady-killer nephew!?” Uncle Tutti comes strolling in from the kitchen. “Come ‘ere goombah!” I walk into my Uncle’s arms. He slaps me on the back in greeting.
“Hey, Uncle Tutti.” His name is Mario but everyone calls him Tutti. I don’t know why, they just do.
The restaurant is closed on Mondays, so that is when the group usually meets. But tonight, they closed the restaurant on a Saturday night for me and my initiation. My father claps his hands together and everyone turns their attention to him.
“Let’s sit.” He walks to me and hugs me. “Antonio, my boy,” he says as he pats my face. “Sit next to me, son.”
I walk to the large table that is set up just for these meetings. There are eight of us tonight. My friends, Ronnie Contini’s son and Louis Ferretti’s son, don’t show. They won’t be eighteen for another year, so their attendance is optional. Dino Prazzo is away at college. He’s a chooch. I can’t stand him or his father.
A waitress comes from the kitchen to pour wine into everyone’s glasses. My father starts to speak. “My family, today we welcome a new man, my son, Tonio. He has been an exceptional student, and learned many valuable lessons over the years. He joins us with a full heart, and we welcome him with open arms. He, like all our sons, is the future of Palmetto, New Jersey. So let us raise our glasses to Antonio Rinaldo Delisi, Jr.” My father raises his glass. “Vino, Antonio, Salud!”
A chorus of ‘Salud’ echoes off the restaurant walls. I pick up my glass and drink with them.