The Grocer and the Grocer’s Wife

It is nearing dinnertime. She is making her Ligurian pesto. Two handfuls of bucatini are boiling on the stove. “Vito,” she calls to him from the kitchen window.

She hears the soft chuff of the old mower. The whir and click as he pushes it forward and pulls it back. Angling it to the left and then to the right through the thick grass, back and forth.

She calls again, hearing an urgency in her own voice, though at this moment she has completely lost what it was she wanted to tell him. Needed to tell him. Or was it something she wanted to ask him?

In his small yard he is conscious only of the deep green leaves under his feet and the damp clippings falling against his black shoes. In these moments, this verdant patch and its melting summer smell are all that exist in the universe.

The sleeves of his white shirt are rolled to the elbows, collar open. His graying grocer’s pants, the ones his sister sent him from Palermo after his father passed, God rest his soul. The pants his father wore and which Vito wears to work each day.

Each day, for three years now, he has driven to the Hunt’s Point Market down the Thruway, past Yankee Stadium, to select the peaches, the broccoli, the melons, the red and yellow peppers he arranges in rows in the canted boxes in the front of his shop, hours before the women with their Whole Foods bags awaken and walk up along 10th Avenue to heft and sniff each piece before they hand them to him to weigh.

A runnel of sweat slides down the hollow of Angie’s back. Vito has not yet moved the pots and the dishes out to the cupboards in the summer kitchen in the garage. He is late this year.

Fifty-two years married. Loving him all these years. He is her man but this place he brought her to is not her place. This place so far from her friends and family. This place of long driveways and closed curtains, locked doors, stern faces. A place of privileged cats and tandem kayaks and children who knock on her door with raffles for round-trip tickets to Iceland.

Her heart aches to be back in their apartment on President Street, to walk on the cracked sidewalks to evening mass and the shops on Court Street. To talk with women who look and speak like she does. She prays each night, while Vito sleeps, to St. Agnes to be there again. Life feels too short now to let it seep away in this pinched and graceless place.

In the settling twilight, Vito thinks of an early-summer evening in his mother’s garden. She snaps a long pole bean in two and holds it out to him, one hand on his slim shoulder. He feels its tight skin and breathes in the immediacy of its life. “This gift from God,” she says.

“Vito, you hear me?” Angie calls. She shaves pecorino into a bowl, mixes it with the torn basil leaves, the warm round potato, and the white pignoli. Her fingers slick with oil and with garlic.

He doesn’t hear her call. He is thinking now of the store. He has decided to sell it, though he has not yet told Angie.

He is selling it to an eager young Korean man and his sister. His Salvatore wants no part of the business. The boy thinks his father has wasted his life.

This may be the last mild evening the summer will give him before the real heat comes. Already he feels the tiring humidity. His head is light. Unsteady in his knees. He will stop soon and go in. He will eat and they will talk.

The mower shreds a Wrigley’s wrapper and he kneels down to pick the pieces from among the blades. Dizzy, he sits for a minute, his head down, leaning back on his heels, waiting for the feeling to pass.

When the sounds of the mower have stopped, Angie drains the pasta and spoons the pesto over it. She pins her hair back behind her ears.

The light is draining away from the sky. She folds two napkins, places the steaming plates on the table, and sits down to wait for him.

Then she hears the water running in the bathroom and his footsteps in the hall.

He sits down across from her. He reaches for her hand and looks into her brown eyes. “Ange…,” he begins to say, “I…”

And, at that very moment, looking into her Vito’s tired face, she remembers what it was she had to tell him.

Joe Rukeyser

September 2018

 

4 thoughts on “The Grocer and the Grocer’s Wife”

  1. This is a wonderful story. As with so much of your work you show us, remind us of what it is to be a human being. Whether it is through humor or the tenderness of loss you give your readers a lens through which we can recognize ourselves and each other and, perhaps, be just a little more understanding, forgiving. enlightened.

    Like

  2. Joe, a couple of nit=nats

    A runnel of sweat slides down the hollow of Angie’s back. Vito has not yet moved the pots and the dishes out to the cupboards in the summer kitchen in the garage. He is late this year.
    I want to know to where the pots and dishes are to be moved.

    He is selling it to an eager young Korean man and his sister. His Salvatore wants no part of the business. The boy thinks his father has wasted his life.
    This paragraph must be a typo or paste-o. I can’t make anything of it.

    Putting the mower in the story is like putting a gun in a story. Something very bad is going to happen. I had difficulty reading to a disappointing end. Thankfully you didn’t kill him.

    Like

  3. I love all of your stories! Especially those that hold a little similarity to people and places I know ! You left out the cigarette and the glass of red wine !!👍😍

    Like

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