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Other Works by Delia:
Lamb Chops  

By Delia De Santis

(A moment in time) 

He’s sitting in the family room on the chair which has become his, through respect.  His solid shoulders are a definition of his character. He doesn’t know I am watching. Does he wait for my gentle reach? Standing beside him, I lay my hand on his head, my fingers drawing lines through the white, woolly hair. “What?” he wants to know, of my gesture. I don’t answer.  I don’t need to see his face. I can feel his smile on the tips of my fingers. I think of when I first met him. Golden brown hair, curly and hazel eyes. Eye lashes that should have been a woman’s…  but now no longer anyone’s envy, just remnants left over by a flash of welder’s flame. The skin of his hands crusted and rough from building houses… and how he can’t forget the hard work as a little boy and in his youth. Memories he can’t let go. Would he have been less of a man had he been able to roll it all off his shoulders? “What are you thinking?” I say. “Nothing,” he replies. His thoughts are his. He shares them freely only when he’s had too many glasses of wine. That’s when he lets his pain and tenderness escape. Giving his hair one last little ruffle, I tell him that supper is ready. He takes hold of my hand. Then, as if there were a sudden need to assert himself, lets my hand go. “I will get up by myself,” he tells me.  At the table, I tell him how much I hate the smell of lamb chops even after 59 years of cooking them for him. He keeps on eating. Finally, he says, “Your mother learned to eat them when she was 85.” My response is a chuckle, followed by the question, “Are you predicting?”  He shrugs, and lets it be. I am happy to continue eating my fried chicken, and watching funny videos on youtube. I don’t bother reminding him that my father was not as fond of lamb meat as he is, and my mother didn’t have to cook something different for herself as often. When supper is over, I ask him how the food was. He gives the usual reply, “It didn’t say anything,” an old country saying that it was okay, or maybe even really good.  I pretend not to see his smile. It’s the same smile that drew me to him the first time I met him. A smile that hides joy, but also the hurts inflicted on him by his father, a man who never showed affection to his sons–for reasons no one ever completely understood. I want to reach across to him but hold back. I don’t want him to see my eyes wet with tears. Instead, I begin to take the dishes to the counter and think aloud, “Well, I guess I will be cooking lamb chops forever.” I don’t expect a response. He’s heard it before and no longer opposes my stubbornness. As the days pass, I know we both find comfort in certain exchanges of familiarity. Life is good. 

Sunlight                                                                                                                                                                                                       

On the day and the hour, I turn on the computer and open my inbox. I see the email I am looking for and click on the Zoom link. The host admits me right away. All goes smoothly until I focus on the screen and see the faces in the gallery. Every square is taken up by people I knew, the faces of all my dead relatives. My shaking fingers hovered over the keyboard. Where is the Off button where? I can’t find it. Terrified, I pound the keyboard wildly as the rising voices of my beloved departed ones beg me to stop. When I hear their voices turn to moans, I pound harder until the dream suddenly goes away. My body is frozen, and gripping my blanket tightly, I remain awake until my room is flooded with sunlight.

Copyright Delia De Santis

( For Aldo)

In long car ride
your eyelids flutter
interrupting angel dreams
Beneath your warm, tiny body
a mother’s heart beats
at your newness
Home, to a one storey house
small acreage by the highway
where at a tender age
you learned
the carefulness of crossings
as your companion dog
found tragedy
in human speed
The backyard
where you chased ducks
surprising yourself
with your own squeals
of laughter
and your fascination
with your father’s leather pouch
of nails and hammer
the boy voice ripening
and you

growing comfortable
with hand skills
and listening
always listening
to the men
around you

Copyright © Delia De Santis

By Delia De Santis (a guest column published in a small local paper)

Growing up in Italy, we didn’t have any books except a prayer book. Sometimes my mother borrowed a book from the school and read it to us. We couldn’t keep it more than a week, and sometimes we didn’t even get to hear the ending.

My father immigrated to Canada in 1954, and my mom, my brother and I followed two years later. I was thirteen. When I found out about a public library two blocks away and could borrow books, I was thrilled.  I began taking out an armful of books at a time. I didn’t know English, but actually, I learned the meaning of the words before I could pronounce them–when I found an Italian-sounding word (derived from Latin), I would figure out the rest of the sentence.

My brother, older, had studied English in Italy and became fluent quickly. One day, he bought the book The Woman of Rome. Thinking it would be a juicy story about a prostitute, I asked him if I could read it. He said, “Never mind,” and went to his room. One day, I snooped and located the book underneath his mattress. But the next time I looked, it was gone. He made sure I would never find it again.

Over the years, I must have borrowed hundreds of books from the Sarnia Library. I became interested in Russian, French, and American classics, but later, turned to Canadian literature. I became engrossed in the work of Margaret Lawrence and Hugh MacLennan, and the short stories of my favourite writer Alice Munro.

Years went by, and I had forgotten about the book, but when I happened to see it in translation in a thrift shop, I immediately bought it. I was mature now, and I knew it was not a book all about sizzling sex as my young mind had assumed back in my teens. By writer Alberto Moravia, The Woman of Rome is a novel about passion and betrayal, exploring more than one theme. Set against the backdrop of Rome, it unveils the immorality and corruption in a segment of society and bares the corruption of Fascism.

Lately, I had a lot of time to think about my early years as an immigrant. It was not easy adjusting to a strange country. But I am grateful for the access I had to so many books from the Sarnia Library. One didn’t have to be rich to read, and reading gave me so much pleasure. It also provided me with plenty of knowledge. But, best of all, it enriched my life with good memories of my transplanted life to Canada.

First Published in the Sarnia Journal

Copyright Delia De Santis


Food and Mixed Emotions   
                         

Christmas Eve is a day I would like to erase from the calendar.  But of course, I’d never let my parents hear me uttering such a thing. They would be shocked at my irreverence.  “Ma si, va bene… va bene.  Yes, yes… I understand,” my mother would say, all huffy.  “You’ve always been contradictory.”  And she would just proceed with the story of when I was little.

It happened at La Cappella, the village church back in Italy when I was two years old.  Midnight Mass.  My mother lifted me up as high as she could so I could see better. “There.  Look!” she whispered.  “The cradle… Jesus was born.”

“No, He wasn’t,” I said loudly.  “He was there all the time.  They just pulled the blanket away. It’s a baby made of clay.”

Every time I hear that story, I smile to myself.  I like it.  I guess I had a lot of spunk when I was little.

We came to Canada when I was in my early teens.  By the time I was eighteen years old, I had finished beauty school and started working.  I liked being a hairdresser, and it didn’t take long for me to get a good clientele. 

Christmas time was always the busiest time of the year.  The day before Christmas, I always started working two hours earlier in the morning. I’d put out almost double the number of clients I would have on an ordinary busy day.

When I got home, I was tired.  Beat.  Dead.  All I wanted to do was to go to bed.  I didn’t want to eat.  I didn’t want to see anybody.

But how could I do that when they were all waiting for me?  They were all around the table already.  Family and extended family.  Waiting to start the seven-dish meatless dinner, which was more important than Christmas Day dinner itself.  Mama was happy to be doing what her own mother had always done–prepare seven fish dishes. Papa made sure to remind us of the importance of keeping our traditions.

I didn’t really want to eat, but I did.  Everyone ate.  That’s what you did, you ate, and you ate.  And then, for a good time, we used to try to figure out who would go to midnight Mass and who would go in the morning.  Who would start the cooking the next day, and who would finish it and set the table.  The men could do whatever they wanted; they didn’t have to get up and cook in the morning. Except, of course, they couldn’t go to church at midnight anymore either because now they were playing cards.  Then the women who had planned to go at midnight would be stuck — none of the women had a driver’s license then. They had lost their ride because the men refused to give up playing cards, the sober ones.  A lot of useless planning went on by the women.

For years I’ve been hinting to my parents that maybe we should drop this Christmas Eve tradition. But they never take me seriously. At the sight of the first Christmas lights on their street, my father starts asking who will drive him to the fish market to get fresh fish.  My father never learned to drive.  Will my husband take him, or will I? He wants to know.  I don’t work as a hairdresser anymore, so I usually end up taking him.  He is happy.  It takes him and my mother days to decide what he should buy at the fish market and what they should buy at the supermarket.

My brother and his family don’t go to my parents’ anymore on Christmas Eve. He and his wife hold their own Christmas Eve dinner, in their large house. Their four daughters and three sons are all married, with children. There is lots of space for the children to play with their games.  

My mother and father are invited too, but they pass on it. They say, they’re too old and crippled… and old people like them should stay home. No, they won’t go. Not for Christmas Eve. Anyway, the roads could be bad. Maybe in the new year. But to me, Mama says, “They’ll hardly have any fish—they’ll have ham and God knows what other kinds of meat.” She’s perturbed. “Tell me, what kind of Christmas Eve is that?”

I shrug my shoulders and give her some senseless remark, like “Well, you know how it is.”

I too am invited to go to my brother’s. But I say I can’t. I still go to my parent’s, bringing my two unmarried sons along and sometimes even the girl friends. I the rebel because I suppose I refuse to hold the fish feast at my house.  Oh, I make attempts at offering, but my mother can see right through me and says, “No, I’ll do it.” 

“If you really want to,” I say, inwardly thanking God, she is still strong and healthy.

  

Irving enters

the stage surrenders
to psalm-soft lust
of his countenance.

Slow, deliberate steps
pride of a man who knows
even Time is enthralled by his charm
Stubby fingers hold prolific manifestos
he studies audience
prophetic gleam pierces
half-lenced spectacles.

Diminutive height
refuses to submerge
behind the gospel lectern.

The poet reads
virtue-castrating images
beating a blood rhythm
right to the saint-devil temple
of his white hair.

Delia De Santis

(written for Irving Layton)

                                       

All In Good Time

The widow Maddalena had lived next door to Carletto for 45 years. No one called him Carlo. Since childhood, the name had remained in the diminutive. Maybe because while his body had grown as it should, his hands had stayed unusually small. There was nothing delicate about him, except the pretty little hands that made people smile during handshakes—but considering that he wasn’t a bad-looking man–a dark Sicilian with curly hair that had turned silvery white. But he was the most annoying person Maddalena had ever known, and everyone in the town with a small Italian community felt as she did. Carletto annoyed the people at the Italian club, at the bowling alley, and the bocce court. When they saw him coming at the grocery store, people turned their carts in the opposite direction.

But he did have a redeeming quality: his reputation as the very best welder in the local boilermakers’ union. Some people attributed it to his little hands, for only Carletto could do critical repairs in tight spots. He was in demand all the time, and he could work all the overtime hours he wanted. People wondered how much money he had squirrelled away. And for what, he had no family. Maddalena wished she had that kind of money to help her married kids, who were always wanting.

          “How did the meeting at the club go the other night,” Maddalena asked an acquaintance one day.

          “How could it go? Shit disturber Carletto was there again. He never listens and then starts chattering when the meeting is about to close. How can you stand living beside him? I would have sold the house long ago.”

          “I know. Well, I am lucky I am not home very much.”

Maddalena managed a beauty parlour, and she always stayed at work late to close up. Sometimes she would even go shopping or visiting after, as she had no one waiting at home. Even her poor cat had died. 

          Recently, Carletto had asked if she was going to get another cat. She replied, “No, no more. All done with cats.”

          He asked her why. She quickly replied, “So you won’t be able to complain anymore.”

          “Well, what do you expect. Your fancy Romeo was always shitting in my lettuce.”

          “I have always let my cat out after he had done his job in the kitty litter. Besides, you don’t eat your lettuce. You give it to your stupid rabbit. You’re too cheap to give that poor animal some real food.”

          “That’s your opinion. I give my rabbit only natural food. Organic if you want to know.”

          “Yeah, that’s why he looks like he’s been in a concentration camp.”

          “Know what, Maddalena,” Carletto said, “if I didn’t like my house as much as I do, I’d sell it to get away from you. I know a lot of women from the north of Italy, but none are as miserable and nasty as you.”

          “Oh well, I can help you make up your mind. I will call the real estate agent for you!”

          “You do whatever you want. But don’t forget, that’s my house.” And he turned his back and left.

          But the next morning, there was a real estate For Sale sign on her front yard. Maddalena was already late for work. But not late enough to go pull out the damn sign and take it down to her basement. “End of story,” she muttered to herself. “I hope they’ll arrest him for stealing that bloody sign from whoever’s front yard. The nerve of the man.”

          But later, she did ponder on his words of the other day. It was the first time he had called her miserable and nasty. So maybe, after all, she and Carletto weren’t done with each other.  There were still lots of things they needed to sort out. But all in good time. Yes, all in good time, since neither one of them was going anywhere.

           Copyright Delia De Santis                               

Sunlight

On the day and the hour, I turn on the computer and open my inbox. I see the email I am looking for and click on the Zoom link. The host admits me right away. All goes smoothly until I focus on the screen and see the faces in the gallery. Every square is taken up by people I knew, the faces of all my dead relatives. My shaking fingers hovered over the keyboard. Where is the Off button where? I can’t find it. Terrified, I pound the keyboard wildly as the rising voices of my beloved departed ones beg me to stop. When I hear their voices turn to moans, I pound harder until the dream suddenly goes away. My body is frozen, and gripping my blanket tightly, I remain awake until my room is flooded with sunlight.