Winifred, Murphy and Abby huddled on the couch, Jerry’s old life nowhere to be seen.
Jerry leaned against the dinette counter, listened to Abby’s tale while clawing out of his whiskey brain swamp.
“We were lucky. I just thank God, the kids were in their crates. They’ll be fine.” Abby pulled them closer.
“If they’re okay, I’m okay.”
Abby gently tested her right arm and shoulder, her eyes lighting on the Jack Daniel’s bottle on the counter. “How about you?”
Jerry followed her gaze, regarded the bottle, then… “That bad, huh?”
Abby’s raised eyebrows said, yeah, that bad.
“Worse than you? Don’t answer that.” Jerry threw the empty bottle in the trash, turned back to Abby with a wry smile.
“Does this happen to you a lot? I mean before the whole Walter Knox thing?”
“Well, I do have my detractors. But until now, they haven’t tried to kill me.”
“And so frequently.”
No argument from Abby. Giving up a sigh of surrender, she turned and saw the box with all the dogs’ food and leashes she left with Jerry.
“Yeah. Me too.”
Abby got up, went to the box and looked at the bags of food still full.
“You feed them at all?”
“They were on vacation.”
“I know. South of the border.” Her humor faded quickly as she dropped the food back into the box and collapsed on the couch between the dogs.
Watching her, Jerry said, “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
Jerry nodded. And then the answer seemed obvious.
Jerry nearly drowned himself in the tiny bathroom sink. Wiping his face, he needed more and slapped his cheek hard. As clear-eyed and sober as he was going to get, he ran hands through what was left of his hair, and turned for the door ready to take care of business.
Jerry opened the refrigerator, perused the possibilities as Sinatra sang In the Wee Small Hours.
“You okay with that?” Jerry asked.
Abby shrugged whatever.
“Yeah. Kind of heavy.” Jerry turned from the refer and took the record off the turntable.
Abby nodded thanks. “You have Sinatra at the Sands… with Basie?”
Jerry stared at Abby. Surely his ears deceived him.
Abby tried again. “Sinatra. Basie…”
“Yeah.” Jerry rifled through a stack of LP’s, found the record, held it up for Abby to see and threw it on the turntable.
“Pasta Puttanesca!” Jerry announced, emerging from behind the refrigerator door.
“Fine. FINE? You cut me to the core.”
“What is it?” Abby asked.
“A dish from Naples… with a questionable past.”
“Which you know all about.”
“I do, indeed. Like most great dishes, its beginning is a mixed bag of myth, fables and truth – depending on your particular taste for the ordinary. Or exotic!”
“You’re the chef.”
“Puttanesca it shall be! From the Italian, Puttana… whore. And further back from the Latin, putida. Stinking.” Jerry held up a basket of garlic as if clarification was needed.
Abby smiled, “I got it.”
“Some say that the robust scent of the sauce wafting into the streets would lure more clients into the puttana’s kitchens… and bedrooms. Others swear the women made it for themselves. Throw together whatever was left in the pantry for hearty sustenance so they could get back to business.”
“Agreed. But there is still another version suggesting it was a favorite of married women who wanted to limit their time in the kitchen so they could get out of the house and get back to their lovers! Have I aroused your… taste buds?”
“Well, you’ve done something to them.”
Assembling extra virgin olive oil, basil, red pepper, tomatoes and a hunk of hard parmesan cheese, Jerry pulled a large chef’s knife from a drawer and began roughly chopping the tomatoes, seeds and liquid splattering across his cutting board.
“And there is one more explanation,” Jerry said. “Not as full-bodied and spicy, but perhaps more applicable to this evening.”
“One can only hope.”
“There are some scholars who believe the sauce was created by a restaurant owner who had a large group of people come in as he was about to close. They were starved and he didn’t have enough of any one ingredient to make a meal, so he emptied out everything in the kitchen and threw it together to make the now legendary sauce. As I will do tonight!”
“You’re just a walking Wikipedia, aren’t you?”
“Ah! Wikipedia. A portmanteau. A linguistic blend of words, or parts of words, combined into– ”
“Enough! I believe you.”
“I used to be worse.”
“Trust me. I was worse. When Laura and I were dating, I had the answer for everything. Wanted to impress her.”
“Apparently, you did.”
Jerry remembered. “One time we were up in the mountains at this lake and it started to snow. She asked me what happens to the fish when the water freezes? I said, well… when the lake freezes, the fish freeze wherever they’re swimming at the time. And in the spring when the lake thaws, the fish thaw and continue on their merry way.”
“And she believed you?”
“After that, anytime I’d come up with an answer… if it sounded like that frozen fish story, she’d call me out and say ‘Frozen fish!’ Got to the point where she didn’t even have to say it. She’d just look at me with that amazing smile and hold up her arm as if clutching the tail of a frozen fish in her hand. And we’d laugh like idiots.”
Abby couldn’t help feeling jealous.
Jerry was feeling much more. Daring not linger there, he grabbed a giant garlic clove out of the basket, slapped it on his cutting board, laid his chef’s knife on the clove, and slammed his left hand onto the flat of the blade crushing the skin off the garlic. And brutalizing his injured palm.
Jerry turned away and cradled his hand while Sinatra crooned, I’ve Got a Crush on You.
~ ~ ~