“More garlic.” Dad demanded from across our small kitchen; his arms could’ve spanned the length but he’d agreed to let me help him make the sauce. I’d asked how babies were made. “Gotta’ cover the bottom of the pot.”
Peeled cloves in hand I ducked under his elbow, deposited them on the cutting board. He went to work with the knife; we had enough garlic. “My hands just got sticky enough to peel more.” I complained.
Dad laughed, turned towards me fast enough for sweat to shoot from his forehead onto mine, “Open the cans.” He jerked his head, gentler than the first time, at the four red cylinders taking up the countertop that the cutting board didn’t.
I stopped sniffing my fingers, spun a chair out from under the table smushed behind us to stand next to him; shoulders aligned, I asked again, “Where do babies come from?” I grabbed the smoothed beige grip of the can-opener with both of my tiny hands, brandished the mini-C hook like a weapon.
He didn’t notice my aggression, was at the stove over the pot tilting the metal that way and this so the garlic browned evenly. “You really wanna know?” The oil started to sizzle.
“Yeah.” I’d finished opening the first can, was halfway through the second; a record pace that I nonetheless interrupted to wait for an answer.
Dad had a sixth—sense about any delays to his sauce, without looking up said, “Cocks and cunts.” I laughed, because I was ten; also, that’s kind of a funny answer to give. Rolls off the tongue.
I still didn’t understand but resumed opening the cans, he dumped the first in the pot, filled it with water to knock the tomato residue off the sides then tossed in the second, filled that can with the water used to clean the first and so on until the last can contained liquid with red from all four and that too was added to the sauce.
“The spoon.” I rushed to a drawer on the other side of the kitchen, dug in, reported back; Dad was busy spicing, twisting off the caps of some bottles then tilting, only shaking the ones he cracked open. I slid the wood into his outstretched hand, he stirred, brought it to his lips, grabbed more spices, shook them over top then settled into a steady swirl.
“What’s a cunt?” He laughed again, sweat dripped from his nose into the red.
Dad stopped, turned to me with a smile. “I’ll tell you when you’re older, but only if you can’t find out for yourself.” He moved the chair I’d left out in front of the stove, grabbed then deposited me on top of it. “Don’t say that either, do this instead.” He pushed the wood into my palm.
“Gotta’ boil all the water outta’ the sauce so it gets thicker-“ Dad stopped himself, seemed to think for a moment, then, “Make sure you scrape the pot every time you stir; anything burnt at the bottom ruins the whole thing.”
I put more force into my motions, took pride in our family recipe. “I learned in school that adult humans are composed of up to sixty percent water.”
Dad set one of his giant mits on my shoulder. “What class was that?”
“Free-time in the library.”
“You’re a smart kid.” He squeezed, likely harder than he realized; I released the spoon, it sunk into the sauce. “But I’m a tough man.” He shot his hand into the pot, brought it out with the spoon, dropped it on the rag next to the stove then jumped to the sink, turned the cold water on, stuck his hand under with a whimper.
I laughed, wiped off the spoon, resumed stirring.
Eventually, tomato bubbles shot from the bottom of the pot to the top, splashed dangerously, mist rose from the mixture, made me sweat like my dad; the sauce was done, I went to taste but my dad smacked my hand, took the spoon for himself. “I was just fucking with you earlier.” Dad caressed his hand as if he’d lost more than it seemed, “We’re Italian.”
That explained nothing, didn’t seem relevant but he didn’t seem to care, instead bothered himself with establishing a two-handed grip on the spoon, plunged it into the sauce; he pushed down on the wood, something flew from the pot with a cry, landed, SPLASHED into my arms.
“Say hello to your little brother.” Dad thought for a moment. “Fuck, we forgot to make noodles; poor bastards gonna be bald now.”