“More garlic.” Dad demands from across our small kitchen; his arms could span the length but he’d agreed to let me help him make the sauce when I’d asked how babies were made. “Gotta’ cover the bottom of the pot.”
I deposit newly peeled cloves onto the cutting board; metal slaps wood before my fingers are a safe distance away. “My hands just got sticky enough to peel more.” I say, excusing the pace I know isn’t up to his standard.
Dad turns toward me fast, flinging sweat from his forehead that ends up mingled with my own. “Open the cans.”
I slide a chair out from under the table next to him, then climb up so our shoulders are aligned. My tiny hands have a hard time forcing metal through metal. I give up trying for a second to ask again, “Where do babies come from?”
He’s at the pot tilting the metal that way and this so the garlic browns evenly. “You really wanna know?” Oil sizzles.
“Yeah.” I grunt as I manage to puncture the first can.
He grabs the tool from me, punctures the other three, then hands it back. “Cocks and cunts.” We both laugh.
I still don’t understand but resume opening the cans, he dumps the first in the pot, fills it with water to knock the tomato residue off the sides then tosses in the second, fills that can with the water used to clean the first and so on until the last can contains liquid with red from all four and that too is added to the sauce.
“Spoon.” I rush to a drawer on the other side of the kitchen and report back; Dad is spicing, twisting off the caps of some bottles then tilting, shaking, and pinching bits from bags otherwise. I slide the wood into his outstretched hand, he stirs, brings a bit to his lips, then adds more spices and settles into a steady swirl.
“What’s a cunt?” He laughs at this question; I watch sweat drip from his nose into the red.
Dad turns to me with a smile. “I’ll tell you when you’re older, but only if you can’t find out for yourself.” He moves the chair to where he’d been standing, then lifts me up to the cushion. “Don’t say that either, do this instead.” He pushes the wood into my palm.
“Gotta’ boil all the water outta’ the sauce so it gets thicker-“ Dad stops to think for a moment, “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, take pride in our family recipe. “I learned in school that adult humans are composed of up to sixty percent water.”
I feel a giant hand on my shoulder. “What class was that?”
“Free-time in the library.”
“You’re a smart kid.” He squeezes, probably harder than he realizes, and I drop the spoon into the sauce. “But I’m a tough man.” He shoots his hand into the pot, brings it out with the spoon, drops it on the rag next to the stove then is at the sink, hand under running water.
I laugh, wipe off the spoon, resume stirring.
Eventually, tomato bubbles floating from the bottom of the pot to the top splash dangerously when they pop; mist rising from the mixture makes me sweat like the old man; the sauce is done, I scoop some to taste but Dad smacks my hand, takes the spoon for himself. “I was just fucking with you earlier.” Dad looks seriously at the sauce, “We’re Italian.”
That doesn’t seem relevant but he doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he establishes a two-handed grip on the spoon, plunges it into the sauce, pushes down on the wood – something flies from the pot with a cry, splashes into my arms.
“Say hello to your little brother.” Dad looks at the stove then shakes his head. “Just realized we forgot the noodles; poor bastard’s gonna be bald now.”