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September 25, 2023


By Pete Armetta

Pesto stood outside the shop window. He looked at his watch and saw it was 6:56 AM, four minutes until opening. Why do these people keep him waiting outside in the hot morning sun, day in and day out, when he knows he HAS to be their best customer? Especially this time of year!

He stood there slumped patiently, looking in the window.

They oughta know that this time of year the tomatoes are plump and ripe and meaty, and the basil is abundant everywhere -- you could smell it in the air. The cheese is sitting out at room temperature getting older and steadily more pungent. Well, all this excited Pesto to no end, hence his name. His proper name was Maurizio, but ever since he was little, everyone called him Pesto.

It suited him.

His sleepy morning face gazed longingly in the big shop window at the variety of Italian sausages hanging from the ceiling, silently like soldiers. He wondered which sausage might be the hottest, which ones might be heavy with fennel, which could be sweet, etc. His nostrils were flaring for a whiff, but the only whiff he was getting outside was the smell of the dirty sidewalk heating up.

Pesto wasn't the most patient of souls.

Conchetta opened the glass doors. The chimes rang and she spun around and made way back to the kitchen.

"Pesto, Pesto, what is it today? Don't you have anywhere to go?" she asked with her back to him, while putting her apron over her head. Pesto made way over to the cheese counter and display. Conchetta met him there, pulling her cheese knife out of her apron. "I suppose you want to eat more free cheese, eh?" She rolled her eyes at Pesto and stood over the blocks of cheese.

"Pecorino please. Come tu sei bella! Do you have Pecorino from Sardinia here today bella?" He smiled up and down at Conchetta, who let out a huff.

"I dunno Pesto, I dunno where it's from." She took a washrag from her apron and wiped her brow. "You go ask Joey if you wanna know that kinda thing. I just wait on the customers." She sliced off a sliver of Pecorino from the big cheese wheel and put the slice into Pesto's waiting hand.

Pesto brought it to his face and smelled "hmm," with excitement. He popped it into his mouth and walked casually away from the counter, hands on hips as he assessed this cheesy experience. He nipped off a leaf from one of the basil plants that were on sale, and inserted it into his chewing mouth.

"Conchetta yes," he moaned with pleasure. "That's so good, my my."

Conchetta stood looking at him stoically. It's the same thing day in and day out with this Pesto, showing up every single morning for how long now? And to Conchetta he was nothing but a bore, always babbling and fussing at her while he ate up everything in the store.

"Conchetta," Pesto said, attempting to sound charming and affable. "Conchetta, how about a piece of whatever is your newest sausage, eh? The spicier the better!" He smiled at her affectionately and persuasively, as Conchetta harrumphed and moved to the meat.

She pulled down a fresh string of sausages and said, "This is the red pepper one, Joey made it last night. It's got a kick is what he said. So you be careful." She cut and handed Pesto a sample. "Just take a little."

Pesto put the whole piece in his mouth and chewed. His eyes watered and his mouth formed a smile. He spoke with his mouth full, "Oh Conchetta, tell me why. Tell me why again. I'm here every day and am nothing but kind to you and you know I'd give you anything you want, and you act like I don't even exist? How come cara mia?" Still chewing, his face turned concerned and his hands went up to his throat as he struggled for breath. There were tears in his eyes and he took his hand and starting fanning it on his tongue, which was now sticking out of his mouth.

Conchetta handed him a big glass of iced water, and told him, "I told you, Pesto, it's hot. Come on, stop talking. Here, drink. And I told you you gotta stop with that foolish talk."

Pesto drank, then cleared his throat.

"Bella donna, hmm delicious. Eh HEM. Conchetta. I know I'm not the smartest or the richest man, and my English isn't perfetto and me, I'm not perfetto." He was sweating profusely and she handed him a napkin. "But tell me why, Conchetta. Why don't you give me a chance?"

Conchetta looked up at the clock and then at Pesto. "What else, Pesto? Stop that talk. What are you gonna buy?"

"I'm gonna buy a feast, a big dinner. I want three pounds of those big plump and ripe and meaty tomatoes. I want six pounds of that hot sausage and add a sweet too. He pointed over to the aisle of plants. "I want a basil. And some pine nuts if they're the freshest. Oh and two pounds of the Pecorino." He smiled adoringly at Conchetta with his big brown eyes like platters and his knees visibly shaking. And then he turned somber. "But are you gonna tell me why, Conchetta? Why you resist me, my overtures? Am I such a bad man? I would make you so happy."

Joey walked through the double doors of the kitchen and said, "Good morning, you two are talking too loud. I can hear everything you're saying from back there. Pesto, stop bothering my Conchetta. I told you about that -- we gotta lotta work to do around here. Are you gonna buy something?"

Pesto looked at Joey. "I have a question for you, it's about Conchetta." He gulped. "I've pledged her my love."

Conchetta looked at Joey nervously.

"Yes I've pledged her my love, so Joey outta respect I'm asking you if you'd bless a wedding between us. Can you do that? I will treat her like the Madonna Joey -- I swear on my mother's grave -- God rest her soul." He took off his hat and made the sign of the cross and looked longingly and dreamily at Conchetta. "I mean look at her, tanto bella. I'm gonna cook for her every day and treat her like the Madonna. But I need to know about the Pecorino, Joey."

Joey looked strangely at Pesto, trying to hold back a laugh. But he couldn't help himself. "HAHAHAH Pesto, you talk so much. What about the Pecorino?"

"Joey, he wants to know if it's from Sardinia," Conchetta said.

"Yes, Pesto, it's from Ragatela. In Sardinia. The finest sheep on the islands."

Conchetta had lost all her patience. She felt like a martyr enduring all this and had about enough. "Joey, this fool doesn't know what he's talking about. I gotta start mopping the floors."

Joey stood smiling at Conchetta. "Well I don't know, sorellina. He asked for your hand in marriage. And with humility, like an honorable man. And now that Papa's gone I'm the one to ask." He looked at Conchetta shrewdly, and calculatingly. "You wanna be mopping my floors all your life? You wanna have people calling you an old maid? And he says he'll cook for you, Conchetta."

"Yes, I cook for you, Conchetta. I cook for you right now, for both of you. A feast. Celebrazione! Spicy fresh sausage and plump and ripe and meaty tomatoes and basil and of course, the Pecorino. Conchetta, do you have a bottle of Valpoliicella? Sit down both of you." Pesto walked behind the counter and held out his hand to Conchetta. She extended hers. "No, not your hand, amore mia, your knife -- for the Pecorino."

Conchetta knew this was it. "Ah yes, the Pecorino."

Article © Pete Armetta. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-04-15
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