The Heir, or: There’s no such Thing as a Free Meal

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Liver crostini is a typical food of Tuscany. It consists of small pieces of toasted, unsalted bread covered in a thick brown sauce made from chicken liver, anchovies, capers and vinegar. My grand-aunt used to make them every time we went to her place. This didn’t happen every year, so those visits were a celebration in wich she treated us to a copious meal. Of course, a plethora of other things followed the crostini: probably home-made pasta or a vegetable soup; meat as a second course; there may have been wild boar salami; I can’t remember. The only thing I’m sure of is the starter.

I recall everything in the house: the transparent ball with the fabric rose inside, which looked bigger because of the thickness of the glass; the picture of the late house cat, honored almost as a dead relative as its photo rested on the living room furniture in a silver frame; the ground floor window overlooking a busy street in the center or Florence; the vintage label on a bottle of tamarind syrup on a kitchen shelf; the tailor’s studio with scissors, measuring tape, a dummy and all the tools of the trade; the large square balcony crammed with plant pots, a lush urban garden in the half-light of the central courtyard; the bookshelf in the mezzanine, where the oldest of my books comes from, a bulky cloth-bound tome of Russian tales with interesting pictures (possibly silk-screen prints? Lithographs?), in a slipcase. The book was cast off by G. Hideousheart, my uncle’s son from his first marriage.

G. H. would come over when we visited. He had been to Nepal and suggested I should become a geophysicist when I grew up.

When my aunt died, most relatives travelled a long way to be at the funeral – including us. This meant we were staying there for lunch, and someone else had to do the cooking. The meal included the same food she would normally have cooked for us, and of course the crostini.

As sad as the occasion may be, I didn’t mind being there. I liked the idea of my family being scattered all over the peninsula and reuniting at the dining table. I liked the idea of my aunt overlooking the scene and approving the menu. I liked the idea of a funeral that included refreshments, like I knew it happens in Anglo-Saxon countries, and celebrating the dead instead of just whining over the loss. I remembered that day when years later I was at a wake in Ireland and someone explained to me how in that country it’s not unusual for people to cry at weddings and laugh at funerals.

But I was a fool. Most Hideushearts couldn’t be bothered to come. My aunt didn’t want us to overtake the kitchen while she was not there: she would probably be outraged, like the time someone gave a birthday cake to her and she protested she was not a child to blow off the candles. My folks wanted nothing to do with the habits of the civilized Peoples of Northern Europe and America. The idea of a funeral “party” would sound like a bad taste oxymoron to them.

It took me many years to finally understand what was going on that day. My aunt kept saying she was going to leave her jewels to me. When I was done with high school, they suggested I should go to the University of Florence and stay with them. They also insisted that I took a part-time job. I said studying and working at the same time seemed too demanding, but they knew several youngsters in their apartment block who were doing just so. I saw it as a generous offer made out of hospitality, but I declined. Now I see they were probably looking for someone to take care of them in their old age.

Also, I didn’t become a geophysicist. And G. H. is a prick. When my father died, he said he was not coming to the funeral because he was leading a hiking trip. This one beats the friend sending me his condolence via sms, and my cousin who called to say she was not visiting me because she had her period (then she asked where the ceremony was at.). To enforce this pathetic excuse, G. H. informed me he’s been a hiking guide for 30 years now. I considered telling him that I’m also very much into hiking and I even have a blog where I write about it, but he doesn’t deserve to know.

In case you are reading this, G. H., yes, I said “prick”, and your wife is a dim-wit. When I called to tell you the bad news she didn’t even know who I was. She had no clue. I can write whatever I want about you. See, you’ve come to a certain age and all the hillwalking in the world can’t change this. It can increase your life expectancy, but it won’t make you immortal. You are eventually going to leave this world and then I’m not coming to the funeral, because I’ll be away on a hike. (I’ve planned it years in advance. I’m an organized person when it comes to leisure activities).

I chose a local University. As my uncle and aunt’s health went worse, the stepson apparently didn’t visit them too often. Some relatives my aunt had always criticized behind their back showed up in the very last years to take care of them, and the house went to them. They were the ones who prepared the meal, in the hope of keeping the others at bay and prevent them from jumping to their eyes to The Rains of Castamere, after my aunt’s last will was made public. My dear uncle was still alive but completely helpless and at their mercy, a human shell after the loss: sadly, only a step away from circumvention of an incapable. The stepson was excluded from the testament. I didn’t get the jewels, which had suspiciously disappeared a few years earlier.

Someone might say my aunt was plagiarized, but temperamental as she was I deem her capable of doing so. Tuscan are known to be touchy and bad-tempered. I have never asked or needed or cared for her gold. I admire her for disinheriting her stepson and was amused by the whole situation. As a fiction lover, I can’t resist a story in which the heroine behaves consistently to the character until the end.

Liver crostini are not for everyone. Capers are sour and many people dislike them. Many more are disgusted by the smell of liver. I love them, and relish their gross, lumpy richness. From where I stand, the recipe she has passed onto me through my mother is my aunt’s true inheritance.

However, this story could have ended in a worse way. Imagine if someone didn’t like them. After 10, 20 or 30 years of swallowing liver in the hope of gaining something, he/she discovers her/his name has been wiped from the testament (I can’t say swallowing gall, because the bile is removed in the preparation process. Chance missed for a pun. But I’m not sure this joke would make sense in English, anyway). This would make my aunt an accidental genius.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!

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2 thoughts on “The Heir, or: There’s no such Thing as a Free Meal

  1. Your “memoir” was well written and heart warming. My mother use to cook fried liver smothered with gravy and onions I use to enjoy this, my son not so much so I don’t cook liver.

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