Chapter 4: Simona drops the pickles

Simona Manelli was running down Locke St., one of the prettier streets in Hamilton, her arms full of pickle jars. She was running to the Manelli’s Fine Foods, a little green grocer’s that her great grandfather had started, after scrimping and saving for years. He had worked in the steel mills in the East End twenty years after immigrating from the Calabria region in Italy.

Simona’s grandfather, Stefano Manelli had been a cheerful, romantic gentleman. he was tall and thin, with light brown hair and green eyes. His cheeks had dimples etched in because of his constant wide smile. He often come home from his work at the plant with a handful of flowers he’d picked from the side of the road – sometimes even from the edges of people’s gardens – for his wife and daughter, Simona’s mother.

Stefano had also loved drawing and painting. The family house on Aberdeen he had bought after knowing some prosperity, had many beautiful charcoal pencil sketches of Simona’s grandmother and mother, on its walls and mantles. The sketches were often funny, capturing Assunta in introspective, slightly awkward moments. While Stefano had a big personality, Simona’s grandmother, Assunta, was a laconic person who loved her husband and his antics, but who kept her opinions hidden behind a discrete smile and sparkling brown eyes. She was the brains behind the business, while her husband brought in the clients and charmed them with stories of his uncle Ferrugio’s feats of strength in the old country and other tales that he could muster up on almost any occasion and on any topic.

His paintings of Simona’s mother, Maria, were very tender, capturing her as she went through her stages of life – a little girl in frilly dresses, a teenager with bell-bottom jeans and long braided hair, a young professional woman, a wife and then a mother. There was never a husband in the images – Stefano had not liked his son-in-law, he found him churlish and was happy to see him go, even though his abrupt departure broke Simona’s mother’s heart. However, he doted on “his lovely Maria” and then on his granddaughter, Simona.

For some reason these ideas were occupying Simona’s thoughts as she walked up Locke St with the box of organic kosher dills she’d picked up from the vendor’s truck. The box was flimsy though, and started to fall apart, so she removed the six one-litre jars and cradled them in her arms. She felt them slipping a little, so she held them more closely to body, pinching them against her belly. As she walked, she could here the disconcerting sound of glass grinding against glass, so she picked up the pace.

As the passed the Starbucks, which was full of the usual interesting assortment of patrons – but Simona turned her head. She didn’t have time to dillydally. She had to get the pickle back to the store before her mother left – Simona had forgotten her key in the back office, underneath her favourite mug, the one with a picture of the troubled romantic French Canadian poet Émile Nelligan, who died so tragically and so young. His greatest poem was emblazoned on the cup, opposite his photo, Le Vaisseau d’Or, the Golden Vessel. Nelligan’s poetry brought Simona back to those happy weeks she had spent in Québec City, full of warmth and passion and self-discovery.

But now she had to deliver her precious pickle jars! And she was late. Thinking and walking lead to ambling and ambling leads to… oh no! She saw her mother’s suv nosing out of the lane.

And so Simona started to run. The grinding of the glass bottles became clinking. The clinking became clanking… and then perhaps ten meters away from her mother’s car she heard a pop and then she felt something slip against her chest. And suddenly Simona was slipping and falling into a spreading salty pool of pickles and shards of glass and brine.

Nelligan and the Starbucks patrons whooshed out of her mind as she sat down, wet and miserable, her knees scratched and her pride hurt. She sank her head between her knees and sobbed.

She was frustrated. She’d done another silly thing. What would her family think of her now?



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