It was the only fish shop open in Toronto on Good Friday. I was waiting for my purchased red snappers to be cleaned by the fishmonger, lost in thought about how to cook them for the Easter dinner feast.
I felt her energy before she joined me at the counter with her dozens of teeny fish. Sweet little old Italian woman. You can already picture her, right? Four foot nothing, standing solidly in sturdy, practical black shoes, nude stockings, mid-calf skirt, black coat, short curly hair, and glasses that amplified her loving eyes and have clearly seen their share of babies born and relatives passing.
I asked her what she planned on doing with all those fish. She did her best to hide her surprise at the insanity of my question, but recognizing my lack of understanding about Old Country ways, she told me patiently, but in great and elaborate detail about the soups she would make, the frying she would do, the stocks. But most of all, the frying. Her Antonio, her son, and her grandkids liked it best. And it’s Good Friday after all. (Here, she made the sign of the cross.)
And just like that, I fell in love.
She told me that this was her second trip to the fishmongers in two days as they had sold out of the fish yesterday - the day of a freezing rain storm. The day that saw me fall on my ass not twice but thrice on the slippy, drippy, trippy sidewalks. I asked if she had fallen. Just once, she said, but she was so short she didn’t have too far to fall. She laughed.
She had no car (judging by the thickness of her glasses and her age, I suspect if she ever had her license it had been revoked some time ago), so she took multiple buses and subways to get the fish.
She asked where I lived, and I told her. Of course. So she asked for a ride to the subway. Her morning wait for the bus had been 30 minutes because of the holiday. I have never in my life been so delighted to say yes.
But first, of course, we had to wait for her millions of teeny fish to be gutted and de-headed. Which, as you can imagine, took some time. So we talked. And then we talked and talked and talked some more.
As we got into the car, I turned on her seat warmer and she scoffed that her butt could take the cold. It had endured far worse, she assured me. I well-believed her. (But kept the warmer on just the same.)
I learned about her Italian home in Bari. Her good man. Her son and his decent wife (who’s Sicilian, but that’s okay, you see). About her 11 sisters and brothers. About what she knew to be true from these 89 years the good Lord has graced her with. (It’s only love that matters.) And about other things I think I’ll keep between us.
Just before she got out of the car, I remembered to ask her what the name of the fish was. "Acciuga" she said. "I don’t know in English. Look it up on the phone."
She got out of the car, said she loved me and that she would look forward to seeing me in the next life. I said the same.
I miss her already.
The truth is this: Angels are everywhere. And when they speak, we need to share their words.
It’s only love that matters.
That’s just true.
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