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With Tommi Avicolli Mecca

The cop and la strega


March 27, 2006

When the pounding on the front door started, Mama knew that the trouble she anticipated had finally arrived. She had been sitting on pins and needles ever since her sister-in-law and the kids showed up that morning. It was nearing evening now. Her husband would be home soon. That would make the situation even worse. She had to deal with it, even though her instinct was to let him stand out there all night banging his fool head off.

Mama got up from the table where she had been preparing the salad greens. She wiped her hands on her apron. "I'm gonna take care of everything," she said.

"Whaddaya gonna do?" Josie asked. She was still holding the plastic bag with ice against the side of her face. The bruised skin had turned purple and sepia.

"What I should've done a long time ago."

"No, don't," Josie said, putting down the ice. She grabbed her sweater from the back of the chair. "Let me slip out the back door with the kids. I can tell him we were out at the park."

"He ain't gonna believe nothing like that and you know it."

"I can't let you stick your neck out like this for me." She put her coffee cup in the sink and reached for the cover for the cake dish. Mama took it from her.

"Sit down. I won't sleep tonight if I don't do something. Just stay there and don't do nothing. You promise me?" Josie nodded. She sat back down, placing the sweater on her lap.

Mama started down the hall. She had the vague outline of a plan in her head. Was it enough? "Mama, make him go away," the 12-year-old Sal whispered as she passed him outside the living room. He was shaking so much that he could barely talk. His chest felt as if the Himalayas were pressing against it. He was afraid he would have an asthma attack. He eyed his cousins, their faces pale and distraught. They were sitting on the floor in front of the new black and white TV but their attention wasn't on the dancing couples on American Bandstand. They hadn't said a word for a while. They just stared off into nowhere. From the kitchen he could hear sobbing. It was Aunt Josie.

"Open up this damn door," a gruff voice shouted before a fist again hammered on the worn wood.

"Give me the strength--" Mama said to herself, looking up toward the ceiling and crossing herself. As she pulled open the door, her brother-in-law Petey tried to come in but Mama blocked him. "You ain't going nowhere, buster. Stay right where you are, you hear me?"

"Outa my way." He was a big man, much taller than her diminutive five feet, and with broad shoulders and a wide chest that made him look like a football player. He had a full head of thick dark wavy hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. His skin was tan from spending a lot of his days outdoors. He was still wearing his police uniform. The sight of the gun hanging from the belt around his waist made her even more apprehensive, but she knew she had to do what she came to do.

"Whaddaya want?" Mama asked. She was trembling inside but she wasn't about to let it show.

"You know what I want."

"I ain't a mind reader. Now, if you ain't gonna answer my question, then go away, I gotta finish dinner." She started to close the door. He put his foot in its path.

"Where's my wife? She here?"

"It's none of your damn business who's in my house. You ain't welcome here. I told you that before and I'll say it over and over again till you understand."

"You're interfering in something that ain't none of your damn business. This is between me and her." He told himself he wasn't going to be provoked by this woman. He had to stay calm and figure out what she was up to. She was his favorite brother's wife. He had to respect her for that. Otherwise, he wasn't responsible for what he'd do.

"It's my damn business when she comes over here looking like she's been mugged."

"I don't know what you're talking about. Just let me inside. I don't wanna broadcast my problems all over the neighborhood."

"You think people around here don't already know?"

"What've you been telling them?"

"I don't gotta tell nobody nothing. They got eyes and ears. Now get outa here."

"Whaddaya gonna do if I don't? Call the cops?" He smirked.

"I don't need no cops. I gotta another way to deal with your kind."

"This oughta be good for a laugh."

Mama took her time in answering. She stared into his eyes. He turned away. "You know what they say about me, don'tcha?"

"I don't got no time to play games with you."

"You said it yourself when I married your brother. You think I don't know? You said it to everybody around here."

"I said that you were a strega, and you still are."

"But you got no idea what kind of a witch I am."

"A damn bitch, if you ask me," and he chuckled at his rhyme. "Now I told you, get outa my way..."

"You were just throwing out a word, weren't you? Thought you'd hurt me with it? You had no idea just how right you were."

"What game're you playing now?"

"You could've called me a putana or mala feminina. You could've used a lotta other words. But you didn't."

"Quit stalling."

"People round here just use words all the time. They don't even know what they're saying. Like when they call Mrs. Spinelli "pozza," they don't really mean she's crazy, they just get frustrated with her because of her endless chattering and her eyes, they're like those big ones that frogs have. But she's no more crazy than I am. Or when they call Mr. Piacelli 'stunad,' they don't mean he's out of it, they mean..."

"Why am I listening to this?"

"Cause you gotta know the truth. And I'm the one to tell it to you. Everybody around here thinks it's those mafia guys that shot at your front window that time but I know it wasn't. They wouldn't do that. You don't threaten them. In fact, you're in cahoots with them."

"Watch what you're saying." He seemed nervous all of a sudden. He looked around to see if anyone was watching. Bella, the neighborhood gossip, was suddenly sweeping her pavement two doors down and cranking her head in their direction.

"You were jealous of Josie. You thought she was having an affair with that Bollino guy. You wanted to scare her a little, it wasn't enough that you beat her..."

"That's it, say what you gotta say, then I'm gonna come in there and..."

"A little midnight ride in an unmarked car..."

"You don't know nothing, now stai ti zitta, shut up..."

"I know a lot of things." She was talking fast, jumping on his words, buying time. Her heart wasn't racing as much as it had been. She had stopped sweating. She felt more in control. It didn't matter what she said, only that she kept on talking. She heard something. She glanced quickly into the house. It's what she had been afraid of. Damn, she thought. Now what?

"I don't know what you're trying to pull here...you ain't no real strega, you ain't got no powers."

"You sure about that?"

"I'd know if you were."

"You had that little streak of bad luck..."

"Josie tell you that?"

"Josie don't tell me nothing. You lost that bet..."

"I don't play the numbers..."

"It was gonna be your vacation money..."

"I know Josie told you that."

"You wanted that promotion..."

"The only person I told about that was--"

"Funny how it suddenly disappeared. Almost like magic."

"You're full of shit."

"And that accident..."

"So far you ain't proved nothing except that Josie's got a big mouth..."

"How would the department feel if they knew it wasn't an accident? Huh? You had a little something to drink that night you ran your squad car into that lamp post..."

"That's a lie nobody'd ever believe...."

"Wanna know what else I know, it's really personal. I almost hate to say it out here but..."

Petey had had enough. His brother would understand. He knew that women had to be kept in line. "Okay, outa my way." He went to push her, but she shoved him first. He had to catch his balance real quickly or he would've fallen down the steps. She was strong for such a small woman. His father always said that the smaller they were, the harder they were to control. "I said get the hell outa my way..." he said, rushing towards her. She pulled away and he fell into the house, tipping over like a drunk. Regaining his balance, he raced into the living room. Sal was sitting on the floor watching the TV. He looked up at his uncle.

"Where is she? I'll search every room in this house till I find her. Then I'm coming for you."

"Go ahead. You ain't gonna find nobody."

He headed for the kitchen. It, too, was empty. He opened the yard door. "I know they were here. Josie? You out there hiding? Josie?"

"I made them disappear. I'm serious, Petey, they were here. You were right. But when I heard you knocking, I just made them go away. Like that witch does on TV. Except I don't wiggle my nose."

He slammed the back yard door. "They're upstairs."

"Be my guest, look all you want you ain't gonna find nothing." Sal was standing by his mother now. He didn't know how he was going to do it, but he would somehow protect her from his uncle.

When Petey came back down, he looked less certain of himself. "I could've sworn they were here."

"I've been by myself all day."

"They went out the kitchen door, that's what they did..."

"Then how did it get locked again?"

"Did you lock the door, Sal? Tell the truth now. I know you wouldn't lie, you're gonna be a priest, right? You can't be a priest if you lie."

Sal shook his head. "I didn't lock nothing."

"Was your Aunt Josie and your cousins here today? C'mon, remember, you gotta tell the truth."

Sal shook his head again. He couldn't look at his uncle.

"You wouldn't lie to me, would ya? Look at me, boy!"

"I ain't lying!" Sal said emphatically, shaking his head. He couldn't look at his Mama either. He couldn't look at anyone except god. He fixed his eyes on the ceiling and prayed for forgiveness.

"Satisfied?" Mama asked, smiling and folding her arms over her chest.

"You said you made them disap--"

"Did I?"

"Don't play games, just tell me where they are."

"I don't gotta tell you nothing. Well, on the second thought, let me tell you something, buster. Either you stop beating up that woman or I'll really gonna unleash my powers on you. I'll make you sorry you were ever born."

"You ain't got no powers..."

"That little problem you have sometimes in the bedroom..." She paused. His face went pale. He didn't say a word. It was a good thing Josie confided in her. "I can make it happen all the time. I can make it fall off, if I say the right words."

"You fucking..."

"That's exactly what I am and I'm proud of it."

"I'm getting outa here. I don't know what the hell you're up to but I ain't got time for this."

"I'm serious, Petey. You don't touch another hair on that woman's head."

Petey looked at her for a moment. The woman meant business. He knew that Josie talked to her, all those women did. News traveled around that neighborhood faster than it did anywhere else on the planet. Maybe that's how she knew all those things. But it was probably more. There were women who had those powers, his mother told him about them. They were well-known in the old country. Even his father warned him about them. He had had some bad luck lately. It was as if something had pulled the car toward that telephone pole. It wasn't the drink he had. He drove under the influence all the time. The way he lost all those bets. He used to win something once in a while. A five here, a ten there. And those nights he couldn't perform in bed. Something was going on. He needed to go for a walk, get some fresh air.

Not saying another word, Petey dashed out of the house. Mama locked the front door and started towards the kitchen. Sal shadowed her. He felt the weight lift off his chest. He could breathe again. "He didn't hurt you, did he, Mama?"


"I told Aunt Josie not to go but she..."

"It's okay, Sal."

"Is Aunt Josie gonna be allright?"

"I hope so."

"Is it okay that I told a lie? I can still be a priest, right?"

She nodded. "Sometimes a lie is the only thing that people understand."

She washed her hands before returning to the table to finish making dinner.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical queer southern Italian activist, performer and writer. He can reached through his webpage, www.avicollimecca.com, or through mecca44@sbcglobal.net.




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