by Al Billings
Glistening fried smelts, calamari, smoked trout, squid, sardines, platters brimming with steamed vegetables, crusty loaves of Italian bread, wine, beer, whiskey and brandy, all assembled together to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes, Christmas Eve, a celebration rooted in Medieval Catholic tradition. A glittering Christmas tree,
candles ablaze on every table, corny carols, Perry Como, and the tinkling of ornaments.
The living room ablaze with lights and candles, the crush of visitors and family arriving from Rhode Island, sawhorse tables, cigar smoke, the guttural and phlegmy rasp of East Providence, my father and the rest of the men increasingly ablaze with alcohol, the women sitting rigidly in dining room chairs with arms folded across their chests, evening’s magical charm reduced to a snake’s hiss, bafangool, asshole.
The stink of fried fish, cigar butts, flushed faces and bloodshot eyes. The looming presence of the local Mafia punks, running the whores and gambling up in the foothills above the town, and my father’s business associations with them and his love for the darkest side of humanity, men who strangle their enemies and bury them in the vineyards west of town.
And in the morning, hangovers, regrets and recriminations, bourbon in the coffee and stinking bathroom gruntings, and the baby Jesus has moved on to other ceremonies.
San Bernardino, California
December 24th, 1955