Flash Fiction Friday: Excerpt from “My Family Sized Pizza” by Award-Winning Author Josie Montano

NOTE:  This contribution comes from award-winning author Josie Montano.  Please enjoy and share!

Oh no! It was Nonna’s monthly rosary meeting. But this time it was at our place. If I’d known I’d have gone to the library with Sarina to check out the guys from St. Patrick’s College. They’re there every Tuesday afternoon.

“Angelina! Mamma Mia how you have grown!” Signora Romanelli was looking straight at my boobs.

“Oh, you look just like Elena, you mudder,” Signora Vesta did the sign of the cross and looked at me sadly. It’s not me that’s dead, you idiot.

Like zombies they all stood at the same time, then slowly walked over and gathered around me.

“Madonna, is dis little Angelina? She’s a big gal!” Signora Della Something was looking at my bum. I needed a quick escape, but the statue blocked the way to my bedroom. There it was – halfway up the stairs.

“Angelina, vieni qua,” Nonna called. “Come on”. She had her arm around one of her friends.

“Dis is Signora Bertolini.”

This lady I’d never met before grabs me by the cheeks with her fingers and thumbs.

Quanda si bella!” She was shaking my face but half of my face was still in her hands. Yes. I’m beautiful, but I’m going to need plastic surgery if you don’t cut it out! Signora Bertolini? Then she wraps her arms around my neck and gives me the Italian kiss on both cheeks. Boy, lady you have a real problem! What do you do to people you know? Bertolini? Where have I heard that name before? I moved away, my face still burning. Nonna and Signora Bertolini were looking at me and giggling. They were a weird mob.

“You know who dis is?” Nonna asked. “Signora Bertolini. The Nonna of dat boy I tell you about.” She winked.

Ohhhh! Dat boy! The one you want me to marry.

Nonna and Mrs. Bertolini knelt at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at the statue. They had made a kind of altar – as if that made the whole thing more holy. I looked at the statue of Mary, I looked down at Nonna and Signora Bertolini – two interfering grandmothers. What if the statue lost balance? The very heavy statue would topple down and … that would be the end of the matchmaking!

I started to shiver … Angie, take control of yourself!

“Angelina, putta da coffee on,” Nonna yelled at me as she got up. Fantastic. Great! That means it’s time for them to go home! I went over to the sink, reached for the espresso maker and ground coffee.  The saintly women dived into the food on the table. There were no sandwiches or scones here! Biscotti, cream puffs, cannoli, pizza, cheesecake – or chisacaca as Nonna would say – all homemade and all kneaded, mixed and baked with a crazed frenzy. They all try to outdo each other with their own secret recipes.

“Nonna, got any sausage rolls?” I was in one of my moods, where I didn’t care if I got into trouble, kind of like when I’m in Mr. Michael’s class. They all stopped what they were doing, mouths full of food, half-open, half-eaten cannolis mid-air, and they looked at me – then at Nonna – then back at me.

Silence. Wow! I could tell they were waiting for Nonna’s reaction.

“Oh, she’s a joking gal, eh, Angelina,” Nonna laughed. “Come here and abbracci a Nonna.” She held her arms out for the hug and I went over to her unwillingly. She gave me this deadly glare and squeezed the air out of me, at the same time pinched my leg so hard I’m sure she put a twist into the pinch!

The Italian ladies were fooled, and carried on shoving cannolis down their throats. I’d known I was going to cop it when I mentioned sausage rolls. Anything bought from the shops is looked on as dishgustink. Anyone who brings something from the shops is even more dishgustink and, worse, lazy: “What she do all the day, if she don’t hava de time to make sometink?”

All I wanted was to go to my room, but after Nonna’s powerful pinch I decided sitting down with them would be less painful. A table full of Italian food with a dozen Italian women including a couple of matchmakers, eating, laughing and talking – and that’s all at the same time! Loud slurps from their espresso cups, crumbs flying from their open mouths as they couldn’t help talking and eating at the same time. Not a nice sight. If Rachael could see me now!

 

Suddenly there was silence down one end of the table. Then the other end picked up on it. “Che? Che? What?” came the questions.

“Shhhh, and looks of guilt from the quiet end.

Whispering started at one end, running down the table faster than a pack of falling dominoes. Then,  nods and sly smiles from all of them.

They were acting really strange. “What’s going on, Nonna?” I asked.

“Oh, de priest he have an affair wit a married woman,” she told me as she passed a tray of her pizza down the table. They all looked at me – silence again. Ah! They’d forgotten I was here! Now they were embarrassed, ashamed, I think.

“Angelinaaaaa,” Mrs. Romanelli said in a let’s-butter-her-up tone of voice. “You know anytink about dis?”

Oh, so it wasn’t ‘cause they were embarrassed. I was just another possible source of information.

Twelve sets of black eyes stared at me. I felt like I was surrounded by a pack of wolves.

“No.” Hang on. This is my chance. “Well, yes!”

Their turkey necks jerked forward to listen closely.

“And I know who it is.” Gasps and spoons dropping shattered the silence. Now what? What am I doing? What am I going to say? I don’t know who or what the hell is going on here. How am I going to get out of this one?

“I can’t tell you, not in front of Mary.” I nodded over to the statue. They nudged each other. They were kind of happy with that excuse.

Mrs. Bertolini shoved a plate of her homemade jam and ricotta cake thingy in front of my face.

“No thank you.” I’m not getting together with your grandson!

“But try, it’sa fresh ricotta.” Shove … shove. The glass dish nearly touched my nose. I should sneeze in it after what you did to my face.

“No, thank you.” You think if I take a piece it’s happening, don’t you?

“Come on, try. Just a small piss.” She slapped  a piece of the sloppy ricotta crap on my plate.

“No, thank you.” I slid the now messy piece back into the glass dish.

The only sounds that followed were spoons and forks dropping onto ceramic plates. How dare she reject food.

Angelina!” Nonna gave me a glare.

“But, Nonna, I don’t like that type of cake!” I don’t want to know her grandson! Gasps. How dare she say she doesn’t like it, let alone not eat it! Oops, time for me to go.

“Angelina, make another pot of espresso,” Nonna ordered.

Old cows! How dare they pray to Mary every month, drag that statue around from house to house and then gossip about the priest! I spooned the ground coffee into the coffeepot. Poor guy puts up with their crap every Sunday and they go and talk behind his back. I spooned in more of the dark coffee grounds that matched my mood. How dare Nonna bring that Signora Bertolini here. I spooned in more and pressed it down so I could fit more in. I tried to keep my evil grin to myself, this was going to make them stay awake and say their prayers all over. They’ll have to pray for help to go to sleep! Why didn’t anybody warn me of what I would be coming home to! I pushed the coffee down with the back of the spoon to make room for more. This was going to keep them awake for at least a month. Right up until their next rosary meeting!

My evil side was saying, He, he! My reality side was saying, Boy, are you going to get it.

Five REAL ways our schools are failing our children

Politicians love to make hay about how public schools have “failed” children.  Rather than take a critical eye to actual education, they celebrate the virtues of standardized testing and performance-based learning as thought it were a biblical passage.  Here are five ways schools in general have failed students, and society, as a whole.

1. Zero Tolerance policies.

While “zero tolerance” has merits in some arenas, schools have used it as a crutch and a means to take sound judgment out of the equation.  Lazy or cowardly administrators and teachers point to this policies when common sense is more useful.  Little Billy gets caught kissing a girl on the cheek?  That violates a zero tolerance policy on sexual misconduct.  Really?  Bring some brains back into the equation, and let give teachers and administrators the support they need to be able to have a backbone again.

2.  Gravy Training

We’ve all see this one:  a star athlete comes to school, and they immediately get a free pass on everything because.they can win the big soccer or football or baseball game.  This sort of behavior is insidious and corrupt, but you can’t really eliminate it.  Instead, use it as a teaching opportunity.  Show average students that life is about opportunities and making the most through preparation.  Most importantly, it gives a chance to teach students how flawed human beings are, and that we can strive for better.

3.  Blind eye to bullying.

The one area where a zero tolerance policy would make sense is too often the source of much ambiguity.  Rather than intervene, bullies are emboldened by a lack of action.  Administrators refuse to intervene range from fear of legal consequences to, more ominously, the belief in a perverse Social Darwinism which says that bullies a somehow have earned the right to intimidate others.  Often this is the result of administrators battling their own inner demons on the matter.  Sadly, the best and brightest are often discouraged from learning because of being bullied.

4. Teacher apathy.

It’s bad enough when a student doesn’t feel like someone cares, but it’s worse when a teacher actually demonstrates it.  Granted, there are a lot of teachers who have had great ideas but, for whatever reason, decided to give up.  Unfortunately, there are way more teachers whose shelf life is well past expired and just don’t care.  For this reason, teachers unions have failed our students.  Yes, it’s important to protect a members job, but it’s equally important to remind that member what their job is.

And the biggest way we have failed our students….

5.  Elitism.

This is the worst of all the failings.  Too often, educators and administrators focus on those students they have “selected” for academic achievement.  Sometimes it’s the daughter of a prominent family, or the father of a friend of the superintendent.  Regardless of the person, the fact remains this practice flies counter of the American concept of rising based on ones merits.  Poor kids tend to be left behind because their families don’t go to dinner with a congressman who gets a school money.  Those who say “that’s how it is” only justify the establishment of a new aristocracy, rather than a continuation of what made America so strong and nimble.

Flash Fiction: The Not-So-Loneliest Highway

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NOTE:  My apologies, once again, for this late post.  My internet connection issues have been resolved and regular postings are now scheduled.  If you wish to contribute, please contact me at http://www.getinjohnshead.com

Following the signs took Adam towards the main road.  He had decided it the time had come to find the open road.  The Interstate Highway System was something he’d been fascinated with for years but, until now, had never bothered to really pursue as a hobby.  His goal was far different from any commercial venture.  He had decided to chronicle the human element to the world of highway enthusiasts.

Yes, he was a roadgeek, but now was the time to put a face on that monicker.

His late model Ford Focus was the perfect mix of economy and style.  A electric blue fuel sipper with a five speed manual transmission, it was exactly the sort of vehicle a road enthusiast would go for.  Adam, lowered the driver’s side window, turned on the radio and found a station playing some classic Bobby Seger.   After a few moments of moving the gearshift and working the clutch and accelerator in tandem, he had the car climbing the onramp of Interstate 10, reaching highway speed in a matter of seconds.

Florida’s panhandle region differed greatly from the rest of the state.  Rather than be a land of sand, utilitarian looking stucco homes and a cacophony of big box stores, this area was chock full of smaller stores, lush woodlands, and rolling hills.  Interstate 10, at least through this area, was a rural wonderland, traversing the region known to many in the southeast as “God’s Country.”  With the exception of Pensacola and Tallahassee, there were no metropolitan areas to speak of.  Rather, the landscape was dotted with small towns, beach burbs and a collection of tourist traps.  Between the two metropolitan anchors, the only major towns to speak of were Panama City and Fort Walton Beach on the coast, and DeFuniak Springs, a small county seat located almost halfway between the Appalachicola River and Alabama Line.  Aside from that, the only major settlement to speak of was Eglin Air Force Base, an echo of the Cold War and the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Adam had driven the stretch once, years ago, while on his way to Mardi Gras.  It had been over a decade since he laid eyes on this landscape, and the road had long since been rebuilt.  The devastation wrought by Hurricane Ivan, among other storms, forced the state to reconstruct the highway, which spurred new growth.  A smooth, state of the art highway replaced the worn out asphalt, and Adam was enjoying the ride as he continued navigating I-10’s twists and turns.  After about an hour or so, nature betrayed his desire to trailblaze, and a stop to relieve himself was required.  Fortunately, a rest area was not far ahead, and he pulled the  vehicle into the picturesque wayside.

The rest area was typical of such locations in Florida.  Clean, full of travelers, and reasonably stocked with refreshments, it was a functional example of government efficiency.  A Florida Highway Patrol officer sat in his cream and black cruiser next the exit of the location, and a private security vehicle patrolled the area.  After using a reasonably clean restroom, at least by interstate standards, Adam took a few moments to stretch his legs, which he noticed a dog coming up to him.

Much to his surprise, the canine was friendly.  A smaller pit bull, he was fully expecting the animal to be vicious.  However, the brown and white dog sniffed him gently, then sat and looked at him, tongue hanging out.  Adam then heard a feminine voice calling out from a distance.  “Mel, stay!”

The voice came from a woman who, upon first sight, was easily one of the prettiest he had seen in many months.  About five foot, two inches in height, her brownish red hair wavy hair shimmered in the sunlight.  Like many in the state, she wore sunglasses to reduce the glare from the light.  Adam crouched down and gave the dog a scratch on the chin, which led a slight whine from the pooch.  He appeared pleased with Adam’s choice of greeting.  “He seems friendly.”

“He usually is protective of me,” the woman remarked.  “He seems to like you.  That’s unusual.”

Adam raised an eyebrow and looked up as his newfound conversant.  “Well, I have a way with animals.  Had a dog of my own growing up as kid.”

The woman nodded, seemingly pleased with Adam’s ability to placate her pet.  “Well, it would appear you haven’t lost your touch.”

He decided it time for an introduction.  “My name is Adam.”

“Amy,” she said.  “Good to meet you.”

“Same here,” he said.  “So, you driving through?”

Amy looked around at the rest area, then looked back at Adam.  “Sort of.  I actually live in Chipley but I’m going to visit my cousin in Mobile.  Kind of my thing on the weekend.  You?”

Taking a deep breath, Adam decided a brief synopsis was better than details.  “Just taking a drive today.  Not sure where I’m going.”

“Ah,” Amy remarked.  “Well, I don’t know if you’re hungry, but there’s a nice little diner off the highway near Crestview.  It’s a little ways up the road, but worth the drive.  I eat there every time I go to Mobile.”

Adam nodded, his face brightening.  Despite the fact he wasn’t much of a breakfast person, this morning felt different.  Maybe it was the thought of sharing a meal with a pretty woman, and maybe, just maybe, it was the chance to get to know someone new after his girlfriend had just left for a med school grad from Florida State.  Either way, the history student decided it was that, rather than study history, he was going to run counter to his own.  It was time, like his highway enthusiast friends liked to say, to put the rubber to the road and seize the journey.

“Sounds like a plan,” Adam said.  “You drive and I’ll follow ya.”

Amy smiled, looking as though Adam was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time.  Even Mel, the normally irascible pit bull, barked in agreement.  Interstate 10 had often been called “The Loneliest Highway” of the system, but the highway gods apparently didn’t get the memo.