Fish on Fridays
B. Denise Roosendaal
The avocado green refrigerator sat, Buddha like, between the stove and the pantry. A swollen treasure chest: the keeper of all the goodness. But I knew just where to find the sinfulness – Neapolitan ice cream in the freezer or a chocolate bar hidden behind the eggs. I liked the horizontal handle that jutted out to meet my adolescent forehead. I liked how it snapped open, the sturdiness, and the control. And I loved to peek inside, often. “Don’t just stand there. You’re letting out the cold air,” my grandmother reminded.
I dragged my fingertips along the yellowed Formica countertops covered with chopped peppers. I skimmed past the stove with its bounty of pots, bubbling with plentitude and oregano. Sinatra soothed the air from the transistor radio perched on the sill above the sink. I peered out the window, framed with yellow gingham curtains trimmed in fuzzy white balls, and into the backyard where the grill sat, not yet warmed. Navigating a path to the table wedged into the corner meant bouncing off several adult butts, plumped by years of neglect and extra helpings of Alfredo sauce. A room meant for three, maybe four, now held thirteen, or so it seemed. I felt like a loose ball in a bumper car park as I sought my seat. When Sinatra was abandoned for Elvis, the vinyl floor became a dance floor, anyone a dance partner.
The chopping, splattering, clattering, and washing were nearly drowned out by the chitchat. The smell of fish packed in flour, nearly extinguished by the pungency of the crabs floating in water. Their hard shells would soon turn from Chesapeake blue to spaghetti red. The whiteness of the kitchen walls, considered by my grandmother to be boring, was a pleasant, if bare, backdrop to these colors, these Fridays.
My mother’s martini glass bobbled on the counter, top heavy from the clear liquid. Her olives were stuffed with blue cheese while we were stuffed around the oval table. She offered sliced celery and peanut butter. I would have preferred a cookie from the tan and black Charles Chips canister, sitting unopened on a shelf surrounded by knick-knacks from exotic places like Atlantic City and Wildwood. The kitchen was square enough to incubate happiness and snugness, with never enough seats for all the cousins, and chaotic enough to lose an unspoken child - only until the silence of a second helping.
“What did the president know and when did he know it?” the question blared from the fuzzy and uncolored TV in the next room. The thin walls did little to shield the urgency of the question from seeping into the kitchen. They, the men and my loud aunts, argued over the question’s implications for hours, days, with the same sporting quality as a boxing match. I longed to understand, to offer my opinion too, but shifting the current seating arrangement and bumping my way through the dancing would have required strategic maneuvering, and leaving the crabs. This room or that? I was torn.
“Crabs are almost ready,” my grandmother yelled into the next room. My grandfather appeared in the doorway, filling every inch of its frame, his belly falling beneath his untucked shirt, and the remaining scotch in his glass swirling with the clinking ice cubes. He didn’t want crabs. He had steaks marinating.
“Frank, it’s Friday. We’re eating crabs and spaghetti and fried fish,” a weekly reminder from my grandmother’s prayer book. “It’s the rule.”
My grandfather winked at me and pointed to the clock poised above the green Buddha fridge. He raised three chubby fingers. Three more hours to midnight.
“Fish on Fridays, but steaks at midnight,” - his own rule. How fleeting these Fridays would soon seem.