Fiction: 1968

By Jon Wesick

The American flag was a limp dishrag hanging from the eaves over the wooden porch in the August humidity. Frank Bianchi retrieved the day’s Sun Times. Even with the living-room fans, it was too hot for wine so he drained a sweaty bottle of Miller and belched while glancing at the front page. The mayor wasn’t going to let a mob of hippies and Communists take over his town.
He set the paper on the coffee table and switched on the Zenith TV for background noise while he made dinner. Antiwar protests at the Democratic convention dominated the news. Chicago police in sky-blue helmets and short sleeved shirts filled the screen so he changed the channel to “Garfield Goose” on WGN.  A widower, he had only himself to cook for but if he had to eat, it might as well be good. Frank wasn’t sure about protests. If you asked him, the biggest crime was what they served on pasta these days. A real Bolognese was more than hamburger and tomato. It was a creation of skill and patience starting with soffritto, a mixture of minced onion, carrot, and celery. He set out his wooden cutting board. After years of use, the silver had worn from his chef’s knife but he still sharpened it on a whetstone every week. He halved an onion. Then, fingers of his left hand curled, he made three vertical and one horizontal cut into each half before chopping them into quarter-inch slices. He turned the cutting board ninety degrees and repeated to make the pieces smaller while ignoring the cacophony of “Tom and Jerry” cartoons in the background. Following a similar process, he minced a carrot and celery stalk before adding the vegetables to the hot olive oil in a fourteen-inch pot.
The recipe called for pancetta but chopped bacon was good enough. Frank added this to the pot and stirred the fragrant mixture until the moisture evaporated from the vegetables and the bacon browned. If he’d wanted to save money, he could have used hamburger but you get out of Bolognese what you put into it. Frank added the ground veal and ground pork he got from the butcher counter at Sal’s. He stirred until the meat sizzled in its own fat. Some would drain it at this point but the fat added a lot of flavor. Next Frank poured in a cup of Chianti from a straw-wrapped bottle and took a few sips for himself.
While the mixture reduced, he opened a tiny can of Contadina tomato paste and cut himself on the lid. His blood stained the water crimson as he held his finger under the kitchen faucet. No creation comes without sacrifice. Probably add some flavor, anyway. As for the tomato paste, store brands were a few pennies cheaper but he liked the picture of the woman holding a basket of tomatoes on the Contadina label. He wrapped his injured finger in a paper towel and returned to the stove. When the wine evaporated, he added two tablespoons of the paste along with two cups of chicken stock, not that bullshit from a bouillon cube but real stock made from simmering all the flavor out of the bones from last week’s roast. He set the heat to low and left the mixture to simmer, returning every ten minutes, or so, to stir with a wooden spoon. In a few hours, dinner would be ready in time for the “Jonathan Winters Show.” Man, that guy was crazy!
He returned to the living room and changed the channel to ABC in hopes of watching “The Avengers.” Sure, it would be a rerun but he could watch Dianna Rigg in her catsuit reading the phone book for hours. Instead of her and Patrick Macnee in a bowler hat, he saw cops swinging clubs into protestors’ heads. His son-in-law was a cop. On one of their rare get-togethers, he’d said, “They never tell the whole story on the news.” The story Frank saw wasn’t good. Police kept swinging even after knocking kids to the ground. There were images of cops dragging long-haired kids, faces bloodied, into police vans. Reporters described how police beat them up, too. Some politician at the convention denounced the police’s “Gestapo tactics.” Even though Frank was no lip reader, there was no mistaking the mayor’s inaudible reply of, “Fuck you!”
Frank turned off the TV and tuned the console radio to WLS. He liked that DJ, Larry Lujack. A lot of young people’s rock n’ roll was too noisy but Mason Williams showed real musicianship on “Classical Gas.” Then Jose Feliciano sang a cover of “Light My Fire.” Man, that guy had a hell of a voice!

Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry AnnualHe’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, New Verse News, Paterson Literary Review, Pearl, Pirene’s Fountain, Slipstream, Space and Time, and Tales of the Talisman. His most recent books are The Shaman in the Libraryand The Prague Deception.