Please wait. Loading.
Collection II
Volume III, Unit 10
by Emily Hockaday

Macarone & Cheese (& Maggots)

Macarone & Cheese (& Maggots) (Volume III. Unit 10)
Login
Password
Your browser is obsolete - it does not support HTML5 Canvas.

Macarone & Cheese (& Maggots)

Tony Macarone heard the rumors, but paid them no heed until one fateful night, after-hours at the restaurant. In a town like Manchester, Italian immigrants were few and far between. Not that Tony was an ‘immigrant’ per se. He was born in Manchester, first generation. This didn’t stop his classmates from whispering, though. No one had the spine to say it too loudly or make strident"No one had the spine to say it too loudly or make strident accusations, but often enough he would hear 'mom' whispered, and sarcastic sotto voce references to the 'restaurant' business as he left school at the end of the day." accusations, but often enough he would hear ‘mob’ whispered, and sarcastic sotto voce references to the ‘restaurant’ business as he left school at the end of the day.

In a town like Manchester, running a restaurant and grocery wasn’t alibi enough. In this town people talked, even if talking could get you talked about on the evening news. Yet the rumors never solidified because, in a town like Manchester, Famiglia was the only place to get truly authentic manicotti. And in a town like Manchester, manicotti was enough to appease the masses. Some customers even conjectured that Mrs. Macarone’s manicotti could bring about an egalitarian"Some customers even conjectured that Mrs. Macarone's manicotti could bring about an egalitarian society—that after this crying-for-joy-inducing meal, inequalities between social classes would come crashing down." society—that after this crying-for-joy-inducing meal, inequalities between social classes would come crashing down.

And yet, this isn’t a tale about whether Mrs. Macarone should receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her entrées. It is instead a tale of mystery. A tale of regret. And a tale of something like redemption.

* * *

As said, Tony never paid heed to these absurd-seeming rumors; he had enough on his mind, what with Jim Thomas’ accident burning through his brain like a cigarette into denim. Tony wasn’t yet a man, but already he had regrets, regrets that trailed him like a stray cat follows the smell of tuna water. He was barely an adult, but already second-guessing and self-doubt tailed him at every turn, like a couple of callow G-men who’d fallen asleep chronically in shadowing class.

Why had he been driving so late? Why hadn’t he seen the other car? And why couldn’t they find the piece of trash that’d hit them and driven away? These questions haunted Tony day in and day out. So until the horrible proof was right under his nose, Tony couldn’t see his parents for what they were.

The night was clear and the leaves shuddered around Tony like phlegm in a smoker’s throat. The shadows along the road were long and sinister, but Tony’s worries, though usually heavy, tonight were evanescent"The shadows along the road were long and sinister, but Tony's worries, though usually heavy, tonight were evanescent—immaterial, flitting away, as his thoughts turned to the hot meal waiting for him at Famiglia."—immaterial, flitting away, as his thoughts turned to the hot meal waiting for him at Famiglia.

As usual, however, peace of mind never lasted long. Ghosts of the past, the SAT vocabulary flash cards, his teen angst, the lackluster performance as an intern at the local precinct, all combined to produce aggregate"Ghosts of the past, the SAT vocabulary flash cards, his teen angst, the lackluster performance as an intern at the local precinct, all combined to produce aggregate stress." stress. Tony felt he could handle no more, but new concerns arose when he saw his girlfriend Lindy’s car parked in the alley near the restaurant’s dumpster. The rest of the parking lot was as empty as a criminal’s promise. He got out of the car and closed the door ever so slowly, careful to be an undetected third party.


In Manchester, Italian immigrants were few and far between.
Illustration by Rosa Lykiardopoulos

Inside, the restaurant was dark. Tony silently pushed through the kitchen door, which Lindy must have left ajar. His parents and Lindy sat around one of the red-and-white checkered tables, appearing to be having a clandestine meeting. Then, they abruptly got up and moved across the room, Tony’s father, long and lean, walked with purpose; Tony’s mother and girlfriend followed. They were the same height, but Tony’s mother had the figure of a chef who tasted all of her dishes. Lindy was willowy but shapely, with a body that, as they say in a town like Manchester, sizzled like butter on a carburetor.

Her blonde hair seemed to glow in contrast with Tony’s parents’ black manes. The market area of the business, Tony could now see, was lit by dim, sputtering lights. Tony’s parents were retailers of imported groceries. Building on the wild success of their restaurant, they started this venture with only Italian products, but had since broadened their range, bringing in and selling an eclectic"Tony's parents were retailers of imported groceries. Building on the wild success of their restaurant, they started this venture with only Italian products, but had since broadened their range, bringing in and selling an eclectic assortment of goods." assortment of goods. Many favorite products were normally impossible to get in the United States as some ingredients are endemic"Many favorite products were normally impossible to get in the United States as some ingredients are endemic, so to speak, to the particular countries and regions they were produced in.", so to speak, to the particular countries and regions they were produced in. Each culture had its own specific delicacies and the Macarones had the monopoly on the ethnic racket, so to speak, in Manchester.

“Mr. and Mrs. Macarone, this is of utmost importance,” Lindy was insisting. “My mother will kill me if I tell her you won’t do it.”

“You are asking for a dangerous favor,” Mr. Macarone started. “My cousin working at the docks warned me that we might be under surveillance.”

“We can be very discreet and are willing to negotiate a very fair price. My father must be taken care of. My mother won’t rest until he is. We know you’ve done this for other clients.”

Tony couldn’t believe his ears. That was his girl over there, entering into a highly irregular—and obviously illegal—contract with his parents. When they brought up Tommy Two-Fingers, Tony knew there was trouble. Tommy Two-Fingers was a pusher of pressure and bad luck. When, after losing his fingers, his own business dealings were no longer enough to supply the necessary quota of negativity, he started pushing people into making bad decisions for the vicarious"Tommy Two-Fingers was a pusher of pressure and bad luck. When, after losing his fingers, his own business dealings were no longer enough to supply the necessary quota of negativity, he started pushing people into making bad decisions for the vicarious thrill of it." thrill of it. Tony had been under the impression that this job at the docks for the past ten years was the only thing that kept Tommy out of trouble. Now, Tony wasn’t so sure.

“Lindy, you being Tony’s girlfriend militates"Tony couldn't believe his ears. That was his girl... entering into a highly... illegal... contract with his parents.... 'Lindy, you being Tony's girlfriend militates in your favor, certainly—to put it in a certain way,' Tony's mother finally said. 'We want to help...' " in your favor, certainly—to put it in a certain way,” Tony’s mother finally said. “We want to help, but enjoin" 'Lindy, you being Tony's girlfriend militates in your favor, certainly—to put it in a certain way,' Tony's mother finally said. 'We want to help, but enjoin you from speaking to Tony about this.' " you from speaking to Tony about this.”

“He doesn’t know?” Lindy asked.

“He has a chance at a better future. And you know how he’s been, after the accident. We can’t let him find out. It is very important.”

Tony’s heart quickened. After all his high-sounding, grandiloquent speeches in front of his parents about justice, he was in disbelief. In a town like Manchester, the police were looked at with a patronizing air, but Tony vowed to change all that when he’d join the force. How could his parents so flagrantly belittle what he had repeatedly sworn to uphold?!

Lindy nodded seriously and looked around the grocery. “So, we have a deal? My mother will be expecting results very quickly.”

“Yes, we’ll let you know when we’re ready for him, but no sooner,” answered Mr. Macarone.

Tony watched them leave and headed for the exit himself. Paranoid thoughts ran rampant in his brain. He knew that Lindy’s parents didn’t exactly have a congenial"He knew that Lindy's parents didn't exactly have a congenial marriage, but Lindy never seemed disturbed by their frequent bickering." marriage, but Lindy never seemed disturbed by their frequent bickering. He knew there was something shady going on, and felt backstabbed by their deception. And what had they meant by “after the accident”? Who wouldn’t want closure, justice? In his opinion, the chief of police—who acted more like a king in feudal times than an elected official in a democratic society—ought to be deposed"In [Tony's] opinion, the chief of police—who acted more like a king in feudal times than an elected official in a democratic society—ought to be deposed after all he hadn't done to look into the 'accident.' " after all he hadn’t done to look into the “accident.”

Unable to face his parents, Tony decided to slip home and into bed. He called Lindy and asked what she had done that evening, but she gave nebulous"[Tony] called Lindy and asked what she had done that evening, but she gave nebulous answers, he couldn't get one concrete answer out of her." answers, he couldn’t get one concrete answer out of her. His sleep was restless, filled with black-and-white dreams in which Lindy’s father turned up dead over and over. In the last, most disturbing, dream Jim Thomas was there, holding out a knife, telling him he was the one who must “take care” of Mr. Stebbins. Tony woke up in a pool of sweat and knew he had to take action.

Though he knew the day would be worse than most, to put it lightly, Tony started it as he did every day: with breakfast. He lumbered into the kitchen, downtrodden. On account of his dreams and high anxiety he ate light: two bowls of raisin-nut bran, hot-buttered toast, OJ, prosciutto and melon.

“Tony! What’s wrong?” his mother asked. “You aren’t eating anything!”

Inside, Tony cursed his mother’s uncanny ability to sense his emotional state. He had to think fast. Now might be the time to find answers, but he needed an angle. He sighed heavily.

“Nothing, mom… I’m just worried about the SATs. What if I can’t get into a good school?”

“Oh, Tony, you’ll be fine! You’re very bright… What’s going on?”

“Last night’s study session was harder than I thought it’d be,” Tony whined like a twelve-year-old. “Maybe after school I can go into the family business with you and Dad.”

“No! You will do well on the SATs and study to become a detective with the police department, like you want so badly. You just need more confidence. I know what happened to Jim has shaken you—”

“This has nothing to do with that,” Tony snarled. “You don’t really want a police officer in the family, do you?”

He maintained his sulky expression while scrutinizing"He maintained his sulky expression while scrutinizing his mother's face for a reaction. He peered with a madman's intensity at her face, but couldn't come up with a definite impression." his mother’s face for a reaction. He peered with a madman’s intensity at her face, but couldn’t come up with a definite impression.

“Tony, you are talking crazy—Chris, get in here!” she yelled. Tony’s father’s footsteps made their way toward the kitchen. He stepped in looking groggy and confused.

“Tell your father what you told me,” she shot at Tony.

Though he felt an iron fist around his throat, Tony did his best to look nonchalant. “I was suggesting I might go into the family business before going through college. I know how to run the restaurant, and I’m sure the grocery would be easy enough to figure out. You always say you need a manager.”

Tony’s father stood stock-still for an entire minute, giving Tony a chance to read his parents’ faces. He looked for the parts of them he now knew to be cold-blooded killers. He saw fear and apprehension, and maybe even guilt, but he still had doubts.

“Tony, this is unacceptable. We want a better, more educated life for you. We forbid you to work at the restaurant. From now on, you will use your time only to study. That’s final.”

Tony tried to keep cool. He didn’t want to give himself away. But to play the part of an ungrateful teenager he had to storm off.

“Forget you two! I don’t have to go to college if I don’t want to! I can find work anywhere!”

As Tony stomped out of the room, looks of disbelief passed between his parents. He was rarely defiant, and they were shocked by this recalcitrance"As Tony stomped out of the room, looks of disbelief passed between his parents. He was rarely defiant, and they were shocked by this recalcitrance.". After Jim Thomas’ death he had been unpredictable, but this was extreme. And then, his unpredictability at least tied into pursuing a career in law enforcement.

* * *

Later, at school, Tony went over the execution of his plan with Lindy. He wanted her to be malleable"Later, at school, Tony went over the execution of his plan with Lindy. He wanted her to be malleable to his will, and he believed that, with the right sort of questioning, she'd sing like the fat lady at the end of each opera." to his will, and he believed that, with the right sort of questioning, she’d sing like the fat lady at the end of each opera. She arrived in a slinky red dress, seemingly sucking the air out of the long school hallway. Tony swallowed a meatball-sized lump and worked to keep focused.

“Hey, Lindy,” he greeted her, attempting a debonair look over his shoulder. “I was thinking sometime this week we could go to Famiglia and have dinner with my parents.”

He searched her face for some sign of guilt, anything that might incriminate"He searched her face for some sign of guilt, anything that might incriminate Lindy, or his parents, anything that might prove Tony's suspicions right." Lindy, or his parents, anything that might prove Tony’s suspicions right. But Lindy did not demur" 'I was thinking sometime this week we could go to Famiglia and have dinner with my parents.' [Tony] searched her face for some sign of guilt.... But Lindy did not demur. She played it cool, like a metal hook in a meat locker. 'Sure, Tony, your parents are great.' ". She played it cool, like a metal hook in a meat locker.

“Sure, Tony, your parents are great.”

“What if I told you they aren’t so great?” He raised an eyebrow and drew closer to her, eyes bulging meaningfully. “What if I told you they’re part of the mob?”

“What are you talking about, Tony?!” Lindy asked. “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

Disappointed with her reaction, Tony shrugged. “I’m only being facetious" 'What if I told you they aren't so great?' He raised an eyebrow and drew closer to her, eyes bulging meaningfully.... 'What are you talking about, Tony?!'... Disappointed with her reaction, Tony shrugged. 'I'm only being facetious,' he countered.",” he countered. “Plus, everyone else says it; who’s to say it’s not true? I heard something suspicious and I think you know what’s going on.”

“You’re talking crazy, Tony. I understand your obsession with finding the driver who hit you and Jim. If you want to talk about that, we can. But don’t drag that over onto your parents—not everything is a case… I have to go to class. See you later.”

As Tony shuffled through his parents’ papers later that afternoon, he went over the short exchange, certain that Lindy’s anger was just defensive guilt. He had trouble focusing until his parents’ immigration papers caught his eye.

“Macarniotelli?!” he said out loud. The pages in his hand had his parents’ names written—before and after immigration. They had changed their names! If that didn’t prove that they had something to hide—for instance, a mob connection—Tony didn’t know what would. He quickly put the papers back exactly as they were, and ran down the block to stake out the restaurant. When he got there, Tony opened his compact packed snack—a mini-stick of sopressata, garlic bread, pimento-stuffed green olives, marinated artichoke hearts lovingly packed for him by his mother in wax paper, fragrant cheese (unpasteurized cow-, goat- and sheeps-milk), and a 2-liter organic Concord-grape soda to wash it all down—and settled in behind the employee entrance. No matter how gut wrenching the case, he couldn’t afford to become undernourished.

Hours passed in which nothing happened, but finally Tony was vindicated. Just after the restaurant closed a truck pulled up and Tommy Two-Fingers stepped down from the driver’s seat in dirty jeans and a black button-down shirt. He looked angry. The many lines and scars on his face strobe-flashed in the gauzy cone emitted by the solitary streetlamp. He made a quick phone call and fidgeted impatiently by the back door until Tony’s father emerged from the kitchen.

“Tommy, how are you?”

“Been better Chris. Thought you weren’t gonna ask me for no more favors for a while. Thought you were fully stocked in the favor department there.”

“I know, Tommy, I’m sorry, all right? This is the last one for a while, I promise,” Mr. Macarone sounded genuinely apologetic. He handed Tommy an envelope and they both walked to the back of the truck. A long wooden crate came into Tony’s view. It was about 7 feet in length and maybe three feet wide. The dimensions were perfect for a certain kind of job. As they lugged the crate into the building, Tony saw something falling to the pavement through the cracks. A minute later, with ghostly blue fumes from the truck’s tailpipe still wafting in the darkness, Tony ran to what had fallen, and saw, with horror, that it was maggots! That box must contain another victim, he thought. Just then Lindy’s family’s car pulled up, with Lindy and her parents going into the restaurant with determination. By the time Tony had found a hiding place in the grocery section, Lindy’s family was sitting with Tony’s mother at a table.

Tony saw his father step through the kitchen doorway carrying the wooden crate, which occluded"Tony saw his father step through the kitchen doorway carrying the wooden crate, which occluded, with its sheer size, almost all the light coming from the kitchen.", with its sheer size, almost all the light coming from the kitchen. Tony knew this was it. He couldn’t afford making an egregious mistake and negating all the fastidious"Tony knew this was it. He couldn't afford making an egregious mistake negating all the fastidious preparation he had done: the careful stake-outs, the diligent snooping, the international-spy-grade sneaking around..." preparation he had done: the careful stake-outs, the diligent snooping, the international-spy-grade sneaking around—but he didn’t think having the proper evidence was worth the risk to Mr. Stebbin’s life. He wondered in passing how his father could now carry that huge crate by himself, and with one arm, and without much of a sweat, but it passed quickly. He jumped out from behind a bread-shelf.

“Mr. Stebbins, run! They’re trying to kill you!” he yelled.

Nobody moved. He wondered for a moment whether anyone had heard him. Finally, Lindy’s father asked, “What is the meaning of this impetuous" 'Mr Stebbins, run! They're trying to kill you!' [Tony] yelled. Nobody moved. He wondered for a moment whether anyone had heard him. Finally, Lindy's father asked, 'What is the meaning of this impetuous outburst?' " outburst?”

“They’re planning to ‘take care’ of you! They made a contract with my parents on your life!” Tony answered.

“Is this why you were acting so weird earlier? Were you investigating me? Were you interrogating me? You should be taken off of all investigations! Or from your police internship—it’s making you psycho!” Lindy yelled indignantly. “We made a contract with your parents to get my father some imported cheese!”

Tony ignored her sarcasm and clever wordplay, stubbornly pressing forward with his accusations.

“But they said it was illegal!”

“It is illegal. That’s why it’s hidden in that crate.”

“But I saw maggots fall out of that crate!”

Mr. Stebbins jumped in. “You two got me Casu Marzu? Thank you so much! You’re the best. You know my insatiable cupidity" 'You two got me Casu Marzu? Thank you so much! You're the best. You know my insatiable cupidity for exotic cheeses.' " for exotic cheeses.” He hugged his wife and daughter, and grinned at the Macarones. “And, you two, thanks for going out on a limb for me.”

“Casu Marzu is maggot cheese,” Lindy explained. “It’s the only thing that calms my dad down, and his law firm is in the middle of a high-stakes case right now. He was driving us crazy so we had to get this cheese for him.”

“This is so insane-sounding; you expect me to believe this?!” Tony yelled. “What about Tommy Two-Fingers? And, Mom, Dad—what about your real last name?”

Mr. Macarone beckoned Tony over to him and the wooden crate. “Let us prove it to you, Tony, before you break your mother’s heart with this crazy talk.” He then pried the lid off and unwrapped a waxpaper block, revealing the foulest-looking cheese Tony had ever seen. Little white worms jumped on it at every angle.

“As for Tommy, he works at the docks and can intercept illegal packages for us and bring them here without too many people asking unnecessary questions.” He sighed and sat down. “Your mother and I sell a selection of highly desired illegal cheeses. We didn’t want you to know. Haven’t you wondered why we have twenty-seven varieties of American cheese, all in opaque wrapping?”

Tony’s righteousness began to melt away. “You know I don’t like American cheese; why would I notice that?”

Mrs. Macarone nodded. “That was our strategy. We didn’t want you to know.”

“OK, OK,” Tony said. “… but please explain why you changed your names?”

“That was your mother’s ingenious plan. She said that if our last name was Macarone, then more people would want to come to our restaurant. And our last name before was virtually unpronounceable,” Tony’s father explained.

So there had been no macabre secret. Tony now saw how his guilt and anger about Jim Thomas had engendered"So there had been no macabre secret. Tony now saw how his guilt and anger about Jim Thomas had engendered paranoia and suspicion. It had all led to this manic goose chase..." paranoia and suspicion. It had all led to this manic goose chase… how horribly wrong his first incursion"Tony now saw how his guilt and anger about Jim Thomas had engendered paranoia and suspicion. It had all led to this manic goose chase... how horribly wrong his first incursion into private detecting had gone!" into private detecting had gone!

“Tony, you have been out of line,” Lindy seethed. “You accused us of plotting a murder. How could you think that about us? I knew you were screwed up, but you really need help. If you weren’t so pathetic I’d say I see real satirical" 'You accused us of plotting a murder.... I knew you were screwed up, but you really need help. If you weren't so pathetic I'd say I see a real satirical potential here.' " potential here.”

Tony had no right to disagree. His demons had chased him down the wrong path. Or had him barking up the wrong tree. Something like that. As if there were a right path when demons are involved… And speaking of them, in the whole sordid process he had hurt the ones he loved most. Isn’t that how it always goes...

He watched Lindy walk out the door, sat in stunned silence as his parents swept maggots off the restaurant floor, and had only one thought swirling through his brain. He had to get her back. And he had to know the truth, once and for all, about Jim Thomas.

Make that two thoughts.