In Umbria, they have peanuts and butter, but never together. Instead: pork sliced, baked, fried, cured, and ground into fat salciccia; truffles in the spring; and boar in the fall, during hunting season. It is tough and gamey, though. Aria warns him not to expect too much.
Last year, his parents visited them in Perugia where he is studying, huffing uphill with their big Midwestern smiles, windbreakers tied around waists. They’d eaten homemade tagliatelle con funghi, pizza with gorgonzola and noci, and risotto with pomodori and peperoni, laughing over the way “pepperoni” in America meant little round salami slices, but in Italy it’s bell peppers only. Something got lost in translation, his mother said at dinner, and though he knows Aria understood every English word he will pretend to translate so he can tell her in his getting-better Italian that this is brave for his parents, eating in an honest-to-God Italian restaurant with no pictures on the menu. Reciting her guidebook Italian, his mother had told the waiter, Prendo il pizza con quattro formaggio, per favore, then blushed when he’d asked in English what they wanted to drink.
Aria said, during that dinner, in Italian, They are very sweet. She’d said, in Italian, I want to fuck you in the bathroom. Now, please and thanks. After she excused herself, he told his parents he’d be right back but had to make a call. The restaurant bathroom was unisex. The stall door went to the floor.
This year, he flew with Aria to Detroit, then drove to his parents’ in Lansing. He showed her his childhood bedroom, left her poring over high school yearbooks, saying, When I come back, you are in for a treat. He was thirty minutes in the kitchen, and when he returned with a plate of finger sandwiches, she was doubled over laughing with his freshman photo trapped under her thumb. That’s before my braces, he said, but that bowl cut? There’s no excuse for that. She kissed the picture; kissed his knee; reached for the plate in his hand.
Not so fast, he said, setting it between them on the sea-green deep-pile rug. First, a classic. Peanut butter and strawberry jelly, he said, pointing to one crustless triangle. Then, in a circle: Peanut butter and banana. Peanut butter and honey. Peanut butter and bacon.
Pancetta e peanuts? she asked, wrinkling her perfect nose.
Just trust me, he said, lifting it to her mouth. She let it sit on her tongue before chewing. Salty, she said, in English. Sticky. Savory. Sweet. He said, I want to fuck you on my childhood bed. Now, please and thanks. It still had a baseball comforter. They had the taste of salt and sugar in their mouths. After, she said she liked it. Peanut butter. It was like a Norwegian cheese she’d had once. Brown and sweet and grainy. She polished off the crumbs and licked her fingers, growing used to the taste.
Katie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, forthcoming 2015), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Day One, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock where she serves as the Fiction Editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.