"This place is like a hothouse," I complained, breathless. I dropped the bags on the kitchen floor and looked around in dismay. Onion and garlic skins, eggshells, and empty containers of ricotta cheese and tomatoes filled the sink. Dirty dishes littered the counter top. Breadcrumbs crunched under foot. “What are you up to, Ino? I left this place spotless yesterday."
"I'm making dinner." Ino turned from the stove with a wooden spoon in one hand, her apron spattered by her efforts. "Company's coming," she said, a broad grin lighting up her wrinkled face. Tomato sauce simmered on the back burner, filling the room with its fresh, sweet smell.
"And who might that be?” I asked, tugging off my coat. As far as I knew, Ino never entertained. Meals on Wheels delivered most of her dinners. Her only visitors were the lady in 3B, Father O'Brien, the visiting nurse, and the UPS man.
"Ray," Ino said proudly, her lips wrapping around the name like a kiss. "He called this morning. Said he was on his way. Said he had business in the city." She went back to stirring her pot. She was barely five feet, with a slight dowager’s hump and skinny arms. Tiny pin curls dotted her head. A man's wool sweater, worn at the elbows and missing a few buttons, was draped over her pink housedress. Thick white socks covered her swollen feet and ankles, and her slippers sagged at the heels.
Innocenzia Bellarosa, my afternoon client. The agency sent me five days a week, four hours each day, to assist her with light housekeeping, remind her to take her pills, and see that she bathed. We'd been together almost two years.
I slipped off my snow-encrusted boots and placed them by the radiator on a stack of newspapers. "Is that right?” I asked. Her son, Ray, hadn't been by since he'd hired me to watch over his mother.
"I'm making all his favorites: meatballs and manicotti, a little antipasto, some garlic bread. I even have cannolis from Ferrara's."
I moaned, exasperated. "Ino, you're going to wear yourself out with all this cooking. And you're out of the hospital not even two weeks." Diabetes and heart failure sent her to the hospital a couple of times a year and she hadn't fully recovered from the latest bout. "Dr. Kaplan will have a fit."
"Oh, don't you worry about Dr. Kaplan." She waved the spoon at me. "What he don't know won't hurt him."
"He'll know if you end up back in the hospital."
"Honey, I feel just fine. I feel wonderful. Ray's coming. He'll be here at four o'clock."
I glanced at my watch: Almost half past twelve. “Wait a minute, Ino. Where did you get all this food? You didn’t go out, did you?” It was almost impossible for her to climb the stairs to her apartment.
“Of course not,” she laughed. "I had it delivered.” She’d lived in Little Italy all her life, and knew everyone on Mulberry Street. “But I forgot a few things. Will you go to the store for me? I need fresh greens, and a nice tomato, ripe and firm, not pale and mealy, and a bottle of Chianti, a good label, nothing cheap."
"You're going all out," I muttered. I grabbed a broom, swept up the breadcrumbs, and deposited them into the trashcan.
Ino didn't budge from the stove. "Hush, Ruby. He's my son, and it's the night before Christmas Eve. This is our Christmas dinner." She salted the tomato sauce, dipped the spoon into the pot, and raised it to her lips for a taste. "Like my mother's,” she sighed.
Ino made the best sauce I'd ever tasted. She hadn't made it in ages. The acid upset her stomach. "You know all this is not good for your diet," I reminded her. "How was your sugar this morning?" I fished the eggshells out of the sink and dropped them into the trash.
"My sugar was perfect," she said.
"Did you take your insulin?"
Ino suffered mild memory loss. Missing her medications meant big trouble. I checked her pillbox and counted the pre-filled insulin syringes to make sure she’d taken her morning meds. No trouble today.
"What about lunch? Have you eaten anything, or are you just nibbling as you go along?"
"I had a sandwich and a glass of milk just before you got in." She gestured toward the dirty plate and glass in the sink.
“Huh,” I said, running out of steam. She didn’t look too bad, and the smile plastered across her face almost made a relapse worth it. Almost. Ino was in my care. I couldn’t sit by while she wore herself out. “Are you almost done over there?” I asked.
“I just have to stuff the manicotti.”
“Sit down,” I ordered. “I’ll help you.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish