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The plate was set down in front of me. I kept my face blank as best as I could as Luigi put plates down in front of my parents and uncle, knowing that, as the oldest, I could not react, even though my sisters recoiled noticeably.

“It’s a head,” said seven-year-old Cate bluntly, pointing at the fish on my plate.

“Yes, I know it’s a head,” I said, trying to keep from snapping at my youngest sister.

Now I wished heartily that I hadn’t agreed to try the fish—I had forgotten the sickening, salty smell and the too-squishy, rubbery feel of it in my mouth. But I had thought that I would be grown-up and try it—it was just a lump of meat, right?—and my uncle’s chef had carried out an entire fish, scales, head, and all, and set it down in front of me. And now I would have to eat it. At least the bones had been removed.

My uncle grinned at me as he began to cut his fish. He could tell I was having second thoughts. “Mmm,” he said as he popped a chunk of fish, complete with scaly skin, into his mouth. “It’s quite good, you know.” He turned to say something in Italian to the chef, who beamed happily. My parents were eating, too, though I could tell that the teeth still in my mother’s fish’s mouth had put her off somewhat. But Luigi was watching expectantly, and I knew I couldn’t ask that the fish be taken back, so I steeled myself to take a bite.

The meat inside, at least, wasn’t too bad. In fact, when I clamped my mouth firmly closed and stared determinedly out the window at the picturesque vineyards and mountains beyond Castello D’Abruzzo, it was almost tasty, and I could swallow without any trouble.

And then I looked down at the fish again to take another bite and had to fight down a wave of nausea. It was grinning at me! Gingerly, because the plate was hot, I turned it around so the fish was facing the other way (much to the dismay of my sisters) and crammed my fork into my mouth, ignoring my disgust. It was squishy, and salty, and though I tried to convince myself that I loved it, what I really wanted to do was spit it out. My sisters were all watching me with mocking grins on their faces. I swallowed, gulped water from my glass, and began the ordeal a third time.

After I’d swallowed my fourth (or was it my fifth?) mouthful, Luigi seemed satisfied and went back into the kitchens. My parents and uncle were engaged in conversation, taking no notice of me or my sisters, who had grown bored with watching me suffer and gone off to play. Quickly, before the opportunity fled, I gouged out long chunks of meat with my fork, smashed them down against the sides of the fish, and moved things around as much as I could. When I was done, the fish appeared to have been eaten to a reasonable amount, and I put my fork down (finally) on the side of my plate, sighing in relief now that it was over.

There would be no more seafood for me. Not for a while, at least.





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abaxter94 said...
Oct. 10, 2009 at 12:04 pm
This one is great! I've learned to start as close to the action as possible though. Perhaps if you cut out the part at the beginning and just started with the first bight of fish in your mouth, describing the feelings you were experiencing? Just a suggestion.
 
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