By Attila Zønn
Signor Largasia owned the grocery store. It was a small shop on Danforth, sandwiched between a shoe store and the liquor store. He was a large man, forty-ish, with a round body but small hands. Little Attila liked his big mustache that curled up at the ends and came to points.
Signor Largasia wore a white apron and on those Saturday mornings when Mamma and little Attila came into the shop he’d rush from behind the counter and help Mamma with the groceries. He was from the same town in Italy as Mamma, but Mamma had never known him because since he was a very young man he had lived in Canada. Little Attila liked how he opened paper bags with one shake like he was an expert at shaking paper bags open, and he’d stand there holding the bag in the air while Mamma made her selections.
She’d point to the pears. He’d say, “Subito, Signora.” Then put five pears in the bag, weigh them on the scale, write on the bag with a pen he kept behind his ear, then open the bag and put five more in. He did the same with the apples, and the oranges and the nectarines. Whatever Mamma picked he always gave her double. Even the ground veal; he’d weigh it, then slap another clump on top. And once Mamma paid for everything the groceries went into large boxes and Signor Largasia called his teenage son who carried the boxes through a door to the back of the building. Then Signor Largasia took a red can from behind the cashier and lowered it for Attila so he could choose his licca-licca. There were all kinds of flavors in the red can, but Attila always chose lemon.
One day while they were walking home after doing the groceries, little Attila asked Mamma why Signor Largasia always gave her more than she paid for.
Mamma said, “He knows my father.” Then she said, “I don’t want him to give me things because I can never repay him, but if I refuse it will be an insult and that would be worse.”
Little Attila thought Signor Largasia was a nice man for doing what he did for Mamma. If someone wants to give you something for free there’s nothing wrong with that.
Papa never went with them when they went to Signor Largasia’s, even though he was home, but when they got home, Papa already had the groceries and he was putting them away. Papa was very good at putting away groceries. He knew where everything went.
One day they found Signor Largasia sitting in his car—dead. Someone had shot him in the head. Signora Da Tonti told Mamma who told Papa. Uncle Istvan was there too. Uncle Istvan said it didn’t surprise him. But Papa sat quiet in the kitchen, staring at the floor. And that was when little Attila heard for the first time the word Mafia.
So no more free food from the grocer but that didn’t matter because Mamma and Papa had bought a house, and they were going to move to a place called North York. And they would have to get groceries from another store and probably the man there would not know Mamma’s papa.
Little Attila liked any place that had the word North in it. It was a powerful word, that one, like North Pole. He always thought the North Pole was better than the South Pole. You could walk to the North Pole, but you had to take a boat or a plane to the South Pole. And he imagined that now maybe they would be closer to the North Pole. And because he liked the movie White Fang he always imagined the North to be a wild place, always covered in snow and full of wolves and caribou and moose and he knew that animals in the wild were happy, even if they didn’t eat every day and they had to fight to survive. They were happy. Not like when Papa took him to the zoo called Riverdale. The animals didn’t look happy behind the bars, lying fat and lazy on the concrete, and when he saw a chimpanzee drinking its own pee, and the people around him laugh at that, he told Papa he wanted to go home, because the zoo was a sad place.
Later, when Attila became a father, he took his children to the zoo, because it was the thing you did when you had small children. He did enjoy seeing their fascination with live beasts in captivity and how his children laughed when he told them that the rhinoceros was probably the stinkiest animal in the whole zoo. It was a different zoo than the one he had seen as a child. Now the animals had land to run on and they were behind glass instead of bars, but it was still a sad place.
©2016 Attila Zønn