Enrico Baroli loved his cat, Regina. So much, in fact, that no one in his family could eat dinner until Regina returned home from her daily jaunt around their South Quincy neighborhood. Enrico would walk home from his job as a stone cutter at one of the nearby stone sheds, tired and dirty, his clothes flecked with granite dust. He was grateful there was plenty of work, unlike in his province in the mountains of northern Tuscany, which he had left fifteen years earlier. The city’s quarries produced tons of its famed granite daily to be refined and used to construct buildings and monuments in the Boston area and beyond.
Every day, though, he was as resolute as the stone he cut. Enrico would not let the family eat dinner until Regina had come home and was eating out of her bowl on the kitchen floor, next to the table.
Regina was a plump black cat, her faced dappled with white fur that ran down her chest and tipped each paw. Usually she was very prompt. Enrico got home around five-fifteen, and by five-thirty Regina would be scratching at the kitchen door. Mrs. Baroli would let her in, and set out her bowl of food.
“Now,” Enrico would say, “we can eat.”
Although it sometimes bothered Mrs. Baroli, she was used to her husband’s idiosyncrasy about the cat. When she was exasperated with him, though, she would sometimes say to her friends, “Regina is the right name for that cat! The queen! Sometimes he treats her better than he does me!”
One evening Regina didn’t come home. Enrico steadfastly refused to allow dinner to be served. The minutes ticked by on the wall clock in the kitchen, and soon an hour had passed. Regina had still not returned.
Mrs. Baroli, tired of waiting for the cat, said, “Enrico, please. Dinner. It’s time to eat. The cat will come home soon, I’m sure.”
“No!” Enrico yelled. “Not until Regina is here!”
Another half hour passed. Enrico remained seated at the kitchen table, alone. One of the Baroli’s five children, the youngest, a boy of five, began to cry. “I’m hungry,” he wailed. “When are we going to eat?”
“Please Enrico,” pleaded Mrs. Baroli. “The children, they’re hungry, let them eat.”
Enrico remained silent for a moment. “All right,” he said finally. “Let the children eat. And you eat too if you want. But I’ll wait for Regina to come home.”
Mrs. Baroli and the children ate dinner. Enrico sat and watched, looking toward the door occasionally, waiting to hear Regina’s familiar scratching. He refused the food that his wife offered, taking only a glass of his homemade red wine.
Several days passed. And still Regina did not come home. After the third night, Enrico no longer held up dinner to wait for her. Enrico was very sad. He looked around the neighborhood for the cat, and asked the neighbors if they had seen her. Nobody had.
After Regina had been missing about two weeks, Enrico was eating lunch at the stone shed one day, on one of the wooden benches near the door. The men ate their lunch here every day. With the door wide open, the warm spring sun flooded the benches as the resting workers ate and talked.
As always, a few of the elderly men of the neighborhood had brought their lunches down to the stone shed, and sat with the workers to tell stories and exchange the news and gossip of the neighborhood. One old man, a retired stone cutter, stroked his long handlebar mustache and said, “I made such good gatto e polenta the other night, the best I’ve ever had.”
“Boy!” said one of the other old men. “I haven’t had that in a long time. Polenta, yes, corn meal is easy to get, but cat meat, that’s hard to find. Where did you buy it?”
“Oh, I found one right here in the neighborhood,” the mustached old man said proudly. “A nice, fat, black and white one.”
Enrico, who had only been half-listening to the conversation, sat up straight on the bench. The half-chewed salami and provolone cheese in his mouth suddenly tasted very sour.
“What did you say?” Enrico said warily. “What kind of cat?”
“Oh, a black and white one, a real beauty, nice and fat. A female it was. Very tender. Very tasty.” The old man paused to stroke his mustache again. “She was black, with white on her face, on her chest, and on the tip of each paw. It was the best gatto e polenta I ever had.”
“You son of a bitch,” Enrico shrieked, lunging off his seat toward the old man. “You ate my cat!”
Several of the men leaped up and grabbed Enrico, holding him back from the old man, whose eyes were wide with fear.
“I’m sorry Enrico,” the old man cried out. “I didn’t know it was your cat, I thought it was a stray, I didn’t know…”
“You ate my Regina!” Enrico yelled, struggling against the grip of the three men holding him. “I’ll kill you!”
“You’d better leave fast,” one of the workers said to the old man. “Until we can get him calmed down.”
The old man struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on a cane as he turned toward the doorway. Enrico, still thrashing and screaming threats, jerked one of his arms free and swung wildly at the old man, missing him.
Brett Peruzzi lives in Framingham, Massachusetts. His poems and prose have previously appeared in Ovunque Siamo, The Boston Globe, Exquisite Corpse, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Sahara, Pine Island Journal, Boston Poetry Magazine, Gloom Cupboard, and other publications. His family came to Quincy, Massachusetts, near Boston, at the beginning of the twentieth century from the Rome area and the province of Lucca in Tuscany. Both branches of the family worked in Quincy’s granite industry, eventually owning their own businesses, which specialized in cemetery headstones and other monuments.