“Carmine, you don’t have to help,” Rosemarie says. “You’ve done enough.”
“Where’s all the ladies from the Women’s Guild? Widows aren’t supposed to clean up after their own husbands’ funerals. Mannaggia!” Carmine shakes his head, shoving a final piece of coppia ferrarese into his mouth.
“There’s been three funerals this week already. What’s one more?” she replies, tossing a handful of paper plates, greasy with olive oil from Linda Petrucci’s second-rate meat and ricotta cannelloni. Typical of Linda to use cheap ground beef when a ground pork combination would have made it so much better. “The Guild has been nothing but there for me during Sal’s illness. And I’m happy to keep busy. Who wants to go home to an empty house?”
“At least the priest should be here. Who’s gonna lock up?”
“Father Cavetti is in the rectory. He’ll be back. I’m sure he must be exhausted.”
“Father Cavetti is raking it in. How much did he charge you?
“Father Cavetti doesn’t charge,” Rosemarie says, a little defensively. “I made a free-will offering for the funeral mass.”
“Hate to break it to you, Rosie, but buying a mass is not going to help Sal get in any place better than he’s in right now.”
Rosemarie ignores Carmine. Carmine starts folding up the chairs, neatly stacking them in the multipurpose room’s closet. She surveys the reception area. Not much more to do. Wash out the punchbowl. Wrap up the leftovers for the priests. Take out the trash.
“You want to take the shrimp conchiglie home?” Rosemarie upends the 9 x 13 tinfoil pan into a Tupperware container. “Looks like most of the shrimp have been pinched.”
“Just toss it, Rosie. It should be against the law to save food from a buffet,” Carmine responds, wiping down the tables with a red-checkered dishcloth. “Just imagine the germs from all those people. Trough feeding like animals at the zoo.”
“I think most of them came to the funeral for Gina Zuccarello’s chicken parm,” she says, dumping the remains of the shrimp and pasta into the trash.
“They sure didn’t come for Sal,” Carmine quips. Rosemarie laughs. It’s funny because it’s true.
“You want coffee?”
“Is there any left?” Rosemarie asks.
“I think so. Just sit. I’ll get you a cup,” Carmine says, busying himself with the task. Rosemarie sits in one of the two remaining folding chairs.
He returns shortly with two cups in one hand and a small plate of cannoli.
Rosemarie smiles, picking a small cannoli and popping it into her mouth. “Thanks, Carmine. I don’t think in all our years of marriage that Sal brought me anything—except agita.”
“He was a bum, Rosie.”
She shrugs her shoulders.
“You were too good for him. Especially at the end,” Carmine mutters, looking at his coffee.
“Well—what are you going to do. In sickness and in health, right? I made a vow.”
“Yeah, he made vows, too. Broke every one of them,” Carmine spat the words bitterly.
“That’s not my fault. People choose how to live their lives. I was his wife. C’mon Carmine, marriage is one of the holy sacraments. We learned that at CCD, remember? You sat next to me, reading comic books, instead of preparing for communion,” she lightly slaps his shoulder. “You just don’t promise God something and welsh on it,” she says, unconvincingly. The decades had been long.
“You can’t say ‘welsh on it,’ Rosie. That isn’t politically correct.” Carmine grins. Still a boyish scamp sixty years later.
“Good. Neither am I. And neither are you for that matter.” She helps herself to a second cannoli. They are small. Why not eat two?
They sit in companionable silence for a bit.
“Why did you marry Sal?” Carmine ventures, words clear and direct in the empty room.
“Because he asked me,” Rosemarie sighs. “His mother was a friend of my mother’s. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time.” She pauses, furrowing her brow. “I was young. Too young.”
“But I asked you, too,” Carmine says quietly.
“You were kidding,” she replies, pulling back to get a better look at Carmine.
“I was serious.”
“Ma, che sei grullo?! Are you crazy?”
“Probably. I was always crazy about you. Even when we were kids,” he explains, blushing. How do seventy-year-old men still blush?
“So why’d you marry Giana?”
“I thought Giana would have made a good wife. And mother.” He looks back down at his coffee. “I was only half right.”
“No one saw her running off with Anthony. È terribile.”
“I don’t think the kids ever forgave her,” Carmine whispered wistfully. “Especially the girls.”
“You do have beautiful daughters.” Rosemarie puts her left hand on his right knee, attempting to console him.
She watches him blink back a few tears before clearing his throat. Carmine was always a softie.
“I think they live upstate now. I don’t really keep in touch. Only Natalie, my youngest, tells me things from time to time,” Carmine says. “But at our age? Let bygones be bygones. I don’t hold any grudges.”
“Healthier that way,” Rosemarie agrees.
“Besides, Rosie. Truth be told, I never really loved Giana. I mean, at first, it was all new and we had good times. She was a decent cook, and then the kids. But I don’t know . . .”
“What don’t you know, Carmine?”
“It was never easy. This? You and I talking? This is easy.” He sips his coffee. “I like doing things for you, bringing you things, making you laugh. With Giana, everything was always too hard. Like I had to walk on eggshells whenever I said something. Whatever I did—she’d find a way to criticize. In the end, she seemed to be offended at everything. I couldn’t even walk into the house right.”
Rosemarie nods. She folds her hands in her lap, stunned by what Carmine says. It has been exactly her own experience. With Sal, nothing ever came easy. Not even his death.
“Maybe that’s just marriage—or just marriages to the wrong people?” Carmine suggested. They both sat in the stillness. No words were needed.
“We should take out the trash on the way out,” Rosemarie finally says. They both stand, silently finishing the last touches on cleaning up together.
“Can I walk you home, Rosie?”
“Of course, Carmine. I would like that,” she replies. “One thing though—?”
“Grab the rest of Sofia Berlusconi’s cannolis. They’re really to die for.”