THE ROME CLUB
By Leah Sackett
There were six of them, each there for the same reason: Big Mike, Vince, Joe, Tommy, Sal, and Frank. The Rome Club was an old country tradition. They had buried a bottle of wine in a secret location. The last two men living were to dig it up and drink a toast to the others. They sat at a round oak table at the back of Milo’s restaurant right next to the exit leading to the Bocce Ball courts in the yard. Every Sunday they would play bocce ball; then bust each other’s balls over wine the rest of the afternoon before heading home to their wives (those who still had wives) for supper.
Frank was the most vocal, and that was saying something, in this crowd. Six old Italians in it for the game of their life. Without telling their wives, they each pitched a grand into the pot. The last man standing wins. No foul play. Just natural causes. The first one out was Joe, which was to be expected as he had a good ten years on the rest of them. They all attended the funeral, and they continued the club with Joe’s chair tilted in towards the table. Years later, Vince had a heart attack and Big Mike followed him 3 weeks after. Two more chairs tipped into the table. No more bocce ball, just coffee and arguments. Even Tommy, Sal, and Frank felt the table fall quiet between bickering. Everything was a row from politics to who tipped better. But they never fought about who would be the last man standing. They use to and now it felt like a jinx. Big Mike had bragged he’d out live them all two days before the big one.
Sundays at Milo’s was slow and dark with sunlight filtering in through the Italian flags hung in the windows. The old guys were regulars, a part of the atmosphere. It felt like a place out of time till they looked at the tilted chairs, which beat like a heart out of step. Tommy went quietly in his sleep; unexpectedly. Frank and Sal took it hard. With a choked-up Saluda, they drank to Tommy from the unearthed wine and tilted his chair. Then they never said another word.
Frank and Sal hated each other. They lived on the Hill, a small section of St. Louis inhabited by the descendants of Italian and Sicilian immigrants. It was impossible not to have friends in common. But they had always argued the loudest, the hottest. They never could mend the past. Frank married Delores, and Sal would never forgive him. He still held a special place for Delores. She’d been the prettiest girl on the Hill, and she wasn’t even from the Hill. She was a nice Irish girl who was friends with Josephine from St. Teresa’s All Girl’s School, just 4 blocks over from Milo’s, in fact. The first time he saw her he knew she was the only one for him. Her auburn hair and blue eyes were beautiful, and that smile shone with all the hope and promise a G.I. needed going off to war. As Fate would have it, while Sal stormed the beach at Normandy, Frank too young yet to go to war, would steal his girl. Frank wound up on the clean-up crew in Japan, sending home exotic trinkets to Delores, his fiancé. Sal was lucky to be stuck in an army hospital for months.
All these years, the two men lived in jealousy and hatred. The insults and slights, the public snubbing and shaming for decades. Now, it was just the two of them at the table with four tilted chairs. Sal walked into Milo’s and waved at the bartender as he lumbered to the back table with his newspaper tucked under his arm. He liked to read every page of the paper, but if you had asked him, he’d said the paper was there to keep him from having to look at Frank’s ugly mug. When he got to the obituaries there was Frank Cunetto listed. He tipped the chair and started to smile. He’d won. He sat there alone. And he began to cry.
About the Author:
Leah Holbrook Sackett is an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. This is also where she earned her M.F.A. She has published short stories in: Connotation Press , Blacktop Passages, The Weekly Knob, Halfway Down the Stairs, Zany Zygote Review, The Writing Disorder, Crack the Spine, Literally Stories, and Lunaris Review. Leah writes stories about characters at a crossroads. Her characters are often set on both literal and metaphorical journeys. She also enjoys coming of age pieces, and writes in both realist and surrealist styles. Leah is an avid collector of Lewis Carroll literature and memorabilia as well as a member of the Lewis Carroll North American Society, and she lives in Webster Groves, MO with her husband Jonathan and daughter Bella. Visit Leah at leahholbrooksackett.com