“Intersection,” a story by Sal Difalco, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 58th Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author.
by Sal Difalco
Dressed in a tight-fitting black suit, Rosario Cino, flanked by his son Mario and his nephew Charlie, also in black suits, exited the cool of All Souls Church and stepped into a rank wall of unseasonably warm and humid air. They and a handful of friends and relatives had just sat through the funeral of Guido Tutolo, a former bookie, loan shark, and paisan—and last of the old gang, as Rosario had said repeatedly to his son and nephew, neither of whom seemed torn up about the death, their connection to Guido limited, their youthfulness of course looking forward.
…..Wincing from the heat, Rosario slid his fedora over his silver hair. Head and shoulders taller than his son and his nephew, he stood out even more from them crowned in a fedora. Nothing new. He had stood out his entire life, as a gangly immigrant teenager and a towering young man, and now, in his quasi-patrician dotage, was proud of the fact that—straight-backed and steady—he still stood out. Moments later, forehead pimpled with sweat, he removed his fedora and fanned himself with it.
….. “Jesus,” he gasped. “This is terrible. Didn’t even get this hot in Sicily when I was there last summer.”
….. “They said it would be a scorcher,” Mario noted, squinting as they approached the chrome blaze of Charlie’s immaculately restored S.S. Camaro.
….. “Mario better sit in the back,” Charlie said, perhaps unnecessarily, as he opened the passenger door. Rosario couldn’t get his big legs into the back seat even if he tried.
….. “Don’t drive too fast, Charlie,” Mario said. “My vertigo’s acting up.”
….. “Don’t worry about it,” he said with a slanted smile.
….. That smile always reminded Rosario of his brother Joe, Charlie’s father. Joe had died a decade ago in a car accident. Rosario was driving them back from smelt fishing at the Welland Canal when he lost control of his Oldsmobile and rolled it into a ditch. He sustained only minor injuries, but Joe, wearing no seatbelt, got tossed from the car and died instantly. Sure, they’d sucked back a few beers during the outing, but Rosario was fit to drive. The cops never actually gave him a breathalyzer, but he swore he wasn’t drunk. Still, not a day went by when he didn’t think of Joe, when that smile of his didn’t flash through his mind. He was a good kid brother, flawed but good—a straight shooter, devoutly Catholic and honourable. Never got into the gambling and whoring like Rosario did. And Charlie was a good kid, raised right. He wasn’t full of shit like his cousin Mario, who among other undesirable achievements was a degenerate gambler and a pathological liar. Joe would have been as proud of Charlie—so clever and independent, so full of life—as Rosario was disappointed with Mario.
….. They set off to Bayview Park for a walk by the marina, something none of them had done in years. Rosario wasn’t sure about the walk, given his poor physical condition. But maybe he could walk off the terrible guilt he felt. Not about Joe; he had dealt with that as much as he could in this life. No, he felt guilty about the ten grand he still owed Guido Tutolo. Guido had no children and died almost penniless. Rosario had owed Guido the money for years—money that might have lessened the agony of his cancerous last few years on earth. He had long ago stopped harassing Rosario about it, though he’d not forgotten or forgiven the debt. Indeed, whenever Rosario had bumped into Guido, he never failed to mention it. Where’s my money, boss? Why he had never pressured him—or threatened him—to pay up mystified Rosario, though he did say once, I’m not worried, Rosie. One day you’ll pay me back, with interest.
….. “There might be a regatta today,” Charlie said. “They used to have them on weekends. Anyway, it’ll be cooler by the water.”
….. Neither Rosario nor his son could argue with that. They climbed into the sticky Camaro and rolled down the windows. Rosario fumbled with the tied box of cannoli Charlie had given to him that morning. Probably a mistake to leave them in the car during the service, but what was the option? They gave off an odour that nauseated Rosario so he handed them off to Mario.
….. “What do you want me to do with these,” Mario said from the back.
….. “Have a cannoli.”
….. “In this heat? You kidding, Pa?”
….. Rosario said nothing about how their smell disturbed him. The truth might have offended Charlie, who could be touchy. Rosario tried not to think about them, but now and then a heady whiff made him recoil somewhat.
….. True to his nature, Charlie drove with a heavy foot, darting in and out of traffic, speeding through amber lights, pushing his luck at every moment, to Mario’s chagrin.
….. “What did you think of the service?” Rosario asked.
….. Charlie shrugged. He didn’t know Guido that well. With Mario’s driver’s license suspended for one reason or another, and his uncle requesting a lift, he didn’t mind doing him a solid. He loved his uncle.
….. “The priest was sweating like a pig,” Mario said. “And a fly kept landing on his lip.”
….. “Father Angelo’s from Italy,” Rosario said.
….. “He’s weak,” Mario said, “a weak priest. I don’t know how people tolerate him.”
….. “It’s not as if you go to church anymore,” Rosario said.
….. “And you do?” Mario chuckled.
….. Charlie laughed.
….. “You think it’s funny?” Mario said.
….. “Yeah, you’re funny, cuz.”
….. “Screw yourself, Charlie.”
….. They were like night and day, the cousins, and had never really gotten along. Even as toddlers they fought over toys, attention, and dominance. Freckled, easily frazzled Mario had always played second banana to his stormy black-eyed cousin. Tolerant and deeply affectionate of his nephew—whose love and loyalty could not be gainsaid—Rosario nevertheless felt uneasy as they flew down Bayview Avenue, digging his fingernails into the sides of his seat and biting his lips. Charlie had always been the maverick of the family—the black sheep—but also, and for better or worse, the passionate one.
….. “Slow down, Charlie!” Mario whined.
….. “Don’t bother me while I’m driving,” the cousin replied, pursing his lips.
….. “Pa, tell him to slow down.”
….. “Charlie,” Rosario said. “What’s the matter with you?”
….. “Sorry, Zio.”
….. Charlie tried keeping to the speed limit, but couldn’t help accelerating past intolerable stragglers and doddering blue-haired drivers, and could not be faulted for this. Rosario pulled an embroidered hanky from his jacket pocket. It had belonged to his dead wife Louisa. Though it felt like decades, Louisa had only passed away two years ago, from pancreatic cancer. She had been a decent wife, even-tempered and predictable, if somewhat boring. Some days he missed her, most days he didn’t. He dabbed his lips and sighed.
….. “What did you think of the service, Pa?” Mario asked.
….. “It was fine,” Rosario said.
….. He had endured it without issue, though Father Angelo had theatrically prolonged the Biblical readings, coughing relentlessly, red-cheeked, eyes bugging out of his piggish face. Rosario thought he’d choke to death before he finished. That he could make a gripping story like the Resurrection—with the blood-soaked wrappings, the tomb cut out of rock, the three days, the rolled stone and so on—excruciating was remarkable.
….. Darting in and out of traffic like a stuntman, Charlie showed off his nimble driving skills. He’d been behind the wheel since he was a kid, when his father, as a lark, used to let him tool around abandoned lots in his old pickup truck. By the time he took him to the Ministry for a driver’s permit, he was an old hand at the wheel. He could handle a car with an impressive degree of expertise; but perhaps, like his father, God rest his soul, he lacked good luck.
….. “You’re driving too fast!” Mario protested.
….. “Oh, live a little, cuz. I didn’t buy a muscle car to pussyfoot around this town.”
….. “Charlie,” Rosario said, “take it a little slower. I’m serious. We’re in no hurry.”
….. “No worries, Zio,” Charlie said as he slowed again to cruising speed.
….. Rosario rolled down his window and watched the scenery flash by: tired bungalows and clapboard A-frames, red and yellow smudges of wilting tulips, beige lawns. A fecal smell permeated the air. Spring green hadn’t yet taken hold. Everything looked flat and drained. It was too early for this kind of heat.
….. “Even the birds aren’t flying,” Rosario muttered, more to himself than to the others.
….. Mario leaned up from the back and presented his breathy mouth to his father’s ear. “This is the hottest May I can remember!” he cried, more loudly than intended, perhaps overcompensating for the engine noise and the wind rushing in from the windows.
….. Rosario turned his head and gently pushed his son’s face away, shooting him a glare. What the hell was wrong with him? Sometimes he couldn’t believe he was his son. He had taken after Louisa’s side—more like her ginger-haired and klutzy sisters. Mario tried hard but was all thumbs and left feet, with no filter for his frequent inanities.
….. Charlie fiddled with the radio knobs until he found the jazz station. Sinatra happened to be singing “You Make Me Feel So Young” so Rosario didn’t mind. Normally jazz annoyed him. But Sinatra was Sinatra—And every time I see you grin/ I’m such a happy individual. The tension in Rosario’s body eased, and despite the choking warmth and the reeking lilies, he leaned back and started enjoying the drive. The breeze blowing in from the window cooled his sweating face; Charlie drove smoothly, beautifully, like a seasoned chauffeur. Everything felt right. It was nice. So it came as a shock at the next intersection when a white service van jumped the red light and charged toward them. The silhouetted driver wasn’t slowing down. Charlie screamed and jerked the steering wheel at the last moment, slamming the brakes at the same time and putting the Camaro into a tailspin. Rosario’s seatbelt held firm as he rocked forward violently; then his heart skipped a beat as the van’s front end narrowly missed the Camaro’s front bumper.
….. Shortly a bright flash blinded Rosario, reducing everything to a dull white screen—an absolute absence of colour or form. His ears rang so loudly he thought sirens were approaching. He shut his eyes, uncertain what had happened, but praying it would quickly pass.
….. As the van sped off, the Camaro rocked to a halt.
….. They sat there in silence for a moment. Pale and breathless, Mario had suffered a good fright. Charlie gripped the steering wheel with straight arms, shoulders scrunched up to his ears, lips trembling. Rosario had frozen, afraid to move or even breathe.
….. “Are you okay, Pa?” Mario asked.
….. Everything looked blurred now, opaque. Rosario closed and opened his eyes. Slowly, things came back into focus. He was okay, as far as he could tell. Shaken, but okay.
….. “That was close,” Mario said.
….. “Too close,” Rosario said.
….. Grimacing, Charlie gunned the Camaro. For a moment Rosario thought he was going to track down the van, but he continued to the harbourfront. Oddly, Sinatra was still singing “You Make Me Feel So Young.” Rosario didn’t recall it being that long. Then a ringing in his ears drowned out the music and made him question if it was even playing.
….. “Are you okay?” Charlie asked.
….. “I don’t know,” Rosario answered.
….. They parked in a municipal lot, and after gathering themselves exited the car. Charlie and Mario removed their jackets and ties and rolled up their sleeves. Rosario merely loosened his tie.
….. “Pa, leave your jacket,” Mario advised.
….. “What if I get a chill by the water?”
….. “In this heat?”
….. “I might get a chill.”
….. “Okay, have it your way.”
….. Charlie locked the car and they struck across Bayview Park toward the marina. Halfway there, Rosario ran into difficulty; he needed to rest, but the intense heat had blistered the green paint on a nearby park bench.
….. “Don’t sit there, Pa,” Mario said.
….. “Jesus, it’s hot.”
….. Something had changed. Rosario couldn’t put his finger on it. Not just himself—he felt off, yes—but everything around him radiated a more pervasive negativity. The park looked parched, the grass wilted and uneven, the scant tree leaves chlorotic, not a flower in sight. Even the sky, hazy but glaring, possessed a peculiar grinding weight that oppressed him to the core.
….. “Don’t think I’ll make it,” he said.
….. “It’s cooler by the water,” Charlie said.
….. “Pa, we can turn back.”
….. Rosario puffed. “Just give me a sec. I should have brought a parasol.”
….. “Pa,” Mario said, “we can turn back if you want.”
….. “We’ll get drinks at the marina,” Charlie said. “There’s a refreshment stand.”
….. With a start Rosario noticed a trickle of blood worming from his nephew’s left ear.
….. “Have you hurt yourself?” Rosario asked, touching his own ear.
….. Charlie shook his head. “What are you talking about, Zio?”
….. “The—the blood.”
….. “What blood, Pa?” Mario piped in.
….. Rosario blinked hard. When he looked again, there was no blood. Charlie was fine. Strange. Too drained by the heat and the fright of the near accident, Rosario didn’t bother questioning his own perceptions.
….. They continued walking. Rosario removed his jacket and draped it over his right arm. Sweat had soaked through the armpits of his white shirt. He lifted his heavy legs and planted them carefully. His feet hurt. His ankles were swollen. Mario held his elbow. Charlie walked ahead, his slender frame blurred by the heat haze. For a moment he seemed to dematerialize, leaving only an imprint of pale shadow. Rosario couldn’t pin him down, couldn’t allocate him to the present moment. He seemed distant, not of this world, moored elsewhere. Rosario wiped his sweating face with his hand as he slowly made his way.
….. “Charlie!” Mario cried. “Slow down!”
….. Charlie stopped and turned. From that distance, in his white shirt, hands on hips, he looked like some kind of angel. The black sheep playing angel. Rosario smiled and waved. Charlie waved back.
….. “Pa, you’re not gonna make it like this,” Mario said, holding his tottering father firmly. “Let’s head back.”
….. Mario meant well but was relentless. “I’ll be okay. Just let me catch my breath.”
….. Charlie started back toward them. The sun blazed above the heavy air. Sweat ran down Rosario’s thighs, his head throbbed. They still had a ways to go. He worried he might black out before they reached the marina.
….. “You okay, Zio?” Charlie asked as he pulled up.
….. Rosario nodded. “I’ll be okay. Gonna take off my shoes. They’re killing me.”
….. “Pa,” Mario said, “you can’t walk on that crap. You’ll cut up your feet.”
….. “These shoes are cutting up my feet, sweetie.”
….. Rosario kicked off one shoe then another then pulled off his black socks, revealing thick yellow toenails. Pale blue veins striated his swollen feet. He flexed his toes and started walking. Mario retrieved his shoes and socks.
….. They made their way wordlessly to the marina. Rosario gasped for air. Charlie moved ahead as though weightless, scarcely touching the rough grass.
….. “Zio,” he said, “when we get there you can go in the water if you want.”
….. Rosario looked at Charlie with heavy eyes. He wasn’t going in no water.
….. They reached the marina at last, both Mario and Charlie assisting Rosario. Several anchored sailboats bobbed in the grey-blue waves; a few listless gulls circled in the sky. No one else was around, the docks and boardwalk empty. People normally flocked to the water on days like this for a walkabout. And what about the regatta? No sign of it. And the refreshment stand was boarded up, something that made Mario squeeze his father’s scuffed black shoes.
….. “You said we could get drinks,” he barked at Charlie.
….. “I didn’t know it would be closed. I’m thirsty, too.”
….. “I’m worried about Pa, okay.”
….. Indeed, sweat dripped down Rosario’s blubbery, pallid face. His chest rose and fell rapidly as he panted. His thoughts grew more and more confused. Something had changed from when they left the church. Something had happened. But what? What?
….. A thickness had gathered to the west, darkness. A vague rumbling ensued.
….. “Wasn’t supposed to rain,” Mario said, screening his eyes and gazing at the mass.
….. “It won’t rain,” Charlie said with a smile. “It won’t rain.”
….. “Pa, what do you think?”
….. Rosario shook his head and shut his eyes as if to say, I can’t think right now. He thought he could hear Sinatra playing almost out of earshot— “You Make Me Feel So Young?” He must have been hearing things for fuck sake. Charlie came close to him and spoke softly:
….. “It’s time to go in the water, Zio.”
….. Rosario reared his head and looked at his nephew. Blood trickled from his ear again, spilling onto his shoulder.
….. Charlie touched his uncle’s cheek, his fingers cold. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I’m sorry, Zio.”
….. Mario stood beside them, silent and motionless.
….. “We can go into the water now,’ Charlie said. “We should.”
….. “We should,” Rosario repeated.
….. Charlie removed his shoes and socks and walked up to the sandy beach strip. He continued to the water’s edge, where soft waves lapped the sand. He allowed a wave to touch his feet, then followed it back until he was knee deep, his pant legs flexing to the next wave.
….. “I want to go in,” Rosario said.
….. “You’re crazy,” Mario said. “He’s crazy and you’re crazy.”
….. “No. It’s time to go in the water.”
….. “Pa, you can’t do this.”
….. “Shut up. Can’t you see you’re wrong this time?”
….. Mario stared at his father. Something was wrong with his eyes—
….. Rosario dropped his jacket and started for the water.
….. “Pa!” Mario cried, reaching for his arm, but there was no stopping him.
….. Charlie stood waist high in the water, hands splashing at his sides. Mario watched as his father walked to the water’s edge and dipped his feet. He lifted his face, smiling as if relieved, spread his arms for balance, and waded toward Charlie. The two embraced and, holding hands, continued wading further out.
….. Mario dropped his father’s socks and shoes. He watched his father and cousin wading further and further out.
….. “Pa!” he cried. “Pa!”
….. He continued watching as they moved into the soft waves, deeper and deeper, until all he could see was the black swirl of his father’s tie.
Salvatore Difalco is the author of five books, most recently the story collection Minotaur (Truth Serum Press). He lives in Toronto.
Listen to the 1956 recording of Frank Sinatra singing “You Make Me Feel So Young”
Click here to read “Mouth Organ” by Emily Jon Tobias, the winning story in the 58th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest
Click here for information about the upcoming Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest