Read an Excerpt
On any given day Mary Russo could usually find a compelling
reason to eat chocolate. Maybe the sun was shining
too brightly, or perhaps the cloud cover was too thickly depressing,
and there was always the possibility that her cat,
Morty, had coughed up more than his usual share of hair
But on this fairly cloudless, not too terribly sunny day, as
Mary bit into a luscious, palate-pleasing chocolate cannoli
oozing with chocolate ricotta filling and covered with the
most fabulous chocolate sauce she'd ever invented, she had
an even better reason to indulge, to eat herself into oblivion,
and to feel totally crappy about life in general, much crappier
than she usually did.
Luigi Marconi was dead.
Luigi's death might not have come as a shock to most
people who knew him. The restauranteur had been dread-fully
overweight, suffered from diabetes for years, and he'd
been unusually depressed for the past four months. But no
one, including Mary, who'd worked for the owner of Luigi's
Pizza Palace for the past ten years as head cook and book-keeper,
had expected him to put a gun to his head, say ar-rivederci,
and check out.
Boom! Just like that. One shot. One lethal, impulsive bang,
and Mary had lost not only a dear friend, a man whom she'd
come to adore like an uncle, but her job as well.
And finding another job at her age was not going to be--
no pun intended--a piece of cannoli.
"If you have one more bite of that cannoli, you're going to
gain another ten pounds. The trouble with you, Mary, is that
you've got no willpower. You haven't lost the last ten you
gainedafter breaking up with that nice Marc Forentini. And
that was two years ago!" Sophia Russo's mouth pinched tight
as she gazed disapprovingly at her daughter. "Men don't like
Mary looked up, chocolate smearing her lips. Her
mother never failed to comment on just what it was that
was wrong with her. If it wasn't her weight, it was Mary's
choice of men, or clothes, or friends. Mary's self-esteem
was somewhere at basement level--low didn't even come
close. There was no pleasing Sophia, and Mary had given
up trying long ago.
"I thought you said they don't like bones." Sophia was al-ways
telling Mary's younger sister that, because Connie had
escaped the curse of the Russo hips and thighs, even after
having three children. She was skinny, fashionably skinny,
and Mary envied her that.
Just the ability to put on a pair of jeans and zip them up
without having to lie prone on the bed sucking in your breath
for all you were worth was Mary's idea of pure heaven. She
didn't have to be bones, she just had to be zipper-proof. And
she knew she wasn't going to get there by eating cannolis--
even if they were her latest delicious recipe--but at the mo-ment
she just didn't care.
"Lascia la bambina solo. Leave the bambina alone,
Sophia," Mary's grandmother said with undisguised hostil-ity
toward her daughter-in-law. "She suffers a terrible loss.
Whatsa matter? You no gotta heart for such tings?" And to
Mary: "You wanta some nicea creama, bambina?"
Mary didn't usually enter into the ongoing hostilities be-tween
her mother and grandmother. It was the classic in-law
dislike that had plagued dysfunctional families for genera-tions.
Mary suspected it had started the moment the love of
Flora Russo's life, her son, Frank, had brought Sophia home
to meet his mama.
No woman would have ever been good enough for Flora's
Frank, that was a given, so Sophia took the criticism in
stride, though she didn't take it lying down.
Sophia knew in her heart of hearts, though she'd deny it
to her dying breath, that no woman would have ever been
good enough for her Joe, either. Fortunately Mary's older
brother had become a priest, so whoever the unsuspecting
future daughter-in-law of Sophia's might have been, she had
escaped a fate worse than death.
Besides, who in their right mind would enter into a family
that made Vito Corleone's look normal?
Though Mary disliked her mother and grandmother's con-stant
bickering, she did appreciate her grandma taking her
side in the numerous disagreements she had with her mother.
They were allies, of sorts, and Grandma Flora had been there
for her more times than not over the years.
For an eighty-three-year-old woman who walked with the
help of a cane, employed two-inch-thick lenses while she cro-cheted,
and wore tentlike undergarments she referred to as
bloomers, Grandma Flora could hold her own with Sophia,
which was no easy feat.
Sophia Russo had an opinion on just about everything, es-pecially
when it came to one of her children. Though Mary
loved the woman dearly, there was no denying they didn't see
eye to eye on anything, including Mary's penchant for exper-imenting
with traditional Italian recipes. Except perhaps the
amount of time it took to cook pasta; both liked theirs al
Winking at the old lady, Mary replied, "Thanks, but no
thanks, Nonna," then she smiled somewhat spitefully at her
mother before grabbing another cannoli off the plate and
shoving half of it into her mouth, knowing she'd be sorry
tomorrow when the scale tilted into overdrive, but needing
the comfort that would not be forthcoming from her mother.
What Sophia lacked in compassion she made up for in
conviction. "Luigi Marconi was a stupid, selfish man. Killing
yourself is against God's law. He broke a commandment and
now his poor wife will suffer because he was a coward and
took the easy way out." She crossed herself, as if poor Luigi's
indiscretion against God might come back to haunt her.
Mary didn't understand why Luigi had decided to kill
himself, but she, unlike her mother, could empathize with
his need to take the easy way out. After the realization had
hit her that she was out of a job, and that her miserable exis-tence
had just gotten a whole lot more miserable, she'd con-sidered
doing the very same thing, for about five seconds.
She came by her morbid obsession with death legitimately.
Like any good Italian girl, she was raised on the belief that
judgment day was just around the corner. Both her mother
and grandmother implied with unrelenting certainty that their
demise was imminent, ending most of their sentences with "if
I should live so long." Which was usually proceeded by "Only
God knows how much longer I'll be on this earth," and "Your
grandmother (or mother) is driving me to an early grave."
However, Mary would never have considered a gun as
the ultimate method of suicide. Too messy. She could still
recall the gruesome sight of Luigi's brains splattered over
the stainless steel stove and Sub-Zero refrigerator when
she'd showed up for work that fateful Friday morning two
weeks ago and had discovered his body lying on the kitchen
floor. The memory made her cringe. At the time, it had made
In her opinion, a swan dive off Baltimore's Francis Scott
Key Bridge would have been far more preferable. And she had
briefly entertained the idea until she remembered how awful
the traffic was on the bridge at any time of the day or night,
how she hated to drive anyway, and how death by chocolate
seemed a far better way to end it all.
"You always take her side, so I think you should just keep
quiet, old woman," Sophia told her mother-in-law, who kept
on crocheting and glaring. "Mary's been depressed and wal-lowing
in her grief for too long. She needs to get over it and
go out and find a new job. It's not healthy for her to be sit-ting
around, stuffing herself with cannoli. Whoever heard of
chocolate cannoli anyway? That's not Italian!"
As if the matter was already settled, Sophia nodded to
herself, adding, "I'm going to call Father Joseph to come
over and counsel her."
At the suggestion, Mary swallowed the remaining half
of her pastry, licked the chocolate sauce off her lips, and
grinned. "Joe'll just tell me to say three Hail Marys and call
him in the morning, Ma. And why do you keep referring to
your own son as Father Joseph, for God's sake?"
Not that she minded talking to Joe. She and her older
brother were very close, and she loved him. But he would al-ways
be Joe to her, not Father Joseph, and she wasn't about
to go sit in some confessional and pour out her guts to the
poor guy. She was positive he got a daily dose of some pretty
Besides, Joe already knew all her terrible secrets, like about
her addiction to chocolate, and how when she'd been twelve
she had read all of the dirty parts of the Bible, underlining
them with a yellow marking pen.
Unfortunately--or fortunately, depending on how you
looked at it, because it could have been her mother--Joe
had been the one to catch her alone in the closet doing her
thing. But he'd never told anyone, and for that reason alone
she would always adore him.
Growing up a Russo hadn't been easy; all three of Sophia
and Frank's children wore battle scars from their upbringing.
Connie had chosen to escape their domineering mother
by marrying right out of high school. Of course, to Sophia,
who considered marriage the end-all to the world's prob-lems,
this had been a blessing.
Not as big a blessing, however, as when Joe had announced
his intention to enter the priesthood shortly after graduation
from college. He'd been at loose ends and very unhappy and
had sought to lose himself in the church.
Mary blamed her parents, mostly her mother--though her
father bore some responsibility for allowing Sophia to ride
roughshod over him--for her sister and brother's flight from
the family. They'd never been encouraged to have goals or
aspirations, never been told to live up to their potential. And
that was especially true in Mary's case.
As the middle child, Mary had always felt somewhat ig-nored.
She wasn't as smart as Joe or as pretty as baby Con-nie.
She was just, well, rather ordinary. She'd gotten average
grades in school, had never been encouraged to think beyond
getting married and having kids. She'd been programmed
from birth to be just average.
So when she didn't graduate from college, no one was
surprised or angry, just disappointed. And when she'd ended
up working in a dead-end job, no one really said anything.
Living at home had become safe. Nothing was expected
of her, and she, in turn, expected nothing of herself. To sum
up her life in a nutshell, Mary had taken the easy way out.
Just like Luigi. Only she wasn't dead, just living a dead