Frank Cancio and his wife, Irma Cancio, used to live in a small town populated predominantly by Italian Americans. Both of them were over sixty years of age, and lived pretty miserable lives. They didn’t have any children or pets. Frank had retired from his position as a post man when he was in his early fifties and Irma used to work odd jobs all her life.
Frank and Irma were leading lifestyles that didn’t require much from them. Their daily occupations were reading the newspaper and watching TV. But that was only until Frank’s mother died and left him a shabby ugly old house, that Frank had no idea what to do. He placed it on the market for sale, but after two years of no sign of a possible sale, Frank decided to make the house into a diner.
“You are too old for that, Frank,” said Irma.
“Damn it, there is nothing else I can do with it,” shouted Frank.
“Ok, Frank. You do what you please, but just don’t involve me in it.”
Frank spent a major amount of his savings to renovate the house and turn it into a business. However, soon he ran out of money, and decided to open the diner without finishing the renovation. And that was all very well, except he didn’t realize that not cleaning the basement downstairs could be a real problem.
“I am not going to use it at all,” he said to himself, and he left it the way it was – dirty, dark and daunting. One couldn’t see the floor from all the items piled on it, reaching almost the ceiling.
Anyway, old Frank opened the diner, and it attracted most of the heavy drinkers and smokers of the town. After a while all of the shelves upstairs got filled with food and drinks, and Frank decided to put some of his inventory in the basement, not knowing that the basement was already inhabited by someone – a mob of rats.
“Listen, guys, Frank hasn’t been here in a while,” said Tony.
“What does that mean?” replied Sonny, Tony’s cousin.
“Absolutely nuttin’,” said Al.
“Shout up, wise guy. Let Tony say what he thinks,” said Sonny.
“Hey, listen Sonny boy, let’s not talk to each other like that. Show some respect. Ok?”
You got it, Al. But Tony is right. We haven’t seen the old man in a while.
“Do you think he might be dead?”
“What a matta you? Of course, he is not dead.”
“What makes you think so?”
“He is here. You know what I am saying. I can hear him sometimes.”
“Take it easy, boys,” interrupted them Tony, “I hear something.”
At this moment the door on top of the stairs swung open. It was Frank. He was going downstairs to pick up some flour. Just before he scooped from the bag, he noticed that there was some spilled flour on the ground. And now he knew.
On the next day, he went downstairs again but this time to place some mice traps, with cheese on them.
“Woahhh! We got cheese, boys!” Lorenzo was excited.
“I am so hungry,” said Marco.
“Don’t you touch it,” Tony said.
“What? Come on, Tony. Just a piece of it.”
“If we eat the cheese without getting caught in the trap, Frank might take more serious measures to get rid of us.”
“Yes, if the cheese disappears that would be a proof of us living here.”
“It makes sense.”
“But it looks so delicious.”
“What are you? An idiot?”
“No, Tony. You are right. I am sorry.”
Next morning one of the cheese pieces on the traps was missing.
Tony got everybody together. “Do you smell it?”
“Smell what, Tony?”
“It smells like a rat.”
“What are you talking about?”
“One of the cheeses is missing. Who was it?“
“I guess it was nobody,” continued Tony.
“Maybe Frank came back last night and brought it back up, because he needed it.”
“Don’t be a wise guy, Al.”
“Damn it. Fahgettaboudit.”
“It must have been one of us.” Tony wanted to know who has done it, but nobody stepped forward to admit their guilt.
The next day Frank came downstairs again. He saw the missing cheese and decided to put another one on the trap.
“Hey, Frank, where is the cheese?” screamed Irma from the kitchen upstairs.
“I don’t know.”
Irma wanted to make herself a nice grilled cheese sandwich, but when she opened the door of the fridge, she saw no cheese left.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Oh Frank, you are getting really old.”
“I think I might have used it for the mice traps.”
“What!? We have mice?”
“I don’t know. We might,” said Frank indifferently.
Irma went to check the basement.
“Frank, we have rats downstairs,” shouted Irma.
“How do you know?”
“I know because you have been feeding them our cheese. That’s how I know.“
“Oh, really? I see. What are we going to do?”
“I am calling someone, who can take care of them.”
“Ok. Good. You do that,” said Frank quietly, still thinking about something else.
The next day came the pest control. They put poison all over the basement, so the rats had to move. This caused an uproar among them.
“How long do we have to stay here?” Al was worried.
“We will stay here until we have to” responded Tony.
“That could be forever.”
“It’s not going to be forever. Believe me.”
“But I am starving.”
“You are starving because one of us thinks he is smarter than we are.”
“Only fat Marco hasn’t complained that he is starving. Was it you, Marco? Did you eat that big delicious piece of cheese? It’s probably still keeping you full, hah?”
“Let’s not blame anybody until we have proof.”
“Right. It’ ok for us to die of hunger because of him”
“It wasn’t me,” defended himself fat Marco.
“Then who was it?”
“We will find that out sooner or later” said Tony and everybody went quite for a little while.
The rats didn’t have much to eat for some time. They wanted to be able to go back to their comfortable place and have food available without having to struggle to find it.
A few months passed and Irma died from a heart attack. Frank decided to sell the diner. He met with a potential client, who soon placed a sign on the front yard saying “Alberto’s Cheese Factory”.
“Did you guys hear?”
“This place is soon going to be full of cheese. Different kinds of it. We can choose.”
“Where did you get this information from?”
“I was by Joe’s house today and overheard the conversation he had with someone.”
“Are you kidding? That’s great!”
And indeed, the property soon was made into a factory, much bigger that Frank’s diner and full of cheese. The rats quickly forgot about the incident and lived happily ever after.
“This used to be a diner, right?” said one of the workers of the factory while checking the packaging.
“Look. This package is opened, and a small piece of cheese is missing.”
Please, read this:
This was Stela Nikolova-Byfield’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.