The smell of fish assaulted him, competing for air space with gasoline and fresh split oak. Mauro felt for the switch on the wall and was relieved to get his hand on it. He scanned the rafters for a place to stash the arrows. Uncle Aldo was a notorious pack rat, and Mauro considered rows of odd boxes, cargo crates, suitcases, and myriad containers that could serve as his Pandora’s Box.
He found what he was looking for in the form of a weathered, olive green crate, stacked high, directly over the top of the workbench. A blanket of dust made the green paint look mossy. It probably hadn’t been moved since he was a teen. He passed the card table Nino and Aldo had cleaned the fish on. The garbage cans wobbled, and he about wet himself when a raccoon the size of a Volkswagen scampered by, the discarded offal of the big walleye Nino caught—namely its heart—dangling from its bearish mouth.
Mauro exhaled and stood atop the bench. Using an old rag, he carefully pulled the crate down, surprised at its weight. With great effort, he set it onto the bench. Stenciled in black letters on the sides and top were the words, DETROIT EDISON-CABLE TIES. The top was covered with tunneled spider webs and littered with mouse droppings. Breathing hard, Mauro lifted the lid and removed wads of yellowed, balled up newspaper. Underneath he found the tie-downs, neatly stacked in rows.
Where’s he find this crap? Mauro thought.
The suitcase-size box weighed a good forty-five pounds. He examined the first layer of tie-downs—galvanized steel, baseball-size nut and bolt sets—and laid the seven arrows over the top of them. Then he covered them with the newspaper. He inspected his work, and finding the arrows undetectable, got that greedy feeling one does when they’re about to get away with something untoward.
Mauro slid the top back on. He returned the crate exactly as he found it. He dropped to the floor of the garage and cased the area like a cat burglar. Satisfied, he turned off the light and walked out into the crisp night air.
In the morning, Mauro, already dressed, walked down the hallway toward the kitchen. He knocked on the bathroom door, and Nino opened it, almost getting clonked on the forehead by Mauro’s fist.
“It’s all yours,” Nino said, extending his arm.
Mauro passed him as he entered the bathroom. Nino giggled softly.
“Eaughhh, my God! Did someone open up a can of smashed oysters in here?” Mauro yelled, covering his nose.
“That would be like spraying Glade after he craps,” Don piled on.
“Oh, because when you go it’s all roses, right bro?” Nino said, in mock indignation.
“What in God’s name did you eat?” Mauro asked. He urinated hard into the iron stained toilet, wincing as he emptied his bladder.
“Burning tires and cabbage,” Nino deadpanned.
Mauro walked out of the john, his eyes squinting. He shook his head sharply.
“That was brutal. Where’s Unc?” he asked.
“Went to dump a bunch of stuff at the Rescue Auction,” Nino replied.
“Thought they do those in the summer,” Mauro said. “We could’ve given him a hand.”
“Nah, Jack LaLanne already had his truck loaded by the time we woke up,” Don said. “They’re doing a special auction now. Arrgh! Captain Hook needs help making the rent,” Don held up his arm, imitating a pirate.
Nino tilted his head at his brother. “Oh, that’s real nice. Sheesh.”
Mauro looked at both of them, confused.
Don finished his thought. “Some young farmer lost his arm in a thresher accident, so they’re trying to raise money for him. It’s over at the Mennonite Hall in Fairview. C’mon, let’s grab that mower and see if we can’t bag some deer.” Don slugged Mauro in the arm. They headed out the back door to the lake.
The sun brought all the saturation of fall’s color to greet them, a sharp contrast to the dreariness of yesterday’s grey afternoon. Standing on the deck, they watched for a minute as the osprey circled high above, near what appeared to be the ceiling of the clouds. With incredible speed, as if jettisoned from an invisible cannon pointed at the water, the raptor’s sleek body plummeted, for a second looking like it was made of feathery mercury. The water exploded as the fish hawk pierced the glassy surface, somehow reemerging just as quickly as it entered, a three-pound pike firmly in its talons. It was the most wondrous thing they had ever witnessed in the outdoors, and Mauro couldn’t conceive how the bird was wired with the fearlessness to perform such a feat, let alone possess the body to survive it.
This place Uncle Aldo had shared with him, his father and cousins, had given back so much, so many warm memories. Mauro looked toward the garage.