The hunt had produced zero activity. Only a few does came within range and there were no bucks. After returning with Aldo’s lawnmower, the boys were setting up the table for dinner when Nino looked out the window over the sink.
“Holy crap!” he yelled, throwing the front door of the cabin open. Mauro and Don knew he wasn’t joking when the dishes hit the floor. Aldo emerged from a DNR vehicle, his left arm wrapped in a sling. Reynolds Gauthier, a local conservation officer, wore a green uniform and a blond crew cut. A pink roll of fat on his neck spilled over his collar. It labored him to breathe as he walked Aldo toward the porch. Mauro’s stomach dipped at the sight of the officer. Then he noticed his uncle’s condition.
“What happened? You OK, Unc?” Mauro cried.
They were fast upon him; all three took turns embracing, patting, and kissing him.
“Yeah,” Aldo said. “Couple bumps.”
“I’ll have the garage bring your rental car over tomorrow, Aldo. Boys gonna be up here for a while?” Reynolds asked.
“Supposed to leave after our fish dinner tonight, but minchia, look at your arm, Unc. We aren’t going anywhere—” Nino said.
Before Aldo could protest, Mauro cut him off.
“I’ll stay, guys. You two drive back home together in Nino’s car. I’ll make sure his rental gets here, that he’s OK. My week’s clear. It’s cool, really. Guys, please? Let me stay?” Mauro was adamant. Don and Nino looked at each other.
“I don’t want you kids missing work on my account. I’ll be fine,” Aldo said.
Reynolds looked at the boys and gave them a positive nod.
“You sure, Mauro? A med student owes me a favor,” Nino tried.
“I’d hate to see him fall,” Reynolds continued, in loud, perfectly annunciated words. “Stubborn man wouldn’t go to the hospital. Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to Alpena General? The clinic at least?”
“Hey—I didn’t smash my eardrums. No, I’m fine. Thank you, Reynolds, but I’ll be fine. Don’t need no one to wipe my ass just yet,” Aldo scoffed.
Officer Gauthier blinked and fluttered his lips in exasperation. Aldo shook his hand and thanked him. The boys patted his walrus-like back and saw him off. The three took their uncle into the cabin.
Mauro carried two thick towels as they walked toward the bathroom. “So tell us; what the hell happened?” he asked. Don and Nino helped Aldo along.
“Reynolds said the Ghost maybe thought my truck was a bigger deer,” Aldo said.
He closed his eyes for a moment in recall, and recounted to the boys how he was trying to make amends with Troyer, and that he didn’t remember anything about the crash. He took them through waking up and seeing he’d hit the Grey Ghost, and how he ended the animal’s suffering with his bare hands.
Mauro’s face dropped as he heard the replay of the accident, forming an image of the beautiful animal splattered across the two-track, a broken bag of bones that once contained the pure muscle of a kingly whitetail. More than anything, though, what made Mauro ill was knowing that his uncle had gotten into an accident trying to mend fences because of something he believed Mauro was innocent of.
Don tested the hot water in the bathtub. They helped Aldo into the tub, averting their eyes from his nude body, and lowered him into an Epsom bath.
“Yeaahh! Minchia, my stugots are burning … ahhhh, that’s better … Nino, put that fish on, sauté it will you—whip up some lemon amogue. And don’t overcook it,” Aldo ordered.
“Sure, Unc,” Nino answered. Don stared at Mauro, but he didn’t catch it.
The three nephews sat at the dinner table, glumly picking at their fish. Aldo ate heartily, the way a man does when he’s trying to mend. His left arm was cocked in the sling as he shoveled in forkfuls of walleye and flaky perch. He eyed the boys indignantly.
“What the hell’s wrong with you kids? Nino caught us a hell of a meal. Eat! Mangia pesce adesso! Andiamo!”
“Just not hungry, Unc, seeing you like that,” Nino said.
Aldo scoffed at them.
“What? You see me feeling sorry for myself? Hell no. I got a bump or two, big deal. Now eat this fish dammit, or it’s your arms that are gonna look like this!”
The three solemnly poked their forks into the tender fillets and started to sample the white, delicious meat. Aldo watched them closely, not returning to his own meal until he was satisfied that they were truly eating.