Then Mauro backed out, rising urgently to his feet, sprinting to the side of the highway. He bent over, his hands on his knees, and as a series of dry heaves overtook him, he felt the pungent taste of bile on the back of his tongue as he retched. Remnants of fish and eggs came up strong and he spat out what was left in his cramping stomach. He straightened up when it was over and returned weak-kneed to his Cherokee.
He took the crate and hefted it, trying to avoid the rotting scent that invaded the cargo space. He ran along the roadside with it, and using the motion of throwing out a bucket of mop water, heaved it into the scrubby bushes that buffered the vast pine forests creeping beyond the highway. The crate lay half-hidden in the roadside ravine. Mauro stood above it, breathing hard, sweating, staring at it like a serial killer revisiting the crime scene of his latest victim.
After a time, he returned to the vehicle and took his bow, still secured in its case. He went back to the shoulder, intent on throwing it away as well, but held back at the last moment. He thought of the pain Uncle Aldo was in right now, knowing he was the one who caused it. He thought of what his lie had set into motion. Shame cloaked his soul and he let it envelop him.
He remembered when his father and Aldo had taught him to shoot. He was just thirteen years old. They had encouraged him, patiently coaching him when he would miss the target completely. He thought of his uncle’s resolve, standing by him because he was his nephew, his blood. Even in the sure appearance of his guilt, he hadn’t wavered.
Because Mauro had given Aldo his word that he was innocent.
And he saw Uncle Aldo’s face, clearly recognizing for the first time that an old man, at the dusk of his life, is what he had become.
A portent voice whispered to Mauro that Uncle Aldo needed to believe in his integrity; to keep a fire burning inside, to help him stay strong for however long he had left on this Earth. And Mauro somehow knew that the green crate was Troyer’s promise that Aldo would be able to do that, most assuredly. Because to the farmer, Mauro meant absolutely nothing, but Aldo Vendetti, who had integrated himself into the moral fabric of a community that didn’t give out free passes, well, he meant everything.
Mauro held the bow case with crossed arms, his body becoming submissive to his guilt, as if in a futile attempt to hug himself. He stood like that for a while before the wind and noise from passing vehicles woke him from his torpor. He placed the bow case back inside and quietly closed the lift gate and hatch.
He leaned against the Cherokee, watching the vehicles zip past, towing the toys the downstaters use to get away from it all. He went to the driver’s door and leaned in, opening all the windows. He wished the fresh air through the Cherokee, hoping the circulating, rushing wind would erase the odious stench of the rotting apples, but he knew it would remain, locked forever in its fabric.
Mauro finally settled behind the wheel. He leaned out the window. When it was clear, he pulled out onto the interstate, determined to leave everything that happened—all of it—behind him in those bushes on the side of the highway. Once on the road, he floored it, fleeing the beauty of up north, quickly making his way to the city, back to the life that waited for him in Detroit, where guys like him belonged.