Aldo drove along M-72 West toward Fairview. He passed dairy farms and looked out at the landscape. He’d heard about the young farmer who might lose his arm and felt a kinship to him. Aldo had been shot twice in World War II, both times through the left arm. The first time he went right back to fighting a week later. The second time was so bad that they finally sent him home to Detroit. He went begrudgingly, well aware he’d left a part of his soul in Italy.
When the bullet ripped through him in the fall of 1944 on the Mediterranean coast, only five minutes earlier he had driven his combat knife deep into the heart of the last man he would kill in hand-to-hand combat, a man who could’ve easily been his relative. He’d returned fire from his carbine with one arm until a soldier in his unit covered him, allowing him to flee to safety.
Aldo was fond of saying, “There are no accidents.” It became his mantra.
God had put him in Italy for a reason. He felt no worse that it was Italian men he was trying to kill, than it was Italians who were trying to kill him. Both were there to defend their country. He was born in Detroit, and he knew had it not been for a yearning that burned within his father’s heart to come to the United States, it could’ve easily been Aldo dying at the hands of an American.
The enemy he killed was his own age, not even twenty. The man had reached out, tightly holding onto Aldo’s face as he kept pressure on the knife that caused the life to drain from the Italian. For some reason, he felt a need to allow the dying enemy to keep his hand there—clutching his face—thinking maybe the human contact, in some strange way, would trick the man into thinking it was all a bad dream; that surely this American with the knife—this straniero who was now displaying compassion—wasn’t really taking away his young life at that moment.
As the light started to leave the man’s eyes, he stammered, whispering to Aldo in his native tongue, as if speaking to an angel, or to God himself:
“Forgive me. I did what I had to do. I don’t hate. I was just doing my job. I was a cook. A cook.”
Aldo instinctively answered him in Italian.
“We’re all just doing what we have to do. He knows that.”
And in the moment of dying, seeing the look in the Italian’s eyes—inches from his own—Aldo swore he saw comfort there, because the man knew that this straniero was able to understand his last prayer. Moments later the bullet hit.
There are no accidents.
The road sign marking the Rescue Auction in Fairview was adorned with a large wooden auctioneer’s gavel, carved from laminated oak. It was as long as a dinner table, suspended from two heavy chains. Aldo liked the look of it, and when his travels brought him to the small town he always stopped to admire it. He marveled at what artistic men could create when given the chance.
Pulling away from the loading dock, he watched in his rearview mirror as the kids sorted the items he had dropped off. Aldo felt sorrow, hearing the news from the elder who accepted his donations, that the reattachment didn’t take and that the man had lost the arm after infection set in. He made a mental note to light a candle for the young farmer and his family at Sunday’s mass.
He pulled to the end of the driveway and stopped next to the oversized gavel. The carving, sculpted by simple men with skillful hands, lifted his mood. He looked at the farm across the road, and as he did a horse and buggy driven by a young Amish man passed by. The clack of the hooves on pavement was a sound he’d heard in Detroit as a young boy, riding a horse-drawn trailer with his father as he delivered bread and bootleg whiskey. The teen-ager tipped his straw hat at Aldo. He waved back. When the buggy passed, he was left looking at the farm, focusing on the white colonial; a plain structure in the middle of the open, dying fields. Aldo clucked his tongue and turned onto the highway to head back to Island Lake.