Don sipped on a bottle of OJ as he drove Mauro’s Cherokee. Mauro sat in the middle and Nino rode shotgun. They each ate pepperoni sticks Mauro bought from the IGA owned by the bearded woman. Mauro was the only one of the three who could look her in the eyes and not stare at the pronounced shadow on her face. The lady was homelier than any woman Goya could’ve conjured up, and she seemed to truly appreciate Mauro’s efforts.

“She must have a weird hormone imbalance,” Don said.

“After menopause, a lot of women grow hair in unlikely places because they have a surge of testosterone,” Nino said. “Sometimes it’s treatable.”

“I wonder if she has a lot of hair on her nuts, too,” Mauro said.

Don blew the orange juice out of his nose. They all laughed hard for the first time that morning.

“You ass,” Don said, wiping at the spittle on the windshield.

“So where did you get the big walleye? Off the point?” Mauro asked Nino.

“A great fisherman doesn’t give away his secrets,” Nino replied.

Don leaned over, “We know, but he asked you.”

Nino flipped him the bird. “Yeah, it was the point,” he sighed. He chewed on the pepperoni. “Hey, either of you guys ever see any deer on the island?”

“Unc said he’s seen a line of does cross the ice from the west shore onto the island. Never seen any there, though. Probably bs’ing,” Mauro said.

“If he said it, I believe it,” Don snapped. Mauro glanced at him.

They drove for a few miles, Don taking the gentle bends of the highway, flanked on each side by flame orange maples and yellow oaks—standing like sentries—laid out specifically for their travel. Pulling into Spruce they came to the only traffic light on the highway. A farmer pulled a trailer stacked high with sugar beets hitched to a slow-moving tractor. Don brought the Cherokee to a halt, idling behind it.

Mauro focused on the traffic light’s red ball in the sudden silence.

“So Mauro, why did you shoot that farmer’s cat?” Nino asked.

He turned and looked at Mauro. Mauro met his stare with total seriousness, but this time the façade wasn’t right or quick enough. His face cracked and he started laughing, a wheezing-through-the-nose laugh that gave way to all-out, high-pitched giggles.

Don felt the weight of guilt unshackle itself and he laughed, too. Nino just shook his head and chuckled.

“How did I know?” Nino asked.

Tears ran down Mauro’s face. He wiped at his eyes.

“Oh Nino! Who the hell knew the guy’d have more than one cat?” Mauro said.

“Mauro, let me help you with this: The guy’s a farmer. Farmers have cats.

That’s cats with an s, cuz. Plural. Farms attract mice, ergo farmers keep cats. What the hell were you thinking?” Nino asked.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri,