Nino and Don hugged their uncle tenderly and made sure he was comfortable, more for their own peace of mind.

“Good seeing you boys. Sorry you didn’t get your deer, Donny,” Aldo said, scowling as a tug of pain radiated down the length of his left arm.

“That’s OK. Not why I came, Unc,” Don said. “We’ll call later to see how you’re holding up. Keep you in my prayers.”

“Love you, Unc,” Nino said.

“Me, too,” Don added. “I love you, Uncle Aldo.” Letting go was hard.

They kissed him once more and patted his broad shoulders. He took each of their hands with his good one and laughed his easy laugh.

“Maddon’ the love from you boys,” Aldo said. “I’m thrice blessed.”

“I’ll walk out with you guys. Be right back, Unc,” Mauro said.

Nino opened the driver’s door. Don was already near the passenger side, distancing himself from Mauro. Mauro kissed Nino and gave him a big hug before walking around the car. He grabbed Don’s shoulder.

“Sorry, cuz. It all went south after that thing with the cat.”

Don gave an indifferent shrug, but there was a silence that had started to grow, building between them now. Nino did his best to break it up.

“Mauro, don’t blame yourself. Stuff like this happens. You drive these roads enough, sooner or later you’re going to hit a deer. Unc just happened to pick the Shaquille O’Neal of ’em all.” The two laughed at Nino’s incomparable way with words.

“Still—well, you’re right, can’t cry over spilt milk I guess,” Mauro said.

“Let’s get going, Neen. Take care of him, OK?” Don said. He got in the car.

Mauro leaned on the window. “You know it,” he replied.

He watched the two brothers drive into the approaching dusk. Don’s head turned back at him. And while he couldn’t make out his expression, he was sure the “f-bombs” were flying. His stomach churned. The rafters in the garage called him, and he started that way, until the loud squawk of the mated herons echoed above, and he stopped and watched them a moment instead.

He walked around to the lake side and looked across at the island. For a moment, he swore he saw the silhouette of a huge buck with a high set of antlers walking through the dense trees there. He squinted and, convinced his excellent vision had betrayed him, Mauro blinked. He walked back inside the cabin.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri,