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Uncle Aldo sat near the shore. He scanned the lake and squinted at the sun—a pale orange ball—starting its dip behind the tree line on the opposite shore. He chuckled upon seeing the landing net, and regarded the flavor of the Cuban cigar he smoked, a gift from a friend in Tampa who’d mailed him a box. Orange leaves on sugar maples and the yellowing leaves of oaks looked afire as sweet light bathed their full canopies, radiating with golden warmth. He caught sight of his fishing boat bobbing on the lake, studying Nino’s profile as his nephew anchored. Aldo’s eyes were still good for distance, and he saw the kid waving. He didn’t know how many more years the good Lord had left for him on this Earth, but he took the opportunity to drink in the sight of his nephew and record the memory of it. He waved and then looked to the sky.
“Thank you for giving me this cabin, and gracing me with these nephews to share it with. I know I don’t deserve this happiness. Keep my Val company until you call me home.”
He heard a loud squawk and delighted in watching a pair of great blue herons coasting toward the island. The pair looked prehistoric, especially with the low-key light that silhouetted their large bodies. Their wing beats were in unison, and he knew they were mated for life. That thought gave him hope. Aldo put the cigar down and reclined farther into the old Adirondack, letting sleep pull him away from the image.
The dreams always started the same, especially since her death. He was on the shore of the Mediterranean, looking into the face of the dying Italian soldier, the dream so real he could smell the gunpowder. All of this filtered into geometric patterns, suddenly turning into the comely face of his Valentina, the beautiful young bride she was. She stood before him, his hands raising her white cotton gown to reveal her breasts, finally allowing him to see and touch them naked for the first time. They were ravenous in their lovemaking, and he felt—even in his dream state—frustration knowing the reunion was unrequited, that he had no control over when God would deem they be together again. And though his dream-self fought the best it could, he was pulled awake and Valentina’s features faded away.
“Unc—wake up. It’s ten o’clock.”
Nino’s voice gained volume, and Aldo didn’t know where he was for a moment. He looked up to see Nino standing over him with an outstretched hand. His stringer had five walleye on it. It was dark out and the lamp from the porch cast an amber light on the slippery fish and Nino’s large frame.
“Sweet Jesus, those are beautiful, Nino!” Aldo practically shouted.
“You like these? Look at their cousins.”
Nino kicked over a five-gallon pail. More than three-dozen perch—many as big as his hand—flopped in the grass.
“You hit the mother lode!” Aldo said. “They love them wax worms. I’ll have enough to send to Ed Troyer now. He loves perch, Farmer Troyer does.”
“So you’ve said. Want to help me fillet ’em?” Nino asked.
“Hell yes, I do. Minchia, how you kids still butcher them fillets. Let Uncle Aldo show you how to do it—again,” he gently teased Nino.
Nino smiled, enjoying the ball busting.
“That’d be great, Unc. I’m a little rusty.”
Nino gathered up the perch and walked with his stringer and the pail into the garage.
Aldo looked to the heavens, now dotted with a billion stars, and held his arms up in a quiet acknowledgment of the grace he felt bestowed upon him.