“Yeah, it’s got the eyes. Kind of surprised…considering all the things we’d done to them.” A silent pause. A breath. “But, it’s here….”
The journeyman had heard stories about an old Luger, picked up by the one who went to Normandy to become a man at sixteen, the one who’d lied to get in. Journeyman had heard about that gun, how it had been loaned to Uncle Dead's older brother. And how Uncle D’s older brother, Colorblind, had stood at the opening of a dead-end tunnel off one of the irrigation ditches. How the Luger had been fired into countless sets of glowing eyes until light had drained from every pair.
But the journeyman did not question the master.
No questions… none of those questions because he didn’t want to know what Uncle Dead had done exactly. So he didn’t ask.Smoke... the vaporous hue of the feline’s fur made the eyes hard to see. The two men stood in the shop. They were quiet for a moment as the form slowly turned its head and looked past him, fuck…through him. The journeyman figured the score had somehow been settled. Or would be… just a matter of time.
“It can stay…”
“Yeah, he’s got the eyes,” as the journeyman tried hard as hell not to think of Vee.
“Over here’s where we keep all the bottles…. and this is where it’s kept till it’s ready.”
They’d been talking about recipes, where to find good ‘barrels’, racking, and what to make it out of. They cat had disappeared somewhere, most likely keeping the pests in check because that’s what they do. Their nature.
Before heading into the ‘house’, they stopped.
“There’s only one rule that you’ve got to follow.”
Making eye-contact, “What’s that?”
“It’s the only rule,” Dead took another breath, ”you can’t pay for it…”
The ingredients or what goes in. Learn to use what is available. And how to negotiate.
"Anyone ever tell you that you can't, just turn around and walk away. Don't even waste your time. Don't even waste your breath."
Later, when they were standing around the table, talking, drinking some of the good stuff, and crunching on some ‘heart-attack’ or chicharrón, Dead starts to talk about where he's been getting his grapes from those few last seasons.
“I was driving down one of the roads coming out here…. and saw what looked like it had been someone’s home-orchard…. A little neglected, it looked like it needed some help. Still a few good years in it…. Maybe just needed a little attention.”
“Well, turns out this sweet old lady, said she was ninety-four…. this sweet old lady was living out there all by herself…. Told me to go ahead and take ‘em all. Told her, no, couldn’t do that. I’d give her a share of what I was making…. Since she wasn’t interested in the wine, made her a deal… that I’d help her with some work around the place, since it’s what I can do and the place looked like it might need a little help.”
“She’s actually a pretty cool old lady. We get along and she doesn’t mind me taking care of her little set up there. But she’s kind of religious…. goes to church regularly. One day, she asks me if I’m Christian.”
“Now, when someone normally asks that kind of question, I don’t hold back…. Look, if you can’t build it, grow it, shoot it, or fuck it, I’m not interested. But considering her age, I actually took a little time to think about what I was going to say.”
He takes a moment as to think before straightening up, then shuts his fading grey-eyes, puts his arms out – crucifix-style. Then, he tilts his head back and slowly turns his palms up. No grin this time.
“I told her… told her that, ‘When it comes time to close your eyes, take that leap of faith… I have none.’ This is it. All it is. What we have here now.”
Normally, these are things... good, bad, mortality… these are things the journeyman doesn’t mind talking about. Considering the likelihood of either of them, Uncle Dead and his ancient-old neighbor... no, he doesn't think of either of them living much longer. The odds are pretty even if placing a bet on who is going to go first.
Which could have been anytime.
“Well, eventually her kids heard that some rugged-type was seen around her place…. working out in her orchard, so they came by. Actually started visiting on a regular basis…. and kind of helping out. See, her kids are retired, but not too old to pick up a brush, change a light bulb or do few things here or there.”
“So, we’re out there, me, the old lady and one of her kids. And I’m painting…. I look over to him and yank his chain, just a little…. I say, ‘You know, she’s disinherited you, don’t you?’”
The master laughs when he tells this to the journeyman, coughing a little.
“The old lady thought it was funny too. Then she said, ‘I know who sent you, it was Him. He sent you to bring my children back to me…. You’re telling me you still don’t believe in God?’”
“I didn’t say anything to her. I just smiled and kept painting.”
The old master and younger journeymen retired to their respective abodes a little early that night, after sampling some of the bottled medicine.
So much was going through the journeyman’s mind. So many of the stories, so many details, he was hearing them. And listening.
The next morning, they were sitting around the table, the journeyman just looking into the earth-rich, black coffee, trying to piece it all together. Those stories, all that had been, was real. And to see that now… elbows resting on his knees, holding on tight to what might be his last cup, trying not to fall any deeper into those dark memories. So much life...
Then he heard a truly fearless voice respond to his thoughts. Trying not to shake (or cry), holding it back, booth hands gripping his mug, wanting the brew to somehow stay warm. He looked up at the metal smith who was now standing, propped up against the counter.
From behind those worn, denim eyes, the hell-forged soul of a faithless man spoke from his heart for what was to be their last breakfast together.
“Love…. that’s what it’s all about… Love.”