The woman gave him a sharp look.
"Where else should I go?"
"But I thought your daughter was waiting for you in Switzerland."
"She's not in Switzerland anymore," the woman said, removing a crumb from the table. "When her husband died, she married again, a German. Now she lives in Germany. She has suffered, but for the better: her first husband was an inconsistent man. He died at V., so far as we can understand from whoever writes those official letters. But the one she has now seems a lot better, altogether another kettle of fish."
"Why don't you join her?"
The woman looked at him as if he had just wet himself. "Don't you ever watch television? Have you no idea what's happening? When the lines were still working, my daughter used to call me every day and beg me, I'm not exaggerating, beg me to let her come and get me. But I always said no. That it wasn't worth the risk. I'm ninety-two, I lack for nothing here, and she's the only child I have left . You have a daughter, too, if I remember correctly?"
Leonardo lifted the cup to his lips, regardless of the fact that he had finished his coffee.
"Does your wife allow you to see her?"
"No. I haven't seen her for seven years."
"So I thought."
For a moment they studied different corners of the room in
"Now I must get on with my journey," Leonardo said. "Where do you live?"
"Is that the village where The Little Song of Tobias the Dog is set?"
"So you've gone back to your childhood home?"
They heard a horn. A small tanker had stopped in front of the gate. There were two men in the cab.
"Not that I wish it for you," the woman said, "but perhaps sooner or later you'll want to start writing again."
Leonardo smiled and shook his head. They watched the bald man open the gate and the driver bring the truck into the courtyard. Once out of his cab, the driver put on work gloves and attached a thick, ridged pipe to the tank while the bald man opened a manhole cover fastened to the ground by two locks. Both men had a pistol in a holster under their jackets. Leonardo stared at the ocher countryside and a sky the color of curdled milk.
"I really must be on my way," he said.
He picked up his duffel. The woman fixed her eyes on the yellowing lily of the valley in the center of the table and waited until he had reached the door before calling him by his surname. "The best possible interpretation is that you did something stupid," she said. "But no one can ever forgive you for what you did."
Leaving the hotel, he drove north on the same secondary roads as he had come by. The autostrada would have saved him several hours, but he had heard of fake checkpoints at which travelers were robbed, and for this reason he preferred a less obvious route well away from the larger towns.
He drove with the window down, the hot, clammy wind filling his shirt; from time to time he took a mouthful of water from the bottle beside him. Since starting out three days before he had passed about a dozen cars and several military convoys. The villages he passed through were mostly deserted, with only an occasional old man sitting in a doorway, a boy on a bicycle, or the face of a woman drawn to her window by the sound of the car.
About noon he stopped to fill up with gasoline. When he beeped his horn a man came out through the gate to the service station while another stayed in the doorway with his rifle lowered. Leonardo got out of the car, let himself be searched, and said how much gas he wanted. The man, who might have been about fifty, and wearing a rock band T-shirt, got into the Polar and drove it into the enclosure. Leonardo tried to check through the grill how much was being put in, but the back of the car was hidden by the prefabricated hut where the two men lived, and where a young woman with dark skin and curly hair was leaning out of a window. Leonardo imagined she must be tanned from working all summer in the open, unless she was an outsider who had got in before they closed the frontier.
Excerpted from The Last Man Standing by Davide Longo. Copyright © 2013 by Davide Longo. Excerpted by permission of Quercus. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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