"Were the soldiers from OSRAM or from the Guard?"
"Then there was no convoy: they were just sweeping up. According to the television most of them have stopped coming, but a few groups have managed to get through."
Leonardo looked around the shop. Most of the shelves were empty, and despite Elio's efforts to make what little was left go a long way, one had an impression of well-concealed desolation. A passerby unaware of the situation would have imagined the shop had been hit by fl oods, or that the proprietor had liquidity problems and was on the verge of going out of business.
"I've checked the vineyard for you over the last few days," said Elio. "If it doesn't rain, you should be able to harvest the grapes in a couple of weeks."
"How do you plan to do it?"
"How do I plan to do what?"
"Harvest the grapes."
Leonardo brushed hair from his brow with a gesture he had used since childhood.
"Lupu and his people," he said. "As usual."
"You think they'll come?"
"I'm sure they will."
Elio shook one of the cans and watched its contents move around until they settled again, and then he looked out at the square, where two silhouettes were passing silently under the only functioning street lamp.
"Even if they do come you'll be wrong to make them work."
"What do you mean, 'wrong'?" Leonardo said with a smile. Elio lifted his handsome shoulders.
"It's two years now since anyone has brought in outsiders for harvesting, and those who were linked in one way or another to local firms have not been reemployed."
"Lupu and his family have permits, and they all came in before the borders were closed."
"Permits or no permits, it may have been all right last time around, but this year there's bound to be some problem."
Leonardo propped his long, slender pianist's hands on the counter. He had never played the piano, but several women had told him he had the right hands for it. Only one woman had ever said he had "a writer's hands." A girl he had met on the train to Nice. When they got out at the station they had shaken hands, and he never saw her again. But that had happened long before he had married Alessandra. After his marriage he had never allowed any woman to come close enough to him to comment on his hands. Apart from Clara, that is, and such a thing would certainly never have occurred to her. Suddenly he felt very tired. There was a pain in his leg: sciatica. "Let's not discuss that now," he said. "We're tired. Just come and get the other can, because I want to show you something."
They went out into the fresh night air. The village was sleeping peacefully; like a child with an ugly scar on one cheek, who has fallen asleep pressing the scarred side against the pillow. The window of the hardware store, bright with metal tools, was like a Nativity scene. Leonardo opened the door of the Polar and the internal light revealed the dog huddled on the seat. It was sleeping quietly, revived by the fresh air or the little water Leonardo had finally succeeded in getting it to lick from his cupped hand.
"Did you find it or was it given to you?" Elio asked.
Elio, short-haired and with an aquiline nose, looked at the dog as one might look at a car damaged in an accident that will either need work to make it roadworthy or have to be scrapped. Leonardo said he had tried to get it to eat some cheese but without success.
"There are always Luca's baby bottles," Elio said. "But if Gabri finds out you're using them for a dog . . ."
He considered the problem, drumming his fingers on the roof of the Polar. The sound rang out clearly all over the square and up the narrow streets leading to the upper part of the village, the castle and the stars shining above it.
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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