by Peter Dudley (pjd)
The younger vines below stand like gnarly Jesuses, wired to their posts, monuments to the dozens whose blood soaked this soil under the roar of his machine gun. I puff my way up the dirt path to his plain farmhouse dug into the hillside. My leg aches as if his German bullet were still lodged in the bone, these fifty years later.
Sweating, I arrive at the faded green door surrounded by once-white trim, brittle with age. As I lean to knock, the door swings inward. My heart races. My leg throbs.
“Bonjour,” he says. His weathered face is furrowed with timeless grief. His crooked hand is worn hard and smooth. His eyes, however, have softened. No longer the cold, leaden discs of my nightmares, they are now clouded and wet. “Come in. Please.”
He ushers me in, seats me, pours. “I’ve been saving this.” The label’s thick script reads, Sang du Tombé, blood of the fallen. “It’s the last of my very first vintage.” His voice dies, leaving the final word lingering, and he lowers his face to his hands.
As he sobs, I exhume the small vial of arsenic from my pocket and open it. He looks up, into my eyes. I can see that if I pour it into his wine, he will drink. “I’ve been saving this,” I say, and I set the vial next to the bottle. I rise and depart, leaving him alone with his regret and his decision.