Christina Brockett
and Donna Kendall

Fractured Union
By Christina Brockett


Beneath the Ailing Cypress
By Donna Kendall
Inspiration Piece
In the morning, before the shots rang out, Giordi Baldini told his wife, Chiara, that he had decided to sell their vineyard to Nino Sanchoni, his brother-in-law and friend.  As she listened to Giordi’s resolve, the gripping hand of disappointment curled its fingers around Chiara’s mind, pressing on the usual disheartening reminder that their forty years together had produced no children of their own, and now the vineyard would be sold and not passed on.  The emptiness that had been kneaded into her heart over the years, however, had created a capacity for compassion rather than bitterness, and she understood that caring about others was a complicated endeavor.  “What will you tell Antonio?” she asked.
Giordi sighed, “Antonio must understand my position. Nino is family and it seems right that I should accept his offer.”

“Giordi, Antonio is your godson. Is that not family?  He is young and he works hard.  Have you even considered his offer, amore?”

“I understand why you feel as you do, but Antonio has the impulsiveness of the young and sometimes lacks the patience for the process of cultivating a vineyard.  You know as well as I do he will hire a manager, as he looks only to the final purpose and cannot appreciate the heritage nurtured into this soil.  It requires an understanding of the dominion Il Dio gave to man over the earth, not just a means to make more money. A man’s worth, his very essence, is tilled into the soil, Chiara.  I know that Antonio works hard but it’s here, Chiara…” Giordi pounded his fist into chest, “… it is here that the investment takes root, in a man’s heart.  I believe Nino understands this.  Even though I have always loved Antonio, I do not feel his heart is in the right place.  My heart is connected to this land and it’s my heart that is guiding my decision.”

“Have you considered what this will do to their friendship?”

“Either way the wind blows, the seeds of dissention will be planted.”

“Have you already told them?”

After kissing his wife’s cheek, Giordi shut the door to their cottage firmly behind him and gazed upwards; some decisions were as grey as today’s heavy sky; no clear black and white, but after struggling with his loyalties he’d convinced himself that Nino was the best choice. He and Chiara had inherited the vineyard from her father and for forty years and he had honored this gift by cherishing every grain of soil, every vine, every branch, and every blessed drop of rain that nurtured it.  He simply could not bear the idea that his successor would do less; it was unthinkable.

Inhaling the fading aroma of the season’s final Sangiovese, he strolled through the resting vineyards filled with a growing sense of serenity. Thoughts of Salvatore, Antonio’s father, now filled his mind.  Like brothers, Giordi and Salvatore had been raised side by side in the village nearby. Sempre insieme- fratelli di sangue. Together they had fought to protect their customs and their way of life when the guerrieri invaded the land bequeathed to them by their fathers. They had been taught to understand the value of patria and the undivided heart of brotherhood. The comfort of an old friendship had endowed each man with an unreliable sense of permanence. They had always been friends, but there is nothing permanent in life except the continuity of family. Did Antonio understand this?

It was Nino, the man who had married Giordi’s younger sister, Lucia that seemed to have more in common with Salvatore than his friend’s own son. Nino was a villager like himself, who had worked hard to acquire a small grove on the other side of the cypress forest, not far from where they had all grown up. Nino was upright in his thinking but his friendship with Antonio had fostered a competitive relationship, each eager to surpass the other. Yes, Giordi knew this would be a problem but the bottom line was that Nino was family and he understood the importance of roots. There could be no other option and Antonio would have to accept this.

The sounds of familiar voices reverberated through the hills, as Antonio’s distinctive voice could now be heard shouting in the valley below.  He wondered if Nino and Antonio were hunting today.  Together they benefited from Antonio’s ability to attract the boars, while Nino’s precision in shooting guaranteed a reward. Their competitiveness fueled the hunt but often led to teasing about each other’s skills.

“If not for me, Nino, your marksmanship would only split the cypress in two,” Antonio would say.

“There’s a reason you are such an expert in calling pigs, Antonio, but surely you would find yourself eaten alive by your companions if not for me.  You couldn’t hit a cypress from a meter away.”

For the most part their bantering appeared playful and harmless but there were other times when one or the other would come away with a darkened and inflamed ego and weeks would go by without a word between them.  Suddenly, an unexpected blast ripped through the stillness of the sleeping landscape.  Giordi rose slowly and scanned the countryside. Were the blasts coming from his friends’ adventures, he wondered?  A mournful cry rose from the cypress forest near the base of the vineyards. It did not sound like an animal; the sound was guttural, human, and achingly sad as it tumbled down the slopes towards the village of Ortebello. Giordi’s heart pounded with a premonition of terror when suddenly the sound of a second shot fired could be heard among the mournful cries before they ceased their desolate song.

Giordi grabbed his gear from inside the capanna and followed the narrow strip of earth between the entangled vines in the direction of the shots.  As he neared the circle of desiccated cypress trees that stood near the cavernous sector called La Maschera, a supple breeze turned into an acerbic wind.  Giordi’s cap was snatched from his head by an invisible hand and thrown to the ground in front of him as if to warn him not to proceed.   The acrid odor of gunfire accosted him as he cautiously entered the dense forest and raised his rifle in front of him.

“Angelo di Dio, che sei il mio custode” he prayed as he entered the clearing. In the mysterious void, the shocking aftermath of departing souls; there was the emptiness that remains when the largeness of life exits the world.  With each step, Giordi sensed an indescribable darkness in the hollowed path, where the malignant trees, once venerated by the ancients as protectors against evil had recently come into a canker that threatened their very existence. The dried, yellowing branches seemed to hold their shape but lacked the color that had once filled them with life. It was discomforting to realize that the once fragrant resin from their trunks was now masked by the smell of something sinister.  Giordi’s eyes widened at the unholy scene which lay before him.
“Gesù Cristo,” he gasped.  In its desolate arms the earth embraced the bodies of two lifeless men; both younger than himself.  The older of the two had been shot in the stomach.  Kneeling beside the lifeless body, Giordi’s mind was seized with the abject realization that this face was strangely familiar. He stared at the bizarre features of his sister’s husband, but the familiar features void of life no longer amounted to the person he knew. He expected him to bolt upright and cry, “Cornuto, you miserable devil, what have you done?”  In his miasma of shock Giordi suddenly remembered there was a second body lying on the ground nearby. With an abhorrent taste of truth rising like gall into the back of his throat, he turned to face the outstretched body of the second victim. Antonio’s body lay several meters away, face down near the trees; his right hand still firmly grasping his rifle.  “O Dio!  Antonio! What has happened?  My friends?  My sons? What have you done to one another?”

When the polizzioti entered the hollow in the forest marked by the indelible stains of human tragedy, they recalled that the victims had been friends and rivals, a rivalry fed by friendship and a friendship devoured by rivalry as they were now both killers in their own personal drama. The old man, Baldini, had collapsed in the police station; he had been wordless and deeply inconsolable. His paternal affection had fleshed out a primitive verse in a fruitless pattern that ended in breaking his heart.  The memory of these lively men, their eagerness to push forward with great passion and intensity stood in sharp contrast to the private decisions that halted their steps. This mystifying tragedy, manipulated by all the strokes that make us human was just one of many in the stories of men, the kind of story etched in history, time and time again.