The sun has not yet fully made its way up over the horizon. The General is out there nonetheless. I don’t think he checked the weather report. He is in a hurry. He wants to get it done. He wants to bring in his harvest. The air is humid and the grass is still wet and sticky from dew. Regardless, he slogs through his patch of green in tall farm boots with the vigour of a much younger man. He is no stranger to hard work. Shirt off, with suspenders to hold up his pants, he likes the sun. It kisses his tomatoes, turning red and ripe. Although crusty and aware of the pitfalls of farming, he has not built a deer fence. In a secret way he likes it when he sees them eating from the labour of his hands. It ties him to all of nature in a big cycle. It brings something new and he likes that. He did not have deer in Italy.
He left when he was a much younger man, cursing Mussolini and all of his talk. He wanted life and Mussolini brought promises and death. Mussolini went the way of most tyrants and the general smiles at the cycle of conquest and return that rules all of nature. He came with a big brown tattered suitcase and no English. He was a labourer and he still is. It is in his blood. He still has no English, but the labour has stuck with him like a rhythm that measures his days and his purposes.
For a moment the Tuscan sun breaks through the clouds and he stands erect and attentive. He can hear his mother calling from the stone house far away. His uncles and his brothers have gone in from the field and they are already at the table. The general hesitates. He looks out over the labour of his hands, the tidy rows and the budding fruit of his toils and he smiles an inner smile.
He seems gruff from the outside. He looks at you with steely eyes that measure you, from far away. He mumbles something in Italian and goes back to his work. They call him the General. His son pronounces it with a grimace. They cannot explain the General, he has reasons that he has not yet confessed. There is time. Today, he is holding court with his tomatoes and beans. He presides over a field of green that falls in cadence with his ancestors.
The General will not be done away with, not yet. In his mind, he pulls out his pistol and takes a mock shot at something no one else can see. He says something salty under his breath. The gun is part of his imagination, part of his arsenal by which he approaches life. It is safer than a smile and it has lasted. Not everything has lasted.
The day is marked with the new sunrise and with the presence of the General. He is still in charge making bargains with God and getting out his imaginary pistol when necessary. Tyrants vanquished, he looks down again at his tomatoes and pictures the enormous pot of sauce simmering on the back of the stove at the harvest’s end.
His mother calls him again. The General smiles. It is time to go in, but not yet, not yet. He smells the black earth beneath his feet and says a prayer to God, with whom he has an understanding.
Not today, he says. There is the still time. The tomatoes nod in the breeze as the sun begins to rise.