HE LOOKED OLD AND BEATEN...A SHELL OF THE MAN HE ONCE WAS.

Her face still immovable, she said, “There is a washbasin over by the fireplace. The water is not hot, but it’s clean, and I will round up a change of clothes. You look to be my husband’s size. I’m assuming you’ll want to bury that uniform. The Germans are everywhere, soldier, but more prevalent at night. It’s best you leave at dawn. Take my husband’s bicycle. It’s leaning against the old barn in the back of our house.”

     “Signora, where is your husband?”

The woman ignored his question and went into the kitchen, taking the shotgun with her, before closing the door.

     “Thank you, Signora,” Virginio called out, hoping she heard him—and that she knew his gratitude was genuine.

     Virginio quickly peeled off the damp, mud-sodden clothing—it felt heavy as lead as he dropped it on the floor. He noticed a framed photo on the hearth—a man flanked one side of the woman, and a young girl the other. It leaned up against a sizeable tarnished mirror. 

     Virginio gazed beyond the photo, caught his reflection, and frowned; he looked old and beaten…a shell of the man he once was. And his eyes, which had always danced with life and joy, looked tired. He was tired—of everything.

     Virginio squeezed the washcloth and let the lukewarm water roll down his body. It soothed his aching muscles, and the chill in his bones began to fade. He breathed in a sigh of relief.

     Moments later, a soft ray of light glanced off the mirror. Virginio could see the woman watching him silently from the open crack of the door. Although the room was dark, the sorrow—and loneliness—in her eyes was clear as day.

      “I have a beautiful daughter at home too,” he said softly, his back turned to her, “and three young boys and my wife, all waiting for me.” In the mirror, he could see the woman quickly turn away.

     “There is soup on the table with extra bread, as well as a flask of water. Take what you need.”

Virginio could hear her scurry away, and pause. “I’m sorry if I frightened you. You are lucky—your family…” She let out a quiet whimper as her words fell silent. “Be careful on your way home—with your life.” He heard her dwindling footsteps as she went upstairs.

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