In Case They Come Back

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We drove into the mountains in a diesel that we found abandoned by the sea. It kept threatening to catch fire, I kept nursing the pedal. There was a stone monastery up in the clouds that made it’s own wine and honey. We wanted some. We parked the diesel at the base, walked up the long cobblestone road, darted with wild flowers: orange neon and hot yellow, species unknown. Eagles flew around us soundlessly as the atmosphere thinned and our ears popped.

At the top, there was a monk in frayed brown robes, who was drinking out of a hole in the side of the cliff. He was collecting the spring water in his pink hands, cupping it, then sipping languidly—as if it gave eternal life and he’d been there since the stegosaurus. Maybe he had.

The monk was real happy to see us and didn’t seem like he got to see very many Americans. But, he thought that all we really wanted to hear about was the Nazis, because he’d seen a lot of old black and white war films and they were all about John Wayne and Henry Ford killing Nazis. The monk figured that’s all Americans wanted to talk about. “You all love machine guns,” he said.

I motioned to the massive wooden door with the golden chains dangling, “We’d like to go inside and see.” I had visions of intricate wood carvings. Inner sanctums. Tapestries. Painting from right before the world got lame.

He pointed at Bonnie said, “No women are allowed inside.”

Feeling bad, the monk brought out some jugs of wine in a large copper vase and we sat together, looking onto the small village from the cliff. Sheep and orange groves. Green rolling hills, the diamond sea in the distance. A valley with a field in which a black dog ran randomly through a maze of bee hives.

He started to give us the history of the village below and of the monastery itself. The monk said that Germans had come to the village in tanks and jeeps, gathered together all of the men. They took the men—walking in single file up the steep cobblestone road. Then, the Germans called the monks out. Everyone stood there in the mist, while the Germans threw them off the mountain one by one. Until there wasn’t anybody left. Then they burnt down the monastery. Then—the Germans went back down to the village and did what you could expect them to do with the remaining women.

I drank the rest of the wine. “They burnt this down?” I asked.

“It looks like it’s been here forever,” Bonnie said.

He nodded, pointed to a large carved wooden plaque, said: “those are all the people, their names.” Then, slowly, he pointed to the monastery, said, “If the worst happens again, we’re ready.”

“How so?” Bonnie asked.

“Now we’ve got cannons in all the upper windows. In case the Germans ever come back”

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