The next day we were up and out as early as the sun. We sat at the big table, which may have been made from an old wine cask and perched on two old easels, and sipped our coffee as the day began and the shadows got shorter. The tower was an enormous sundial. After a few hours of sun, we followed the shade as it moved clockwise, resetting our chairs every so often, escaping the heat of the day.
Luna learned to sit in a bucket of water. We took turns with the binoculars watching an eagle fly over the fields. Every so often I’d run to the outdoor shower, careful not to let my bare feet step on the old spiny shells of last year’s chestnut harvest that collect just outside. I’d turn on the faucet and let the well-water run over my skin and down onto the stones at my feet. Even in the shade, the heat was still hot.
When the sun began to set, we put on our shoes, grabbed water bottles, and headed up the road away from the tower – off to get a bottle of milk. It was almost 7 pm. The road was hot. Luna walked in the shade of the tire ruts. We left our meadow and headed back up into the woods. The chestnut trees were full of new fruits – still green and spikey until the fall. The green pastures cascaded down into wooded areas that spread toward the mountains in the distance.
The cicadas ceased to stop their incessant buzzing. Spiders strung their webs across the road and we started to use sticks to tear through them before they wrapped around us. The path was steep and we kept stopping in the shade for Luna, but eventually, we made it up to flat land. We passed Mary and stepped onto the pavement. It was a ghost town, just like it had been when we drove through yesterday. We started doubting there were any sales going on anywhere. Laundy blew in the breeze on one of the empty porches. A swing set sat silently in another yard. We kept walking past the cluster of houses and headed toward the cow barn – the only sound around.
We could see the cows munching hay in the shade of the barn, but still no humans. Then a woman appeared and jumped at the sight of us. She certainly worked there, her clothes rough and her shoes muddied, I walked toward her smiling. She looked at me like I was an alien.
“Salve!” I started in polite Italian, “Do you sell milk here?” I asked her.
“What?” She put her hand to her ear, apologizing, blaming the machines behind her that drowned out my voice. I asked again. Her blue eyes squinted and her forehead wrinkled in confusion.
“…we don’t sell milk?….but I can…give you some?” she waited for my reaction. This was obviously not a daily occurrence. I have no idea who she thought I was, we were – the foreign couple that just appeared in this tiny town without a car, with a little alien dog on a leash. I tried to calm her nerves.
“We walked up from the tower, the owner told us you had milk so we jus-”
“AHHHH!” Her face filled with recognition (relief?) and the first smile appeared. “The tower, of course!” A man heard us talking and popped out from the rows of cows. We said hello and the woman turned to him and started speaking in their dialect to explain the situation. They could have been speaking Persian. I just knew the general topic because of her hand -gestures – down towards the tower, back up behind her to where maybe the milk was. The man was probably the same age as the woman – both in their 60’s or 70’s. Shirtless, his skin was burnt a deep tan from the farm. The confusion was still heavy – we were apparently the most interesting thing that’d happened around this place in ages. I started to wonder if we were intruding too much, and started to tell them if it was a problem, we didn’t need the milk at all. The woman smiled again and shook her head and set off back into the barn and the man turned to us, chuckling.
“Ma nooo!” He protested. “A problem! Never a problem,” he chided. “I’m just waiting for the guy to get here. He was supposed to be here a while ago, still not here yet. We’re just waiting.” He crossed his arms and leaned back.
“So you know the crazy guy that bought that piece of land!” He began to ramble. “I said he was crazy buying that. Why in the world would you pay for that place?!” I bet he grew up right down the road. I bet he never left this area in his life. The fact that we wanted milk stopped being the strangest part. Rami told him that the place was booked out after us until the end of August. The man slapped his hand to his forehead and walked in a circle.
“Noo! I don’t believe it!” He cackled, digesting this new piece of news, not understanding why anyone would want to visit there. Then we told him it didn’t have electricity and he lost his mind. Other people started appearing – coming from who knows where apparently we were attracting attention. The truck showed up with the other guy, and the woman made it back out, holding a plastic water bottle refilled with milk.
At that point, I realize that at least five other people have appeared in the driveway. Probably summoned by the commotion, the man kept lamenting about the tower. We explained we lived in Florence, and loved to get back to nature. Yes, that was something he could agree with, he explained, but an outdoor bathroom and no electricity, and you pay for it! His eyes were wide with wonder at such a concept. He looked to his neighbors for reassurance. They nodded in agreement.
The woman handed over the liter of milk in the water bottle and we asked how much. Her forehead wrinkled in worry again and she wrung her hands.
“No it’s not…because we don’t…” she looked down at the bills in Rami’s hand and he started to hand her a five. “A Euro?” She asked it as a question, waving off anything larger, explaining she wanted to give it to us instead anyway. Though she did take the Euro eventually, and as we thanked them and walked back down the hill, I’m pretty sure the entire little neighborhood was there to send us off back into the woods. I never saw even one of them walk up the driveway. I heard them cackling, the man leading the conversation, probably talking about how silly we were.
“We’re going to be the talk of this place for at least a month,” Rami laughed as we turned the corner, one of their dogs following us and Luna down the road, and I absolutely agree.
The day we were leaving, we stood by our cars on the side of the road and were saying goodbye to Raffaele and we told him about getting the milk (which was the best I’ve ever tasted in my life).
“Oh wow but did you boil it?” He asked worried, but we had (it wasn’t pasteurized yet) and all was fine. Though as we finished the conversation, I heard another tractor coming down the road, and we moved closer to the shoulder. The big red rig chugged by us, equipped with an attachment for cutting hay that made it look like a metal throne – the blades held up around the driver as he headed down to the next pasture, and as it passed the driver whipped around in his seat and I looked up to see the man from the cow barn, a huge smile breaking across his face as he realized who we were, and he frantically waved to us as he continued down the hill, cackling all the way.