Mr. Natale walked over to the pale, motionless lad standing in his driveway and said, “Well, sir, what can I do for you?”
“I want to know if I could fish in your lake.”
“Well, I don’t see why not. You got any tackle?”
“A pole in our garage across the street,” said the lad.
“If you’d come to see me sooner, I would have taken you on the lake in my canoe. I haven’t seen you around before.”
“No sir. I was in the hospital the whole time.”
“You all right now?”
“They say I am. We’re going back home up North tomorrow.”
“What was wrong?”
“A big long name I can’t say. I got blood transfusions. But I’m OK now.”
“I’m sure glad to hear that,” said Mr. Natale.
The old man and the boy walked down to the lake.
“You’d best sit on the end of the dock. Dig some worms here on the shore. There’re some big bass in there, nice bream too.”
“My dad told me your name is Mr. Natale — you’re a great singer.”
“Was, son — was — a long time before you were born.”
“You don’t sing anymore, Mr. Natale?”
“I got where I couldn’t do it the way I wanted it to be.”
“Well, why not?”
“I guess I just got old, that’s all.”
The boy looked across the shimmering water. “You could still sing great if you really wanted to.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“Yes, I do. I know it.”
“Well, we’ll see. Have a good time … and catch a fish.”
In the bank lobby, Mr. Natale didn’t see anyone he knew standing in line.
“Morning, Dottie,” he said to the teller.
He laid a check on the counter, and said, “I’d like to cash this…” Suddenly Giuseppe Natale’s mouth opened wide and began to sing.
The words, “Che gelida manina…” came out as clear and strong as they had when he sang “La Bohème” in the great opera houses of Europe.
His wrinkled hands gestured as he sang the aria. A ringing high C filled the air.
People stood transfixed then applauded loudly.
“That was something” the teller said.
“Wasn’t it, Dottie!”
At the service station, Mr. Natale filled his gas tank.
“Mr. Natale, want me to check the oil?”asked Frank.
“That would be very…” And his mouth launched into “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto. He held the high B at the end as long as he had ever held it in Rome or Paris.
Cars stopped — horns honked — and people waved.
Giuseppe Natale bowed low.
At home, the little boy came up from the lake.
“Well I don’t see any fish, my friend.”
“I caught some, but I threw ‘em back,” said the little boy.
A grin spread across his thin face.
“I didn’t want to kill a fish, Mr. Natale, I just hadn’t ever caught one before.”
Mr. Natale shook the boy’s hand.
“I sure wish you were going to stick around. We’d fish a lot.”
“Oh! I wish so too, Mr. Natale.”
The next day, Christmas, the boy and his family left in their car.
Christmases came. Christmases went.
Mr. Natale’s mouth never sang any more songs.