|Product dimensions:||4.17(w) x 6.79(h) x 0.69(d)|
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Dane Corvin watched the old man climb the steps for the last time. It would have been kinder to look away because Dewey Corvin made a hash of it. He grasped a cane with one hand and the railing with the other. He had to stop and pant on the first landing and the second. By the time he reached the top, he was trembling from exertion.
"Forty-one of those bastards," Dewey wheezed when he finally caught his breath. "They were a lot easier twenty years ago, when we built this place."
The old man glared at the offending stairs. Then he shook his head sadly.
"Been meaning to paint that railing for some time," he said. "Not enough days left now."
He drew a deep breath and stared down at the house through clouded and failing eyes. He didn't need to see the place, though. He had nailed every beam and rafter. He had split every shake in the cedar siding. He had cut and leaded every piece of stained glass in the brow windows under the eaves.
In his memory, Dewey knew the house better than most people know the backs of their own hands.
The colored glass in the brow windows caught the morning sun. Dewey's eyes watered as he squinted against the brightness, or against something else.
"Twenty years," he said, more to himself than to Dane. "I had kind of hoped for more time. But I guess everyone does."
Dane stood beside the other man, wondering what to say. Finally, he laid his hand on Dewey's stooped shoulder. The old man's gnarled bones and twisted joints were like the dry limbs of an ancient fir tree.
Beneath his thumb, Dane could feel a knot on the end of Dewey's collarbone. It was an old injury. Dewey hadtorn up the shoulder working in the woods when he was twenty. Now he was eighty, and the mended fracture still pained him.
Dane squeezed gently, then lifted his hand.
"You sure you have to give up the house?" Dane asked softly. "Maybe we could put in one of those funicular railways, something to get you up and down the stairs. You could get somebody to come in once in a while to keep house. You could stay as long as you want."
Dewey looked at his nephew with sudden irritation. Dane was just over six feet tall and built like a middle-distance runner. He had a young man's dark hair. His dark beard was marked with a single striking blaze of white. He was tanned from a lifetime outdoors.
"What are you, Dane, forty-four? How would you know what old people need, what dying people want?"
A slow, bitter smile spread across Dane's face.
"I know a hell of a lot more about it than I did when I helped you build that house," Dane said. "We're all dying. Some of us are closer to the end than others, but we're all dying, inch by inch and day by day."
Dewey snorted with an old man's derision. "I sup, pose that's true, but you ought to wait till you're sixty or seventy before you start talking out loud about such things. It'll be more seemly with gray in your hair as well as your beard."
Dane looked out past the house through the dark green firs to the water. The day was clear and clean. Puget Sound shone blue-gray and flat in a sun that still had a touch of summer's warmth to it.
A gull turned and soared, flashing white and gray in the sunlight. The bird called sharply, then wheeled and splashed into the water. Almost instantly, two more gulls glided in and landed beside the first. The three birds rocked together on the surface of the water, craning their necks to look down into the depths.
Dane understood the birds' behavior well. They had spotted a school of bait fish beneath the surface, fish driven up from the safety of the depths by a seal or a cruising salmon. Now the gulls floated overhead, waiting for the unseen predator to drive the herring within range of their cruet yellow beaks.
Dewey was right. It was easy for such speculations to seem flippant. Dane looked away from the power and peace of the open water, back to the man who was his father in every way that mattered.
"if I were you," Dane said in a low voice, "I wouldn't be in any rush to leave this house. When it comes to dying, this is as good a place as any, and a hell of a lot better than most."
The stooped old man caught a soft intensity in the younger man's voice. Dewey was surprised. He had never thought of Dane as anything but a youth.
Dewey's features softened. For a second, the tight mask that was cancer's mark dropped away, and Dewey became the gentle, whimsical man he once had been.
"It's better this way," Dewey said, patting Dane's forearm. "Winter's coming. I'm in no shape to feed the goddamned stove, much less to cut the five cords of wood I'd bum between now and spring."
"I'll cut it for you."
"No good, boy. I'm weak and I'm getting weaker. They say the surgery's only exploratory, but I have a feeling they won't like what they find. That's why I wanted to come back out here while I still have the strength, say good-bye to the place, put it behind me."
Dane wanted to protest, but he didn't.
"I want you to have the house," Dewey said.