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Working Up to the Dragon

By
August 13, 2006

Every morning Boone made two breakfasts. The first was for him — eggs over easy, toast and black coffee — and he ate alone in the kitchen. When he was done, he set his lone plate in the drain.

Then Boone prepared the second breakfast. This was essentially the same, except that he added hash browns and toast with strawberry jam. He fried bacon too, working fast, knowing the aroma wouldn’t last. He sprinkled rosemary on the eggs, for color.

Boone set the fragrant food on the bed tray, next to silverware and the bud vase containing the single rose he’d cut that morning. May would ask whether he was tending her prize bushes, and he’d say he was, as best he could. May had always been the gardener, not him. It still amazed him that some flowers bloomed every year whether they were tended or not.

Last thing, Boone reached into the cupboard and took down a cellophane package, a length of clear tubing, and a small can that he shook vigorously as he gathered up the tray and carried it all down the hall.

He heard the sharp chime of the bell just as he got to the door. That meant May was awake. Even so, he tapped before entering. May lay in bed, her face turned toward him and her eyes open. The bell sat under her good hand.

“Good morning,” Boone said lightly. He set the tray down, and bent to kiss his wife lightly on the forehead.

“You should shave,” May said.

Boone unhinged the bed railing and slid it down. “Did you sleep?” he asked.

“Some,” she said. “You?”

“Like a rock,” he lied.

The ringing bell had woken Boone in the middle of the night. He came into her room to find her in a panic. Something was scratching outside her window and she had convinced herself that a raccoon was trying to get in. Boone checked and saw that it was the willow tree. One branch had grown too long and the wind was brushing it against the house. He told her this, that it was only Tully’s willow, but by that point she was too upset. He held her hand and stroked her brow. Finally he climbed into the bed with her, snaking in amongst the tubes, and somehow managed to embrace her without disconnecting anything. He held her as closely as he dared. Her body felt brittle in his arms; he was afraid she might break. When May finally started to snore, Boone extracted himself and went back to their bed.

“Any more nightmares after I left?” Boone asked her now.

“No,” May said. “But I miss your weight.” The word came out as “mish.” Her slur was worse this morning.

Boone lifted the blinds. This bedroom wasn’t the biggest in the house, but it had the best view of the valley, which was why he’d moved her down here. The few furnishings were spaced to make them easier to move around: May’s special bed, IV posts, a TV perched on the dresser, her wheelchair folded in the corner. The window took up most of one wall. Outside it was still windy, though not as bad as it had been. Tully’s tree still grazed against the glass.

Boone found the bed’s control pad and pressed a button, bringing May into a sitting position. Then he arranged the silverware, though it would go unused.

He tore open the cellophane package and removed a plastic syringe, then screwed one end of the clear, rubbery tube into its fitting. He lifted the hem of May’s nightgown. A white plastic plug protruded from her abdomen. Boone flipped open its lid, and fitted the other end of the tube into it. He gave the can another shake, and, holding the syringe upright, poured the formula into its wide mouth. White liquid pooled at its base and threaded down the clear tube to the portal.

The aroma of the breakfast Boone had prepared wafted off the platter. May breathed it in.

“Is it close enough?” Boone asked.

“Ah,” she said. Her arms lay limp at her side. The flesh was spongy, slack from disuse. Where she got injections, she bruised, and the bruises lingered; patches of blood lurked under the surface like fish lazing in a filmy pond.

The last food May had actually tried to chew was the pasta and calamari he made for them. Boone had cooked it soft it so she could get it down. That was the theory, anyway. She took one bite, chewed stiffly, and began to choke. Boone managed to dig out the lodged squid ring with his finger, but they were both rattled by the experience. They hadn’t tried it again.

Boone pushed the plunger, urging the formula through until it was gone. He detached the tube, wiped off the area around the plug, and rearranged his wife’s nightgown. Then he traced the catheter tube and checked the contents of her waste bag. He’d learned to read such things.

May watched warily as he gathered up the breakfast things. “You’re leaving me in bed?” she asked.

Boone nodded. “It’s Thursday.”

“That woman coming here?” May said.

“You mean Norma? Of course she’s coming,” Boone said. “She always comes on Thursdays. You know that.”

“She’s a pest,” May grumbled.

“Norma’s talkative, is all.”

“She hurts me.”

“She doesn’t hurt you.” Boone sighed. “You’re stiff. She exercises you.”

“You exercise me.”

“I can’t do what she does. She’s a trained physical therapist and I’m not. Besides,” Boone said, “her being here is the only way I can go to Tully’s. I won’t be leaving you alone.”

Boone brushed wisps of hair out of May’s eyes. Her once lustrous hair was thinning. Her entire body was changing, curling into itself. Anyone seeing her after a period of time, and expecting the beauty she had been, might be shocked.

“Why are you going to Tully’s?” May asked him.

“I told you.”

“Tell me again.”

May’s mood was turning sour. He reminded himself to stay upbeat, even though his own mood wasn’t very good, either. “He asked me to speak with his son,” Boone said. “Steven. The youngest.”

“Why?” May said.

“The kid’s in some kind of trouble, from what I gather. Tully didn’t say what kind.”

May shook her head impatiently. “No,” she said. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why does Tully want you?” she said.

“I don’t really know,” Boone admitted.

“Is it trouble in school?”

“No idea.”

“Is he vilan?” May asked.

“What?”

“Is the boy vilan?” May repeated.

“Sorry,” Boone said. “I can’t make it out.” He came around to watch her mouth.

May took a deep breath. With effort, she sounded it out: “Vie. Oh. Len.”

“Oh, is he violent? No,” Boone answered. “I don’t think so. We would’ve heard about something like that, wouldn’t we?”

“How would we hear?” May asked.

Boone shrugged. “Town gossip?”

“How would we hear town gossip?”

May had a point. Gossip was how news traveled in these rural areas, but they were out of that circuit. People met at church, but neither of them was religious. People met at the school, but they didn’t have kids. There were the regulars at the general store, loitering and philosophizing; Boone was sure they shut up when they saw him coming, and imagined it was him they were gossiping about. The recluse writer and his sick wife.

Norma arrived a little after ten-thirty in the HMO van. She was a robust woman in her late thirties, with an angelic face framed by curly red hair. Boone was relieved to see her. Norma’s arrival meant that finally there was someone here who knew what they were doing.

“’Morning, Mr. Boone,” she called. She wore a nylon windbreaker the same green color as the van, a satchel of supplies slung over her shoulder. And she pulled along some sort of odd contraption.

Norma noted Boone’s alarm. “Don’t let it scare you,” she said. “It’s here to help.” The thing was a metal frame, tall and spindly, like those rolling clothes racks hotel porters use. Its stalk was a tubular column about six feet high, maybe six inches around. The base was a wide U-shape that glided on four rubber casters that swiveled and shimmied on the stones of the walk. A flat bar jutted from the top. The thing looked like a praying mantis on wheels. The wind kicked up, making its parts rattle and flap so much it looked ready to take flight.

Boone looked the device over. “What is this, anyway?” he asked.

“A godsend, Mr. Boone,” Norma said. “A real lifesaver, that’s sure.” Norma maneuvered it up to the stoop and waved aside Boone’s helping hands. “Easier to do it myself,” she said. “Now, how’s the lady of the house today?”

“She’s a bit cranky,” Boone replied.

“That so?” Norma said. “And how about you, Mr. Boone?” she said.

“I’m alright.”

“You look worn out.” She slung her satchel on a chair.

“Nothing a good night’s sleep won’t fix.”

“And you’re not getting that?”

“Not lately,” he said.

“Because of Mrs. Boone?” Norma reached up and placed her hand on Boone’s forehead. The sudden contact startled him.

“You know, I’m not the patient here,” Boone joked as the sturdy hands roamed his face, gauging his heat. “May got scared again last night.†She’s scared every night. Is it the medication?” he asked.

“Could be,” Norma said. She thumbed down his eyes. “More likely the disease running its course. Emotions get mixed up in the sick. You get frustration. You get anger. You get fear. Think how you’d feel.”

“Any new medications? Anything that might help?”

Norma held his head in her hands and said, levelly, “We’ve discussed this. Mrs. Boone is moving on to the next phase.” Boone tried to look away but she held him firm. “Maybe it’s becoming too much for you.”

Boone frowned. “I can handle it.”

“Maybe she needs to go into a facility.”

Something behind Boone’s eyes tightened. He shook his head.

“Thought any more about full-time help?” Norma asked

“Not really.”

“If it’s money, there are programs” Norma said.

“It’s not money,” Boone said.

Norma gathered up her pack. “Mrs. Boone’s is a progressive condition. The most we can do is keep her active. And comfortable.” Norma said. She fixed him with a look that came from caring for so many and watching so many die. “Some people are cut out to be caretakers, some aren’t. If it’s a matter of pride, best get over it. Pride can turn into resentment, even in the best of us. Now let’s visit Mrs. Boone.”

May watched them coolly as they came into the bedroom.

“’Morning, Mrs. Boone,” Norma beamed. May did not reply.

“Let’s get you out of that bed and get that blood moving.” She rolled the rack up to the bed. On any other day, Boone would have gotten May into the wheelchair before Norma arrived. It was a cumbersome process, with him clasping his wife’s rigid arm around his neck while swinging her legs off the bed, and half-lifting and half-carrying her over. For this morning, however, Norma had requested he wait.

“What’s that thing?” May said.

“It’s a lift,” Norma said. “Makes things easier, you’ll see. You’ll like the ride.”

May scowled. “Don’t tell me what I’ll like.”

Norma ignored the remark. From her bag she extracted a flat metal bracket, about a yard wide, and clipped it to the lift’s arm, on the end of a cable that hung there. It wobbled over May like a weighing scale. Norma hooked up two lengths of thick, lightweight chain. They clattered as she hung them from the ends of the bracket. “This’ll take few minutes, Mr. Boone,” she said as she worked. “If you got something to do.”

Boone checked his watch. “Actually, I have to get ready to go somewhere.” He turned to his wife. “I’ll be right back,” he said. but May was watching Norma skeptically. The chains dangled down in front of her.

“That’s fine, fine, Mr. Boone.” Norma shooed Boone aside as she tugged out a narrow band of canvas material. “Now, Mrs. Boone, don’t let’s be feisty,” she said to May. “Scooch up here now so I can slip this sling under your bottom there, that’s good.”

Boone walked the fifty yards from the back door to his studio in the renovated tool shed. He searched for his range jacket, and found in on a chair, under a pile of books. And under the jacket, he found his manuscript, such as it was: a loose heap of paper riddled with markings and yellow Post-its.

Boone grimaced. If May asked how the book was coming, he’d hedge. Truth was, progress on the book had come to a halt when the degree of May’s problem revealed itself. When the list of aches became symptoms, and when those symptoms – the numbness, the falling – coalesced into a disease they could name.

It was May who insisted they invest the new book’s advance on the property in the country. “The sky’s big out here,” she once told Boone. “Full of possibilities.” Boone resisted at first, but eventually he gave in. Though he preferred to be surrounded by buildings and people, Boone was not a gregarious man. May had always been more than enough company for him. So that left them effectively to themselves. Except for Tully.

Boone smiled to think of the one and only time Chuck Tully had ever stepped into this studio and how nervous the big man had been. The antique roll-top desk, the flickering computers, the shelves of books and artifacts — it all conspired to hold Tully frozen in place by the door, unwilling to move into the room. He was visibly relieved when Boone suggested they go outside and sit at the picnic table beneath the willow.

That tree had come from Tully, too, in the very beginning. The house hadn’t even been built yet. The crew had poured the foundation and left for the day, and Boone and May were standing there, quietly panicked, wondering just how this slab of damp concrete was supposed give rise to their house, when a battered pick-up truck roared up their driveway. The door popped open and this bear-like man emerged, smiling broadly and bellowing “Welcome, Neighbors!” It was Tully, sauntering toward them, hoisting a box full of baked goods Mrs. Tully had prepared for them. In his other hand he held a scrawny stick, which he speared into the ground in one easy motion. “A branch from my willow,” he laughed. “Looks like you folks could use a tree right about here.”

Tully’s spread was on the other side of the county, but he had to pass their place on the way to town. He took a shine to them, stopping by every so often to check in on the city folk. Mostly, Tully took to May. They had an instant affinity to each another, recognized a kindred soul, lovers of the land. Boone often heard a horn and looked up from his work to see Tully cruising past, waving at May. His wife would always be out there, clipping or raking or clearing debris, sleeves rolled up, waving back.

Tully was friendly but standoffish with Boone. For all the time they’d spent in each other’s company, Boone hardly knew him. Tully professed awe that a man could make a living with words, and without a family. Tully had several children of his own, most of them grown and gone. Steven was born late, a surprise. Boone doubted he’d recognize the boy. Which made it even more mysterious that Tully would turn to him in a time of distress. That was what he’d seen on the man’s face, distress, when they’d bumped into each other on the street and Tully hesitantly asked Boone to talk to his son. Boone was taken aback. He wondered how he could help, but said yes, of course, he would.

Back in the house, Boone shrugged on his jacket as he walked down the hallway, “I’ll read you the papers when I get home —” he called ahead, but stopped up short in the bedroom doorway, stunned by what he saw.

Norma had May up in the air. His wife stiffly clung to chains attached to the sling she sat on. She hovered over the bed like an enormous tea bag.

“A lifesaver, this gadget is,” Norma said, noticing his return. “Your back will love you for it, Mr. Boone.” She pumped a lever on the side of the lift, which winched the chains and May with them. “As delicate a flower as Mrs. Boone might be, carting her out of bed every morning can take its toll.”

But Boone was barely listening. He stood speechless, transfixed by the sight of his wife suspended in the air like a kid on a carnival ride, but mostly by the expression on May’s face, one he hadn’t seen in a long time, a look something like wonder.

*

Boone’s Volvo wound through the valley, past farmhouses, clusters of cows, the occasional yellow hulk of farm equipment. The land sprawled, the hills like slumbering figures tucked end to end. There were long stretches where the only signs of civilization were stitched fences, poles and power lines. A person could drive for miles and see nothing but vastness. May would see beyond it, to the possibilities. What did Boone see? Just more vastness. Boone was not an adventurous man. Open spaces left him feeling lost and alone.

Tully was always working, getting his hands dirty. So Boone was not surprised to drive up the gravel driveway and find the big man brandishing a chain saw on a tree stump. Tully cut the motor when he saw him.

“Won’t be long ’til the snow now,” Tully said, pulling off his thick leather gloves. He extended a nicked, callused hand. “Thanks for coming, Boone,” he said. “I mean that.”

Tully took off his bill cap off and used a sleeve to wipe his ruddy brow. “How’s the missus?” he asked.

“Hanging in there.”

“Well,” Tully said. “She’s made of tough stock. Anybody can beat it, Mrs. Boone can.”

“You should come by,” Boone said. “She’d like to see you.”

Tully frowned as he replaced his cap tight on his skull. “I’ve been meaning to, you know” he said. “But lately, things just well, you know. But give her my regards, will you?”

Boone nodded. He hadn’t meant to make his host uncomfortable. “So,” Boone said. “Your son?”

“Ah, right. Stevie,” Tully said. “I’m worried about him, is all. He’s always been a quiet kid, not like his brothers. But lately he’s a downright hermit.” His brow bunched in concern. “Last week he got caught shoplifting at the mall.”

Boone smiled. “That’s typical for his age, isn’t it? What is he, twelve?”

“Thirteen,” Tully said. “And yeah, kids do it. Except the stuff he stole was so, well strange. It was from a fabric store. Pieces of cloth. Thread and stuff,” Tully looked genuinely baffled. “But it’s not even the shoplifting. It’s all this being alone. He has no friends, far as I know. Every day he comes home and goes into that barn. I’m afraid he’s turning into, well, an odd duck.”

Boone chuckled at the euphemism.

“Just you talking to Stevie might do the trick,” he said. “See if you can find out what’s bothering him.”

“I’ll try,” Boone said. “But, really, why me? What do you think I can do?”

“I can’t answer that either,” Tully said. “It just came to me. I woke up one morning and my first thought was maybe Mr. Boone could help.”

“Takes one to know one, you mean?” said Boone.

“One what?”

“Odd duck?”

“Hey.” Tully put up his hands. “Don’t get me wrong. I meant no offense.” Tully shifted his appreciable weight. “I have instincts, is all. I know people.” With that, Tully turned toward the big barn across the yard and yelled, “Hey, Steven! Stevie! Come on out here, willya?” Tully called.

A small figure emerged from the barn. The boy walked toward them, head down, sneakers scuffing the dirt. He wore an oversized hooded sweatshirt.

Steven came up and stood hunched at his father’s side. Tully put his arm around his son. “You remember Mr. Boone,” Tully said.

The boy nodded. Boone put out his hand. Steven shook it, timidly. “How are you, Steven?”

“Good, sir,” he said, barely looking up. Steven looked to him like a normal kid, shy and self-conscious. A spray of pimples dotted his chin. His glasses were too large for his head, sized to grow into.

“Your dad was just talking about you,” Boone said. “How’s school?”

Before the boy could answer, Tully boomed, “Fine, just fine. Steven gets all A’s, don’t you, son? Until recently, that is.” Steven nodded sheepishly.

“You play sports?”

“I tell him to try out. But he won’t,” Tully replied. The boy winced at the loudness of his father’s voice.

Boone saw that this was just not going to work. The boy wouldn’t open up in his father’s shadow. “Good to see you again, Steven,” he said abruptly. “I’m sure you’ve got things to do. Go on back to them if you want.”

Steven nodded and trotted back to the barn.

Tully looked perplexed. “We were just getting going,” he said.

“Maybe I should talk to him in the barn,” Boone said. “Alone.”

“Oh,” said Tully. He scratched his forehead. “Whatever you say,” he said, and he walked away. “You know where to find me.”

Boone walked down the gravel driveway, past sheds and coops to the barn. The wind whisked around him; he could hear an unfastened gate clunking somewhere. Boone came to a large sliding door. He grabbed the rusty handle and shoved it aside, clattering on the track. It opened onto a wide space that held Tully’s tractor, a Chevy Impala and a motorboat on its trailer. The air was tinged with the smell of gasoline. Abandoned grain bins lined one wall. But there was no sign of Tully’s son.

“Steven?” Boone called. No reply. Behind him the chain saw started up again.

Boone spotted a smaller door. An open padlock hung on its latch. Boone pushed and the door opened, its hinges squawking. The room on the other side was as large as the first, but darker. Dust danced in the hazy light that filtered through spaces in the wall planks. In the dim light, Boone could make out rows of large, flat shapes hung like laundry on lines from high up in the rafters. A draft blew up and they clattered against each other.

“Steven?” Boone called again.

“Dad?” came the startled reply. One of the shapes shifted and defined itself into a dusky silhouette.

“No, Steven. It’s Mr. Boone again.”

Steven stood over a lamp trained on his table. The boy sat on a high metal drafter’s stool. “Mr. Boone?” he stammered. The harsh light reflected off his glasses. “If you’re looking for my dad, he’s outside— ”

“Actually, I’m looking for you,” Boone said. “Your dad wanted me to talk to you. Mind if I sit down?”

Steven hesitated. “Sure. What’s my dad want you to talk to me about?” he asked.

Boone found a stool and brushed it off. “He’s worried about you.”

“Why’s he worried?”

“He wonders what you do in here.”

“Are you and my dad friends?” Steven asked.

This bluntness caught Boone off guard. On impulse he began to answer “yes” but stopped himself. “We’ve known each other a long time, if that’s what you mean by friends,” he replied. “I don’t have many friends.”

This candor seemed to count for something. Steven straightened, regarding Boone with new curiosity. “Why doesn’t my dad ask me himself?”

“I guess he doesn’t know how to,” Boone said. “Doesn’t know what to say.”

The table where he sat was made from an old door, its surface strewn with stuff: stacks of papers, paint jars, pots of adhesive, markers and hobby knives. A Bunsen burner roosted in a corner, unlit. This was a workbench.

Unease swept over Boone. Coming here was a mistake, he thought. Maybe Steven was in trouble, maybe he wasn’t. The last thing he needed was some stranger butting in, probing on his father’s behalf. What business was it of his, anyway, or Tully’s? I should go, Boone thought, and he was just about to say it to Steven, when a draft blew in and rustled the large, flat objects hanging from the rafters. They clattered against each other, virtually weightless, in the breeze. Now that his eyes had gotten used to the dim light, Boone could make out their individual shapes.

“Steven,” he said. “What are these? Kites?”

“Yes, sir” he replied warily.

Boone stood up to get a better look. “You built these?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

Boone inspected one up close. It was made of intricate layers, assembled by a sure hand. “This is good work,” he said. “What are they made of?”

“Well,” Steve said, as if expecting to be teased. “The frames are balsa wood.”

“Balsa’s light,” Boone mused. “But doesn’t it break easily?”

“It’s not real strong,” Steven said. “But it’s cheap and easy to get.”

Boone looked closer. “And what’s the skin made of?”

“Paper, mostly. That’s what the Chinese used, on the first kites. They invented kites, you know.”

Boone smiled. “Paper is strong enough?”

“They last for a flight or two,” Steven replied. “But that’s okay. When they get ruined, it’s just an excuse to make another.” Something in Steven’s voice was loosening. “I get these rolls of craft paper. And this polyester,” he held up a glossy sheet from the workbench. “It’s real durable.” Steven paused. “I get it at the fabric store.”

Ah, Boone thought. “I heard something about a fabric store. That’s one of the things your father’s concerned about. Your shoplifting.”

Steven went silent. Boone chided himself for throwing that in, just as the boy was opening up.

Boone flipped through the hanging slats and held one apart. “What’s this?” he asked.

“That’s my peacock,” Steven said a stiffly. “These are the wings,” he said. “There are lots of pieces.”

“Nice work.”

“It’s nothing compared to this one, though,” Steven said. He shuffled through a pile of papers. “I’m working my way up to this,” Steven said, holding up a marker sketch. “You have to be real good to make one of these. It’s a Chinese dragon.”

The drawing was of a long, flowing shape, intricate and resplendent with color. Its head was bulbous. It had horns and wide eyes, and its stylized mouth spread in a something between a smile and a scream. The dragon’s tail was reticulated, a line of rickety vertebrae. “How big will this be?” Boone asked.

“I’m going to start with a twenty-five-footer,” Steven said.

“This certainly isn’t made of paper,” Boone observed.

“No, sir.” Steven reached to the table and picked up a chunk of fabric. “It’s partly made of silk,” he said. “The Chinese made most their everyday kites out of paper, but they made the best ones out of silk. Hundreds of pieces of silk. I’ve been collecting them, until I have enough.” Steven blushed. “That’s what I got caught stealing.”

Boone smiled. Steven was a silk thief. He supposed there were worse things to pilfer. He studied the drawing. Something about the shape looked familiar. But from where? Then it came to him.

“You know, Steven.” Boone’s finger tapped at the paper. “I saw one of these once. Years ago, in San Francisco. We were walking down along the waterfront.” God. He hadn’t thought about this in years. “The fog was really thick that day. We could hear foghorns through it, and a buoy clanging. But we couldn’t see a thing. As we walked, we heard another sound, too, a kind of fluttering. A flapping.” Steven listened, watching him intently. “We kept walking and the sounds got louder. And they seemed to multiply.

“The direction of the wind changed, and the fog opened up, I mean came apart like cotton batting.” Boone could visualize it all, practically feel the cool, damp haze on his face. “Suddenly, there were all these kites. The sky was full of them. Dozens of them, all shapes and colors and sizes.” Boone spread his hands. “That’s what the flapping was, all these kites aloft.”

“Wow,” Steven said softly.

“We’d stumbled onto some sort of festival,” Boone said. “The fog cleared enough so we could see all these people on a knoll, standing, sitting in lawn chairs, working their lines, flying these kites,” Boone said. “And the most amazing kite of all was this kite in the shape of a dragon, like this one you’re making. It was huge, the biggest kite there,” Boone said. “This dragon was like a living thing. It wove between all the others, in and out. It moved like nothing I’d ever seen before, filling with air and gliding over it at the same time.”

“Must’ve been made of silk,” Steven explained. “A paper kite is brittle. It resists the wind. But silk is different. It gives. It finds its place and sails out and you feel like you’re going with it. “Steven’s eyes were bright. “It’s like there’s a part of you up there, flying.”

Boone considered this. “But you know the craziest thing, Steven?” he said. “I think the dragon was loose. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks because of the fog, but I swear there wasn’t a line attached to it. It swooped around the others, and then — whoosh! — it was gone. The fog just swallowed it up.”

Steven nodded. “They do that sometime,” he said. “Kiters. They cut it loose.”

“They what?” Boone was incredulous. “Why would they do that? After all that hard work?”

“Letting it go is part of it,” he said. “If it’s well-built, it won’t break up. It’ll fly far away.” Boone must have looked bewildered. “You think about the beauty it brings to whoever finds it,” Steven explained.

*

Norma was sitting on the front stoop as he drove in.

“She kick you out?” Boone asked.

“Mrs. Boone? Naw. I just knew she was tired.” She rose and together they walked toward her van. “Besides, it’s such a beautiful day.” Boone agreed: the sky gleamed blue, the hills were basted gold. He noticed them on his ride home.

Boone walked back to his wife’s room. There were the usual medicinal smells in the air, but something else, too, an earthier, comforting scent, from the rubbing oils Norma used. May was in her wheelchair, by the window. Norma had left her facing out.

Boone thought at first she was wearing a new robe, with an exotic pattern. Then he saw the pattern was moving. It was late afternoon sunlight, slanted its special way, refracting through leaves of the willow, which swayed outside the window. The spotted shadows danced all over her. They looked alive.

He came around and kissed her cheek.

“You should shave,” she said. She smiled. Her hair was washed and combed; Norma had even applied blush to her cheeks. “You were gone long.”

“Yes.”

“Do any good?”

Boone laughed. “I stumbled through.”

“And Steven?”

“Steven’s a kid,” Boone said. “A bright, creative kid. He’ll find his way.”

“What did you tell Tully?”

“To not worry so much,” Boone said. “That seemed to satisfy him. Oh, and look at this.” Boone ducked into the hallway and returned with a flat, wide object.

May’s eyes went wide. “What’s that?”

“It’s a kite. A butterfly,” Boone said. “Steven gave it to us.”

“It’s beautiful.” May slowly lifted her good hand to touch it.

“I’ve got an idea,” Boone said. He motioned toward the window. “Let’s take this for a spin.”

May stammered, “What how can?” but the idea clearly delighted her.

“We’ll use the lift,” Boone said. “I have to learn how to work it sometime.” Boone shrugged. “Just be patient. You know I’m not mechanically inclined.”

“Oh,” May said. “You’ll manage.” She smiled as she had that day, and Boone saw it all again: the thick fog, May’s glowing face, and behind her the kites.

Boone would bundle her up, roll her out to the car. He knew the perfect hill, had seen it on the drive home. It overlooked the sweep of the valley. The day wasn’t done; there was still some light left. They’d fly Steven’s kite. Boone was not a strong man, but he was strong enough to lift May out of the car — hold her up in his arms if he had to — so they could both feel the kite rise and find its place in the breeze. And when it was aloft, and they both felt its pull, he knew they’d find the right instant to let it go.

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You might also like

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