Lucas set the broom against the wooden railing of the back patio, took a step back, and wiped the sweat from his forehead. It had taken him a few hours, but finally the patio was completely clean again. As clean as the day he built this place. Lucas turned towards the valley and looked at the horizon.
He said, “Tree line is looking a little shorter than yesterday. Picking up a bit of speed I guess.” He took out two small paper tickets to a boat. It was docked off the coast in the opposite direction, and slapped them against his hand as he looked back at the horizon. “No point in these anymore.” He ripped them up over the garbage bag still hanging on one of the knobs of the railing.
He took another moment looking off into the distance, his hands on his hips. It was the first time he saw the sun setting like this, bringing a new glint to the snowy tips to the mountains on either side of the valley. The forest itself was quiet for the first time as well, as if nothing in it wanted to break the moment. He turned around, grabbed the garbage bag, and headed inside the sliding glass door.
Inside the room, he saw Noah sleeping in his wheelchair. Running from his arm to the rack behind him was an IV connected to a bag of saline drip and a medicinal cocktail that Lucas never quite learned all the names of. To him it was just ambrosia, something to keep the gods living.
In the fridge was a glass container of mashed potatoes and another with gravy, both from the night before. Lukas took them out and popped them into the microwave, set it for a few minutes, and turned to look back at Noah as it cooked. He sighed, brushed his hand through his hair, and leaned against the counter top, the new one he only put in earlier this year, before he knew… He shook his head as the bell on the microwave rang.
As he popped open the microwave, Noah spoke up in a quiet voice, “Why are you still here?”
Lucas paused while reaching for the container but continued moving, “It’s time for your dinner old man. Gotta get something in that stomach of yours or you’ll get a bit loopy.”
Noah responded quickly, “You’re older than me.”
Lucas set the container on the counter, salted the potatoes, and plopped a generous amount of butter and gravy on top. Easily digestible “Shhhhh old man, don’t tell anyone.” Lucas brought the homey meal over to Noah and set it on a tray attached to the arm of his chair. “Oh, forgot the spoon.” He ran back quickly into the kitchen, dug a spoon out of the drawer, and placed it in the top of his culinary masterpiece. “Voila.”
Noah smiled and started to eat his potatoes. In between bites he said, “Could you give me a bit more, you know, of the good stuff. I’m itching a bit.”
Before Noah could finish his request, Lucas was behind his chair and adjusting his drip, just a little. Once he finished he leaned down and asked Noah, “Do you want to watch the sunset with me?”
Noah nodded and wiped a tear from his eye. “I think I’d like that.”
Lucas grabbed the handles of Noah’s chair and started to roll him over the little ramp he installed maybe a decade ago. After he set the brake on the chair, Lucas went back in and grabbed one of the kitchen chairs and set it up next to Noah. He sat down and looked out, noticing the far edge of the woods was still a bit closer.
They looked out, marveling at the way the reds and the oranges danced in the distance between the swaying tree tops before they fell.
Noah finally spoke up, “I miss the mountain.”
Noah kept looking forward towards the gap in the skyline and said, “You could have made it to the ship.”
Lucas looked down. “It’s a few days trip to town.”
“But you could have made it.”
Slapping his leg, Lucas responded, “Not these old bones.”
Noah looked towards Lucas. “I’ve seen you working around the house. You could have made it down the mountain.”
Lucas didn’t match Noah’s gaze. He just looked forward, towards the tree he carved his and Lucas’s name into so long ago.
But Noah continued, “Why didn’t you go? You could be half way across the ocean by now. You could be safe.”
Lucas gripped his jeans. “No, we couldn’t. We couldn’t have made it in time. The direct road is mostly mud by now, and you know the van can’t get through that.”
“You could have gone in the car.”
“No, we couldn’t.”
Noah stopped talking and looked back forward towards the setting sun. The two of them just sat there in silence until the snapping of trees creeped closer.
Noah spoke quietly, almost a whisper, “You should have left me.”
Louder, Noah spoke again, “You should have left me.”
“Don’t say that.”
Noah shouted, “No! You should have! You’d get to live.”
“I couldn’t! I could never leave you. What life is there without you?”
Noah quieted down again, turned away from the slowly encroaching tree line, and stared at Lucas’s white knuckles gripping his jeans.
Lucas just stared forward, noticing the slowly crumbling edge of the world begin to show itself through the trees. Pieces of the ground fell into the inky black nothing beneath it, slowly getting closer and closer.
Noah reached his hand towards Lucas, “Will you hold my hand?”
Lucas looked back and reached out with his, “Of course old man.”
And the two sat silently, looking towards each other as the house began to shake, slowly at first.
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2 thoughts on “Down the Mountain”
This story made me tear up the first time I read it, and legit made me tear up again just now. Living during a pandemic, climate change-fueled fires, and intense economic and political insecurity, I’m struck again by how small and fragile humans are, and how profoundly we are motivated by love.
Those are the feelings this story conjured in me. Straight-forward execution, and packs a punch.
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Also cried reading this, but I’ve been pretty sensitive these days 😢
The ambrosia line was good, really telling of Lucas’s love. It’s too easy for me and my aversion to thinking about medicine and bodies to think about something like an IV drip as bad, unpleasant, scary, when in reality it’s literally something helpful, life-saving, something that can build a connection between people.
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