There is a young man. His thin, weak legs struggle to carry him up a staircase. He has been in a hospital bed. He has been lying in a hospital bed for so many days, weeks, months, that his legs are emaciated. Bony arms poke out from underneath a plain white tee-shirt, matching the twigs he's using to walk. The chemotherapy had done this to him. The hospital had made him better, but in the process, it had taken away his strength.
But he is home now.
The house has two levels. The young man has grown up in this house, has lived there all of his life. The front door opens to a splitting staircase. One set of stairs, eight, maybe ten steps, lined by a wrought iron rail, will take him from the landing up to the living room, kitchen, bedrooms. The other stairs, lined by a wooden rail, lead down to the garage and the unfinished basement.
When he was younger, maybe a handful of years ago, lean times, his mother and sister had learned to make do with less money. His mother would order a cord of cut wood -- or maybe half, depending on how long the wood from the previous year had lasted. They would see how long they could go without ever turning on the heat. A contest. The wood was stacked outside, along the west side of the house, protected from the Seattle winter by a thick green tarp, held down at the edges by rocks pulled from the terraced front yard. Once a week, at least, he would push a full wheelbarrow through the garage, down through the narrow basement hallway, creating a second, smaller stack in the southeast corner of the house, piled on the cool concrete.
He had fashioned a work area in this corner. He cut the firewood. He broke apart the larger pieces so they'd fit into the fireplace. With the larger pieces, he'd start the maul into the top, tapping it down, then swinging the wood and the ax together in one wide sweep, splitting the wood against the hard concrete floor of the basement. There was a smaller hand axe that he'd use to break the smaller pieces into even smaller pieces, and then pieces smaller still. His hands would blister. He would sweat. More often than not there would also be a battered boom box plugged into one of the outlets in the corner, music for the workout, tempo for the chopping.
His arms were never very large, but they were strong. His legs, too, from all the wheeling and lifting and squatting and bracing for the wide swing of the maul. It wasn't so many years ago -- wasn't even a year ago -- that he would bound up and down these steps two or three at a time.
Now his legs have dwindled away to almost nothing, and there are eight, maybe ten steps in front of him. He needs to hold onto the rail. He pauses at the fourth step, surprised that neither his lungs nor his thighs are able to move him any farther than this. His stepfather is at his side, offering assistance. The young man shakes his head.
This is his home. He will do this thing. He has been so dependent on so many people for so long already. These eight steps. Ten steps. A hundred? He will do these on his own.