Bud did not wake for some time and with Liz and the baby sleeping, as well, Susan took the opportunity to try and engage Einar in a serious conversation about what he might do to alleviate some of the inevitable difficulties that would come with his making an effort to eat more and bring himself back from the starved state that had so nearly taken his life over the past months, and though Einar believed himself pretty well versed in such things, he gave her his full attention. Couldn’t hurt to get another perspective on things. And Susan certainly had a perspective. Had, he came to find out, been waiting to share it with him since his first and only visit to her house many, many months before when he and Liz had briefly stayed there early that past spring, and now with nothing to hold her back, she made sure he was well aware of the perceived seriousness of his situation, and all the steps he needed to take in order to remedy it.
Only trouble was that she seemed to want his participation, not just his ears, and that was proving more than a bit difficult, weary, cold and shaky as he remained. Mind wanted to wander as he listened, eyes to search out the intricate detail of spruce bark and carpenter ant trail on bare wood which graced the opposite wall, plumb their depths and lose himself for a time in the soft crackling of the fire, but this did not satisfy Susan, who apparently wanted some sign that he was not only hearing her, but heeding. Resolving to act. Yes, he smiled at her--pleasant face she had; he’d never really noticed that before, soft, kind eyes but deep with a wisdom that does not come without great cost, gentle but resolute face ringed with silver-frosted black curls, a real, genuine, earthy look about her, someone he could probably get to know and like, given the opportunity--I will act. I will do that. But she seemed to want specifics. Couldn’t blame her. He liked specifics, too. She was waiting.
“Guess I may have kinda dozed off there for a second or two, not really sure what the question may have been…”
“With your eyes open? You’re dozing with your eyes open? You look wide awake, to me…”
“Oh, you’d be surprised. Fella gets pretty good at dozing with both eyes open, one ear to the ground and the other to the sky under certain circumstances, and it’s a habit that never goes away. Only way you can hope to get any rest at all, lots of times.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s true. If you need to be sleeping right now I don’t want to prevent you, but I was just saying how it would be a good idea if you had a plan to help reduce the swelling in your legs and everything as you start to get more to eat, since it sounded like that swelling was a major reason you quit eating again, last time. The trouble it gave you with movement, and the pain…and I was asking if you had any ideas.”
“Oh. Yeah, used juniper berries once or twice, last time. Those things work, help a lot of that extra fluid to come out but they make me pretty sick at the same time, so much that it’s hardly worth it if I had to do it more than a time or two. Kinda hard on my kidneys, too. I could feel it.”
“Yes, I’m sure it would be after a day or two, and your kidneys are going to have to be working hard enough, just filtering everything out as you start eating again. If you’re finding that your legs and things swell easily right now, that may be a sign that your kidneys are already under a lot of strain…yes? You’re nodding…”
“Yeah, I know that’s a concern. Had a lot of trouble at the start of the winter, some pretty scary stuff where it seemed things were starting to shut down, but it passed. Don’t figure I can use the juniper too often, though. Got to limit it to every once in a while.”
“Well then, I wanted to suggest you try dandelion root sometimes, because it’ll have a similar effect without being so harsh on your kidneys…though of course dandelions are a little hard to come by this time of year, with the ground all frozen solid and covered under several feet of snow! What about Oregon grape, though? I see that you and Liz managed to harvest and save a good quantity of those bright yellow roots…what for? Their antibiotic properties?”
“Yeah. The berberine in those roots has saved my life more than once, I’m pretty certain. Used it every day for long periods of time when I lost my toes, have used it to treat cuts and things for Liz, too, and as a wash for her since the birth. And I used it to help shorten the course of a bout of Giardia that I ended up with once, a good while ago…it did help.”
“Right. But you know, it’ll help that extra fluid pass, too. Might be a little hard on your kidneys just like the juniper, but at least you could alternate the two, maybe, to make things a little easier on your body. And spend a good bit of time with your feet up, too, during the worst of it. That’ll probably help as much as anything, really, but I’m guessing that’s going to be a hard one for you to do, isn’t it?”
Einar laughed, shook his head and scrubbed a hand across his face. “That one’s not happening, no. Not likely. I can’t sit still like that, not for anything.”
“Not to save your life? So you’ll be around for that little boy over there…”
“I don’t think it’s a matter of life and death whether or not I sit around with my feet up! No, sure don’t think so.”
“It might be. If you stop eating again because of the trouble you have with your legs and things as you start getting more nutrition, that may well be the end for you. Your body can’t take much more of this. I see you. I think if you let me take your pulse right now, I’d feel all sorts of irregular beats, slowing down and speeding up, things like that, wouldn’t I? And even when it’s not irregular, it’s scary slow, and getting slower. Yeah, I thought so. You know that’s not normal, don’t you? This needs to be resolved. You need to do whatever it takes to turn things around. I know it’s going to be difficult, but you’re not a guy who backs down from a challenge, I’m real sure of that. You’ll manage this, and you’ll do it for that little guy over there, and for his mother. Right?”
Einar nodded, got to his feet and took another small helping of soup. Didn’t figure it would be anything near that simple, but yeah, he’d do it. Had to do it. Had traplines to run with little Will, an entire world to show him, and as he watched the sleeping forms of mother and child, seeming to breathe in concert though Liz’s breaths were, he knew, far deeper and slower than those of the infant, he was so overcome with love for them and with a soaring sense of joy at the thought of that child’s future up in his own beloved hills that when he turned back to Susan, it was with tears in his eyes. He didn’t need to speak, for she read the message loud and clear. Wished Liz was awake to do the same, but had no doubt that she would be seeing a good bit of it, in the days to come.