Little point in refusing, Einar realized, though this was exactly what he wanted to do. It wasn’t as if Susan—and Liz, for that matter—were not already aware of his situation, so there was little to conceal, to protect in making a strong objection to the thing Susan was asking and Liz so strongly urging. So, why not assent, if it would make her happy? He could name plenty of reasons, actually, not least amongst them the utter intrusiveness of the entire thing, the fact that it made him feel trapped, angry, made him want to flee without further delay from this place where the lights were too bright, the warmth made him dizzy and there was too much to look at, back to the good clean frigid silence of the basin…
But he could not flee, not with Liz and the little one down here and the storm ended, nothing to cover their tracks, so he nodded, got to his feet. And saw himself in the mirror for the first time. Dead man walking, sunken spaces between all his ribs, lumps and bumps and bones showing clearly through skin that appeared stretched tightly and then shrunken into place by heat, desication or maybe both, entire torso a strange, mottled mix of purple, yellow and grey from bruises in various stages of coming or going, legs looking much the same—chronic anemia will do that to a fellow…as will avalanches; the two are not a particularly good combination—upper arms withered and worked away to nothing, shoulders sharp, hollow and eyes al sunkenl into his head… He blinked, but the image did not go anywhere. Couldn’t actually be himself that he was seeing. He wasn’t that far gone. No way. The man in the mirror ought not even be able to keep on his feet by the looks of him, yet he, himself had just descended miles of rough, steep timber, survived an avalanche and… World swimming around him, and he had to catch himself, bracing both hands on the edge of the counter lest he fall.
Liz knew he’d agreed to the check simply to make her happy, but she was happy nonetheless, figured he needed a good solid dose of reality to help him get started in the right direction—assuming he would pay it any mind, which was a big assumption—but she could that he would clearly rather be anywhere but there, in Bud and Susan’s big bathroom, bare feet strange and uncomfortable on the unfamiliar softness of the forest green rug in front of the sink before he stepped onto the scale at Susan’s urging, 66, not a good number, not for a living man of six-foot-one who wished to stay very long amongst the living, and when she guided him over to a chair to check his blood pressure, he did not put up much of an objection. Didn't have the energy for it.
Teeth chattering. Couldn’t stop them. Susan put a towel around his shoulders, but it didn’t help. The cuff wouldn’t fit. Wouldn’t go small enough on his arm to get an accurate reading, so she said, and eventually she gave up trying. He was relieved. Didn’t really want to be further inspected, life struggle reduced to a series of numbers which Susan and Kilgore and to some extent even Liz, though all likely doing so respectfully and without giving him too much grief about it, would scrutinize and analyze and from which they would draw conclusions about him…
It wasn’t that simple and he didn’t like it, didn’t want it, wanted very badly, in fact, to be back in the vast and wild world of the high country refuge which had shielded him for the past years and in which he felt himself safe, protected…wanted to go home, where none of this really mattered. Where a man kept going simply because he must, because he had no other choice, because his family was depending on him. Instead, after a quick check of his temperature—low enough that Susan wondered how he was actually managing to function even as well as he appeared to be, figured that the human body must be more adaptable than she had realized—and heart rate, he was led out into Susan’s kitchen. There, he was given a seat near the stove and plied, all dazed-eyed and droopy, with food that he could not quite have figured out how to eat even had that really been his intention, baked ham, mashed potatoes, fresh-from-the-oven bread and some sort of green juice that he really did want to try, because it smelled so good, clean, alive….
Next thing he knew he was waking up on the floor all tangled up with a fallen kitchen chair, Liz kneeling over him and Susan crouched beside her, trying without success to jam a spoonful of something sticky and sweet in between his clenched teeth, and he fought them, turning away, attempting to rise and glancing about frantically for some sight of little Will, wanting to make sure he was alright, but he couldn't see much of anything and dizziness prevented him getting very far and then Kilgore was there, too, a flurry of words he couldn’t quite interpret, and the man’s knee was on his chest, heavy, pressing, crushing the ribs that had been bruised in the slide, couldn’t get a breath.
“Cool it, man. We’re all friends here. These gals’re just trying to keep you among the living, Ok? Keep you conscious. Need a little sugar, that’s all. Something to keep your brain going.”
Einar stopped struggling, mumbled something about why didn’t they just tell me, took the spoon and ate the honey as he worked to disentangle his legs from those of the chair that had fallen with him. Grinning sheepishly as he got to his feet and set the chair aright, Einar nodded at the tracker, at Susan.
"There's a reason, ma'am, why it's best I remain as an outdoor critter. Just not civilized enough to be in the house, looks like. Hope I haven't caused any harm to your chair..."
"Oh, forget the chair! It'll be just fine. What about you? Did it do any harm to you?"
"Me? Oh, no, not me. Take a lot more than a little chair to..." Dizzy again, legs collapsing under him, but he wouldn't give in, must not, remained rigidly standing until Susan took him by the arm and steered him over to the couch where Liz was sitting.
"You're plenty civilized to be here in the house, so far as I'm concerned. You just need something to eat. Sit here for a minute until you get your balance again, and then we'll all have supper."