Still silent inside, no one seeming to be up, so he made a quiet exploration of the house, feeling far more present, somehow, than he had the day before, seeming almost to be seeing things for the first time; must have really needed that sleep. Avoiding the room where Bud and Susan were sleeping, he focused on the kitchen, ending up in the pantry and using the faint but growing light from its high, narrow window to thoroughly inspect its contents. A most enjoyable exercise, each box, can and jar containing some new wonder to be discerned, inspected, dreamed about. He opened nothing, disturbed nothing, contenting himself with a visual perusal of each item, several glass jars of olives especially drawing his attention. Different varieties and preparations, Kalamata olives with herbs in oil, large green ones stuffed with whole garlic cloves, standard black ones in water in metal cans... Very vividly he could imagine the taste of each, their texture, how it would be to open all of those jars, take five or six olives from each and put them in a little bowl, hide in a corner and eat them one by one. Had no intention of doing it, just liked the thought, took delight in knowing that the things were there, had he wanted to eat them. Hearing movement out in the main room, he froze, waiting, heart pounding at the sound of approaching footsteps across the tile floor of the kitchen. Susan. She saw him silhouetted against the pantry window, ignored him, giving him his space, turning on a dim light above the sink and starting Bud's morning tea. Einar let out his breath, stayed for another minute in the dark pantry while his eyes adjusted to the light outside, and joined Susan.
"Tea?" she asked, setting out four mugs.
"Oh. Thanks. No, better not. Stuff would make me too warm and sleepy, I'm pretty sure."
She smiled, tried to catch his eye but without success, handed him a knife and cutting board, instead. "Help me with breakfast, then. I'll scramble the eggs, you chop the peppers and onions, and grate the cheese."
Einar nodded, began working, glad to have something to keep his hands busy. The vegetables smelled good, especially the onions. There was, in the high country, wild garlic which he and Liz used during the summer months to season some of their food, and he had at times harvested, cured and kept some of the larger roots for winter use, but circumstances over the past season had meant that they had none. Happily absorbed in the task at hand and daydreaming about the potential results of such a wondrous combination of ingredients, Einar did not notice Susan watching him, was startled to feel a hand on his arm.
"What's going on with your side? You don't seem to be using your left side very much, and your breathing is really shallow..."
"Side? Oh, no, just got tossed around a little on the plane. No problem."
"It kind of looks like a problem. May I see?"
"No, no, I don't think so. It's fine. Had a lot worse."
Susan let the matter drop for the moment, returned to her breakfast preparations, adding a few tablespoons of whipping cream to the scrambled eggs, taking Einar's chopped vegetables and spreading them in the skillet to begin cooking, Einar relieved to be left alone to continue his work. When he started to grate the cheese, however, the trouble became harder to ignore, even for him, both hands required for the task and taking a full breath becoming all but impossible without his left elbow to press to his side and support the injured area. Liz was awake, joined them, Will remaining fast asleep and Bud gone on his morning hike/reconnaissance of the nearly ridgeline. By that time Einar was really starting to struggle to get a full breath, face pale and a look of studied concentration in his eyes as he carefully grated the cheese.
Susan handed Liz a cup of tea.
"Your husband is being stubborn. He seems to be having trouble breathing, but won't let me have a look and see if anything can be done."
"Stubborn? You must be thinking of someone else. He isn't stubborn. He's indisputably intractable." She took a playful swat at Einar with a kitchen spatula, he whirling around and meeting her, fencing-style, with a butter knife, breaking into a big grin. The look in his eyes, however, struck her as more desperate than humorous, and she took his elbow, guided him to a chair just before he would have fallen.
"Einar, what is going on?"
"Nothing, just...kind of sore this morning, tight muscles. It's ok. I can breathe."
"Might be more ok if you'd let us wrap your ribs, don't you think? I saw the bruises yesterday. You must have bounced off of something pretty hard when the plane hit that turbulence."
"No, I don't..."
"You could have the use of both of your hands again, not have to keep one arm pressed to your side all the time."
He nodded. "Ok."
He wouldn't let them take off his shirt, knew he had lost a good deal more weight on the trek to meet the plane, and did not want anyone getting after him for the way his bones stuck out, insisted that the wrappings go on the outside, which worked just fine in the end. When they were done he stood, took his first full breath since getting up that morning.
"Lot better. Thanks."
"It's the ribs, isn't it?" Susan pressed gently on his left side, getting no reaction from Einar, but Liz could see that it was taking all his strength to prevent himself crying out.
"They're fine now. Got to finish grating that cheese!" Which he did, Liz hurrying up the stairs at the sound of Will waking, creeping about and finally falling--or jumping--out of the bed.
Cheese grated, Einar scraped the results together into a pile and slid the cutting board over beside the stove so it would be ready for Susan to add to the omelette, but he was starting to feel funny, dizzy, face and fingers going numb, and then going purple at a speed which puzzled him. He stood up, sank to the floor, world dimming, tearing at the wrappings around his chest, but without much success, clumsy as he seemed to have become. Susan could see that something was very wrong, helped him get them off and hoisted him back up into the chair so that he was leaning forward, elbows braced on his knees in a position which would allow for deeper breaths.
"Well," she began, handing him a glass of water once he'd begun to get some of his color back, "looks like you've taken this little experiment about as far as it can go, haven't you? Can't swallow, can't breathe, your muscles are too weak to push against those elastic bandages and let you get air into your lungs...what's next? Where does it go from here?"
He shook his head, kept silent.
"It looks to me that whatever you set out to prove to yourself by living on next to nothing and pushing your body farther than anyone's ought to be able to go...well, surely you must have proven it by now. A good test, and you passed it, and maybe now can get back to living."
"Not trying to prove anything. This is just the way I live."
"It's going to be the way you die, if you don't get it turned around here pretty soon."
Einar, about to answer, was cut short by the simultaneous appearance of Bud, bursting in as if he had some urgent news after his walk, and little Will learning how not to descend a spiral staircase...