by Ian Shaw
by Ian Shaw
Dewdrop lake always felt like home for Michael. The view from Beauty Rock, a hilltop at the southern edge of his family's old property was his center. From spring to fall of his youth, he would sit there, staring. The cranberry bogs wrapped to the west - an interlocked flow of bramble broken by beaver dam. The water's evening calmness disturbed by the dam's designer arcing across the surface in an echo of the stars shooting across the dusky night. This was Michael's calm. His completion. The tuned note of the days he played. He would have spent his summers there forever if the cottage hadn't transacted, loved but too isolated, accessible only by boat and too demanding of care, out of the family.
Like the loss of any loved one, that ache lingered long past adolescence into adulthood and finally age. Subsequent owners had historical interest, so they allowed Michael to periodically rent back the cottage, some years to marvel at how little had changed, other years to bemoan how much. Finances made it impossible to ever repurchase the cottage, as did the distance from Chicago to the outskirts of Ontario. But even across all those miles, and all those years, it called.
"You don't have long," Dr. Sariek said. There was sadness in her eyes. Sorrow. Concern. Twenty-three years of oncology had developed the demeanor required to deliver such messages with as much comfort as she could. It never got easier.
"I'd guess four weeks."
Michael had known. He'd felt worse each day as the chemotherapy had progressed. Weaker. Sicker. Four weeks could be a release from the darkness six months prior's "inoperable" reeled in but still not what he hoped for. Dr. Sariek was patient with her patient's grief.
"Have you thought about what you want to do?" she finally asked softly as Michael shrunk, sighing in sorrow.
James was in Michael's cancer support group. James looked to be a lucky one. After months of treatment, his good days equaled bad. His presence at the meetings imbued others with hope. It could happen. This was where and who Michael could ask.
"I'd be honored," he told Michael.
Their eyes teared; James' sourced in sorrow, Michael's in relief.
Arrangements made, permissions secured, the trip was double what Michael remembered. Neither had endurance for more than a few hours sitting. Michael's energy waned with body while will navigated. Only James' teetering recovery allowed him to steer the Chevy so long, as Michael coughed in the passenger seat, energy exiting his body by the mile.
The trip in, always physical, was nearly Michael's end. They stopped every few feet for him to rest. Each step up would mark a mountain's summit for another man. Michael leaned on James every moment, James practically carrying him while afraid for his own footing. They climbed as high as they could. They turned west.
"Do you see?" asked James, unsure how far away his friend was.
"Yes . . ."