Was this Eric’s last stand? He hoped not. But the past year made him think it might be.
Eric stood before the one room cabin. It was his, a gift from Simon, his dying friend. Eric had never seen it before. Spiders had spun brocades under the eaves.
He felt numb. That was an improvement over the despair he’d nurtured lately. Maybe numbness was something he could build upon, use as a springboard. Regardless, numbness would do for now.
He’d heard, ‘nothing to be done,’ too often. The doctors said it about his late mother, before she passed. To Eric, the phrase had become a medical euphemism, ‘doctorese,’ for ‘oh, well.’ Usually accompanied by a sad shrug. Wan smiles - optional. Eric didn’t know the Latin phrasing Pontius Pilate used when washing his hands. But the meaning was clear. Oh well.
He heard it again just before Simon died. The doctors shrugged. Finding a cure wasn’t cost effective. So…
Today, Eric felt ‘nothing to be done,’ was positively hopeful, compared to, ‘give up.’ He’d also grown sick of hearing that ‘time saving’ strategy offered by the bored and indifferent. Dismissing their advice, Eric always wanted to see what would happen next.
Before dying, Simon gave the cabin to Eric. This was now his home. Near a lake and shaded by tall trees, it would be the perfect retreat. The closest gas station was ten miles south. Propane tank. No electricity. Did he have neighbors? Not close.
Simon told Eric, “Won’t use it where I’m going. It’s probably a mess. But you’re welcome to it.”
Simon’s timing was perfect for Eric. He had no place to live. But Eric would rather stay homeless than lose his friend.
Simon handed Eric the key. “It should be secure against raccoons. Watch for snakes. Roof may leak. But it hardly ever rains. Make it yours.”
Eric stepped onto the porch and looked in the window. The room was a classic of minimalist décor. A few chairs at a table, a stuffed chair by the fireplace, a single bed and a kitchen nook. Rustic pictures warmed the place.
He went in. The air was stale. Things were dusty. But animals hadn’t trashed it. A broom stood behind the door. He swept out the worst of the dust and rodent droppings.
Of course, Eric wouldn’t need the cabin had his marriage not disintegrated. Losing his job at the same time didn’t help either. He had no proof, but believed those two losses were not coincidental.
Eric had limits. He’d never felt curious to see how bad a toxic relationship could get. Reason told him it could always get worse.
He once told a friend, “I left because I didn’t want to wake up dead some morning.”
His friend replied, “If you wake up, you’re not dead.”
Eric felt his friend had missed the point. Some things, you cannot explain.
He opened the windows and stowed a bunch of canned goods in the kitchen. He filled the lanterns for the night. Simon had left ample firewood stacked outside. It took some time to light the damp wood. But the chimney drew well. A few sparks popped onto the hearth. Eric looked for a fire screen and made a note to get one.
He watched the sunset and shut the windows. Sitting in the warming room with a glass of whiskey, Eric enjoyed his first moments of peace in months. Right now, his greatest task was fielding occasional, flying embers.
He had survived a stressful year. So much loss for one person. Was the universe sending a message reading ‘do not exist’? Was it self-addressed? Now that he had a secure place, he figured he could mark it ‘return to sender.’
He saw himself a survivor, not a survivalist. ‘I won’t crawl from moment to moment, clinging to existence,’ he thought. ‘Merely surviving each day is no way to live.’
He’d made such a hash of his life. ‘If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,’ was advice he’d heard too often. ‘But if all you have is a shovel…?’ What could he do? He’d thought he hit bottom before and found that location to be both elusive and self-defeating.
On being a victim, Eric had no illusions. Few lives get destroyed without the ruined one pitching in. Who would know better than he, which braces to kick? Never the passive observer, he’d joined in the destruction. Eric would never forget the ride down that slippery slope. ‘Whoo-hoo!’
Something plopped into his glass.
He looked up and saw darkened wood where a leak had formed. Another drop fell.
Eric looked out the window and saw a curtain of drops coming off the porch roof.
“No, no, no…”
He threw on his jacket and ran to the nearby shed. He found the can of leak-proofing Simon told him about. He grabbed a trowel and the ladder and returned to the cabin. Lightning flashed followed by close thunder.
“Great! Lightning’ll make a spectacular end to a dreary year.”
He scrambled up the steep roof and found a gap where a shingle should be. He smeared the black tar liberally.
“That should do it…” he hoped. Drenched to the skin, he started shivering. He clambered down, left the ladder and stowed the tar on the porch.
He ran into the bathroom, turned the hot water on, threw off his clothes, and hopped into the ancient cast iron tub.
“C’mon! Get hot!”
The water warmed and his shivering stopped. Eric soaked in the warmth standing beneath the streaming water. He watched a Daddy Longlegs stagger up the shower wall. It lost its footing and fell into the tub. It lay limp in the wet, looking like a clump of hair.
“I’ve been there, buddy.”
Eric shut the water off and stepped from the tub. The spider was already dragging itself to higher ground.
Drying himself, he noticed how warm it felt. Smelling smoke, he saw it seeping around the door hinges. His eyes widened at seeing the wood blister and vapor like something from a horror movie. Eric reached for the doorknob but stopped.
“I can’t believe this.”
He wrapped his hand with the damp towel, cracked the door open and slammed it shut. He saw only flames outside the door.
“No time…” Guttural sounds you’d expect from a wounded animal poured from his throat.
He pulled on his damp clothes, opened the window, and tossed his shoes and jacket through it. Worming his way out, he fell and rolled onto the wet ground. Still raining. He grabbed his things and ran barefoot to his car. He fumbled for his keys, got in and revved the engine. He threw the heater on full.
Eric pounded the steering wheel and screamed until he lost his voice. No one to call. All was lost. He lay his head on the wheel and sobbed, “Everything… everything…”
Morning dawned slowly. The rain had stopped. Smoke drifted from the cabin’s ruins, blending with the mist. An owl called. Crows circled overhead.
Sitting in his damp clothes, Eric had barely slept. He spent the night watching an inferno consume his home. In shock, he stared at the smoking embers.
A deer startled away on hearing Eric’s car door open. He emerged and walked stiffly. Trying to warm up, he jumped around while circling the collapsed structure. He saw nothing salvageable. The roof had caved once the walls failed. Even the chimney had toppled.
Coming around the back, Eric scoffed at seeing the white, cast iron tub, standing intact on its lion’s feet. The burning cabin collapsed away from the bathroom, opening it to the sky. He climbed to the tub and removed a few charred wood scraps that had fallen into it. Just him and a dusting of soot.
Sitting in the tub, his legs stretched out, felt surreal. No walls enclosed him. Smoke drifted by. The sun peeked through the clouds. Birds sang.
Eric thought, ‘I could retrofit this with wheels and a small engine. Have a nice little runabout.’ He laughed. ‘If I’m getting wild, I might put runners on it, hitch up some reindeer and fly on outta here. Tell me, why not?’
Without warning, the weight of his loss welled up. A sob burst from his lungs and he slumped into the tub, blubbering like a kid. He pounded the sides of the tub and kicked his feet.
He screamed. “No! No! I can’t do this! Help me! I’ve got nothing! What now? Where do I go? I’ve got no one!”
No one answered. The wind fluttered the leaves. Something broken clattered behind him.
Eric lay in the tub for a while, sinking into his numbness. ‘Nothing to be done…?’ He had no idea what to do. Had he hit bottom?
He sat up. “No point in staying here…”
A movement by the drain caught his eye. The Daddy Longlegs had emerged from under the stopper. It walked erratically. When Eric moved, it froze. He grabbed a stick from the floor and placed it near the spider. After a brief hesitation, it stepped onto the stick.
Eric lifted the stick and held it upright. The Daddy Longlegs climbed to the top of the stick. Eric carried it out of the ruin. He murmured to it, not to be afraid. He looked at it closely.
“I’m glad we got through this…”
Walking into the shed, he set the stick down. The creature stood still and then moved into the shed’s clutter.
Eric watched it go. He sighed and surveyed his surroundings for the last time.
“I feel alive.”
He walked to his car, started it and drove away.