The boy! Light boy, last boy, boy of Oscar’s last dark days, boy in whom the man had begun to reveal himself in lip-fuzz, in sharpness at the jaw. Simon had fallen asleep miles ago and his breath bloomed and shriveled on the passenger window; his elegant, bitten fingers curled on his lap. Oscar longed to enfold them in his old man own. But: impossible. To cover such young flesh with Oscar’s cloy would take nerve he no longer possessed. He contented himself with driving down the tunnel of wet maples, the music murmuring low.

What appalling form, Oscar thought, to fall asleep to Mahler. He envied Simon his first taste of such beauty, tried not to resent this waste of an hour.

The tunnel of trees petered out. The clouds sat heavy on the road. When Oscar pulled around a curve, the sun split the seams of the day. The world, from darkness, flared. Oscar’s half-dead heart in his half-dead chest annealed, sounded a minor note, broke.

Oscar had risen before dawn, as ever, in his family’s drafty saltbox above the sea. Pity he wouldn’t be around to see the house tumble over the cliff as it would in a decade; he envisioned the chute as a fat old lady diving, her tiny hands cocked as if in prayer above her head.

His housekeeper, Agatha, had ever been the gorgon at the gate. When he announced how very sick he was, she in her furious loyalty announced no visitors; but even she couldn’t keep them away. Oscar was beloved. The house had been infested with guests. Now it was Susan and her boy who had shown up unannounced a few days ago, both extenuated from divorce. She, his almost daughter, his family by love not blood, had suddenly turned middle-aged, her mouth gone bitter. In his sleepless night, he’d seen the car snaking up the road in the sideways rain of midnight; he prepared himself; and he was there with blankets in his arms when at last they stood bedraggled on his doorstep. While the boy had carried the luggage upstairs, Susan had marched to the bookcase, taken down her father Henry’s novel, and hidden it in the secretary. She wouldn’t meet Oscar’s eye. The house now prepared for her son, she found herself able to break down; and did, everywhere, wetly.

And so, since their arrival, Oscar’s solitary dawns had taken on even more import. He crept through the house feeling his weakness, over the dark garden eroding even as the cliff wore away. Down the stone steps by feel. He no longer knew if he loved his morning bathe in the wildly churning sea or loathed it; bore it the way he bore so many other unpleasant facts about himself. It was Spartan, the salt sear on the wounds of his feet and legs, the cleansing chill to the marrow. If he only let go from the barnacled rock, the ocean would float him gently away.

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