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HI-TECH TREE HOUSE % it was dawn, Christmas Day, and no one but Howard Elman was awake in the Manse. Howard went downstairs to the kitchen with its walk-in refrigerator and two gas stoves. He made some instant and ate co-op store grain with one percent milk and maple syrup. Birch and his minions wouldn’t touch white sugar, but they slugged down the maple syrup. He checked the weather online. Today was the last day of the thaw; the forecast called for snow and a hard cold. Howard figured he had a window of opportunity. Window of opportunity? Like the crooked window Cooty built in his cabin? I don’t know. Why is so much lingo so uncombobulatable? Howard emailed Charlene, Pegeen, and Freddy. Excuse me, Frederick or F. Latour, or just Latour. Merry Christmas all. This will be my last communication, for today I will die. Don’t mail that. An ad popped up on the screen for a smart phone that featured an oleophobic coating. How can a phone be “smart”? What is oleophobic—fear of mar­ garine? He put on his parka and boots and went outside with a second cup of coffee. Gray sky glowered down in disapproval. Rain had flattened the snow that lay in big goopy patches between expanses of bare ground that was matted and a little embarrassing to look at, as if Jack Frost had been caught with his pants down. Underneath, the soil was still frozen, providing good footing. Even an old man can traverse this terrain. If you take your time. If you don’t have a stroke. 127 Why did they call it a stroke? In the old days they called it a shock, a better word to describe the condition. You can make it, Howie. If a knee doesn’t crumble, or a hip, or a vertebra , or an ankle. If. He barged into Cooty’s cabin. The centenarian was sitting barefoot but fully clothed in bed in some kind of trance. His nurses had trimmed his toenails. Howard sat at the tiny table and sipped his coffee. “Where are you today?” Howard asked. “Back in Lowell,” Cooty said, staring with fascination at the wall. “You were born and brought up in Lowell, Massachusetts, right?” Howard said. “I was brought up in Lowell, but I was born in Scotland, or maybe Nova Scotia—can’t remember the century or the country. I get the whens and wheres mixed up. My mum and dad brought me to Lowell. Was that dad, or the other one? Oh, look, there’s a foot race. I’m winning .” Cooty pointed to the wall as if the sticks he had hung up bore evidence of his veracity. “You’re remembering the old days.” “Yes, I can see some boys racing. Look at that Kerouac kid run. But I beat him.” “You act like you’re actually seeing the past.” “That’s the great thing about reaching one hundred years old, Howie. Everything is like a movie. All day long I sit here and watch my life. I can hear the projector sputtering, see patrons walking the aisle, hear the girls giggling.” “Everything but the popcorn.” “No, in the afternoon Luci and Wiqi bring me popcorn while the three of us watch the matinee.” “Cooty you’re talking over my noggin again—I’m going up in the woods.” “I bet you’re curious where Birch goes.” “Yeah, how did you know?” “Because Birch figured you’d figure and he told me and I told Luci and she told the writers and pretty soon everybody will know and when everybody knows, why then . . .” Cooty abruptly stopped speaking. 128 He lost his thought. Maybe one of the bots in his head collided with a punctuation mark. “Why then . . . what?” Howard asked. “Why then we go on to the next hunch.” “Cooty, you know where Birch goes. Why don’t you save me the trouble of berating the truth out of you and just tell me.” “That would ruin the fun, Howie. Here, take my cane.” He handed Howard the latest version of his cane, a walking stick. Cooty had carried a number of “canes” over the years. They were just branches or saplings left over from firewood cutting. Cooty would whittle off the bark to reveal the sap wood. Eventually he’d grow tired of the cane and cut it up for the woodstove or notch it, tie a string around it...


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MARC Record
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