Billy’s dad stayed with Jim at the hospital and Billy got back to camp and started chopping wood. To the left of the cabin a shed his grandfather built to keep wood for fires. In front of the shed now set into the ground a section of pine surrounded by fresh splinters on snow and a splitting axe sunk into the top. Billy stacking the wood he had just chopped green and bleeding sap but it would be dry for next year. He keeps it apart from the dry wood they burn this winter.
He looks around the camp, a clearing at the end of a dirt road far off the highway, an opening in the forest where his grandfather and his grandfather’s brothers took down trees to make room for a family cottage. They dug a pit for an outhouse in a corner of the clearing farthest from the cabin and built a shelter over that pit with a door of cedar planks and a bench inside also of cedar with a hole cut out over the pit. By chance each spring a current of melt water washed through the ground and washed away with it the decaying waste. Over forty years that outhouse sat there and the cedar bench inside wore down and smoothed by generations of a family. The handle too on the cedar plank door was the very same as it was the day the brothers nailed it there, and it pulled loose more than once and the nails were eventually replace by screws, but every member of the family had at one time wrapped fingers around that wood, family Billy had never even known had wrapped fingers around that handle and used their effort to open the door to sit on the bench inside. Billy laughs to himself, a memory of his mother stuck in the outhouse with the door jammed shut with a shovel his father placed silently between the handle and the ground, his father on the deck of the cabin in a rocking chair smiling to himself and laughing with his brothers under a clear September sky. That was the first time Billy remembered the handle being broken from the outhouse door, and the only time he remembers his mother chasing his father with a shovel.
Billy stands now and wraps a hand around the handle of the splitting axe. He likes the feel of the axe in the palm of his hand firmly around it’s girth, pulls sharply up on the handle and loosens the head from the stump and in that same motion slides his hand up the handle and grabs the axe below the head. His body likes all of this, the ache in his hands, his arms and shoulders, the muscles throughout his ribs and around his waist, they feel all of this effort and Billy knows his strength grows out of it, knows that he roots himself in the earth with every log he splits. Blue sky above through the trees, branches without leaves on account of the winter and another pile of splinters and wood gathering around the chopping block.
Through this he thinks of his mother again, this time at night sleeping in the dark of the camp with only a light from the moon through the blinds and the soft whistle of her nose as she breathes. Her arm over him at first for the comfort of them both, and then the away sliding of her arm as she rolls from side to side. Throughout this Billy is still and unflinching and waiting for the next whistling breath and hearing the mice clattering through the walls and across the cold floors and the snap of the traps as they close and squeeze the death of another. He shuffles his body closer to her back and presses his nose into her shoulder’s flesh and the smell of her skin that is only hers as she sleeps. He breathes her in and falls asleep.