Going out with Leeann in warmer days. Photo by Leeann Warner.

What’s with the Man’s nose? Stanley asks.

He’s been sniffing around the Man’s face when the Man’s resting. Lots of smells there to attract his attention.

Bernie finished his radiation treatments, which have left his nose very red and swollen, with small blisters opening, bleeding, drying, then opening again, tiny envelopes of skin expanding then flattening, a crack above the flap covering the surgery that has opened, bled, dried, etc. over the past few months, and swollen tissues round the inner eyes and lower corners of his Bodhidharma eyebrows.

Toughest are the eyes. He wore a mask during the radiation, and they also piled up small lead objects over his eyes for additional protection, and still the eyes hurt and tear for much of the day, he dabs at them all the time, and as the hours progress he finds it harder and harder to keep them open. They say this will ease in a few weeks, but the distance between the doctor’s office in Springfield and the upstairs bedroom in a home surrounded by bare maples dipped in snow feels long indeed.

We wait, we joke, we talk, we try ointments and salves and eye drops. All the stuff that other people needed, but not us.

The winter is a long one this year and outside, everybody’s hungry. For the first time big black crows are coming to the birdfeeders, chasing away the smaller sparrows and even the squirrels, and the other day a deer patrolled the fence’s perimeter, looking for food. These are the days when they starve, late winter, trying to make it till the first shoots finally arrive.

Everything outside is so much at the edge, Stanley, it’s easy to miss all that when you stay inside a warm house with a full refrigerator.

What full refrigerator? I’m starving.

Actually, you’re leaving food in your bowl. I think you’re losing your appetite, Stan.

And why am I not on an outing with Leeann today?

She wrote me that you’re having a hard time with the snow outside, Stanley. It’s not easy walking in all that snow in the woods, so she wrote me to keep you home for a few days.

That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I can run with the best of them, I’m as loose as a moose.

Actually, you’re now mostly in back of the pack, Stanley, and since you can’t hear anything and your vision’s bad, they have to keep a special eye on you.

That’s not true, I’m part of the herd, just like a bird.

Not from what I hear. It’s getting harder for you to catch up.

I have the spunk of a skunk. I’m a hunk like a—like a—

Chipmunk. The truth is, you’re old, Stanley!

I have the flair of the bear.

You have denial up the aisle, Stan.

I’m a running force, like a horse.

With verses perverses. You’re old, Stanley, accept it.

Aware as a hare. Clear like a deer. Alert like a – like a – like a–