Mr. Archer looked out at the fireflies, at the way they resembled falling stars. He looked up at the stars, at the way they resembled fireflies, only more stable, so fixed in place that they could be individually known and named.
On the Sunday morning just before his fall, he was pestered by a restless longing for the unknown, troubled with an unbearable discontent, his frustrations greater than whatever was now nagging Duggie.
That Sunday morning found him feeling out of place, lost and trapped right where he was born. Anyone looking at him on the outside saw little to none of his increasing indifference to his surroundings. But all those years of distance from Duggie were the early stages of keeping to himself, withdrawal into moping, and finding a sort of virtue in selfishness and discontent.
So by that Sunday morning, nothing, except maybe his own or a death in the family, could have kept him from going ahead with plans to move away. He was ready to leave this muddy valley, ready to forget everything about Carib Park and Carib Park people.
Next thing he knew he was running, furious at the kind of people he no longer wanted to be around, and chasing one of them from his yard. Little did he know then just how this act of contempt would indeed take him close to dying and completely alter his life.
There obviously comes a time, thought Mr. Archer now, when some people unfortunately begin disliking themselves. A tiredness of place and weariness of self take over. Home is no longer where they feel they belong or want to be. And all the familiar sights and smells and tastes and faces no longer bring comfort or joy.
He knew now that this outlook was as useless as fireflies being fed up with just winking through the gloom and fretting about not being fixed in the night sky like stars. After all, fireflies are where they should be, needing no adjustment of outlook, and never wearying of their environment or their purpose in it.
Mr. Archer had come to this new wisdom through suffering. And he wished he could pass this new wisdom across to Duggie. But just as at the hospital when no one could hear his thoughts, he felt as unable now to make any of these words come out the way they were arranged in his head.
Putting together other adequate words, he said, “Listen, Duggie, it’s like this. I see you doing all right here, just like I see a firefly doing all right outside this window. But maybe you see yourself as a star far from here. Only you know.”
“Hm,” Mr. Douglas said. He went on picking at the sock covering the ankle propped across his knee. He looked at Mr. Archer then stared away out through the window’s narrow view, at fireflies blinking across the night and stars distant in the far-off sky.
With the English doctor gone, Mr. Archer’s care moved to the hands of Dr. Montgomery, a local bright boy who had won every Boys Grammar School honour and been awarded all sorts of scholarships to study overseas. After medical school, the young doctor has his pick of any number of significant offers in foreign countries but returned to treat and mend the sick at St. Vincent General Hospital, run a successful private practice in Kingstown, and cultivate a reputation as one of the island’s most prominent citizens.
Dr. Montgomery advised Mr. Archer to keep up the care and exercises prescribed by the English doctor. Mr. Archer told Dr. Montgomery that he found that wrapping the leg with heated aloes reduced stiffness and discomforts.
“Nothing wrong with that. Aloes good for anything,” Dr. Montgomery assured, talking in the casual and relaxed manner of everyday Vincentian speech, his first-class education and lofty career not preventing him from ignoring the rules of grammar in order to make conversation comfortable.
“I heat up the aloes, band it hot on the knee and that’s better than anything,” Mr. Archer said.
Dr. Montgomery nodded perceptively. “Listen, people out in the country get all kinda wrench and strain and ague and fever, and bush tea and aloes is what they use for all that, and they healthy as you and me.”
“Maybe healthier,” added Mr. Archer.
“No joke. You think they runnin’ out and buy Canadian Healing Oil and Ferrol Compound and Sanatogen and them things?” the doctor continued. “Naw, man. They believe in their aloes and bush tea. They put aloes on their fire burn, on sore foot, bad back, headache, anything.”
“I know. Aloes is a heal-all,” Mr. Archer said.
“Sure. But, but, but, I still want you to exercise the leg though, awright? Let’s do what we need to do,” advised the doctor. “How to say this?...I don’t want the leg to eventually require the kind of drastic treatment that I don’t even want us to think about right now.”
“What drastic treatment?” Mr. Archer tried not to sound too concerned.
“Oooh boy,” the doctor said, following with a rush of air escaping through pursed lips. “Worst worst case? Absolute last resort? Not to make it sound worse than it is, but we might have to break the leg again and re-set it.”
Mr. Archer never expected the road to recovery to get this rough. His face registered a brief unease, then he quickly regained his composure as if he had never lost it.
“Well, do what we must do, drastic or not,” he told the doctor. “If a drastic treatment will do the job, I say let’s do it.”
The doctor waved a finger, as if to back Mr. Archer away from whatever shock this mention of a last resort had caused. “Let’s try for it not come to that, awright?”
A few days later Mr. Archer was shocked in another way.
Halfway to sleep, half-dreaming, I was jolted awake. Noises were tumbling and colliding all over the mountaintop.
I sat up in the darkness.
Not wanting to hear, I was forced to listen.
Something was roaring through the night. Something evil was moving closer and closer to the cave. Something neither human nor animal.
I was always somewhat half in love with my own ending. Perhaps my moment was now due. Maybe that something, whatever its manner of reaping, was coming to collect me.
My head felt cracked open and doused with commotion. I looked around but could see nothing. Understanding that having fear gives the inner self something against which to be brave, I hugged my knees and waited to welcome my destiny.