HOW FAR THE MOUNTAIN
A Novel

The Man
      A Return To Memory
     
      Gazing out the kitchen window, the scorching cinder in the center of Billís heart pulsed back to life. He had defeated the flame, but he could not rid himself of the smoldering embers that over the last year had charred away almost all of his feelings. "I have to touch the bones," he muttered, the flame stirring. "I must, if only for myself."
            Bill could see his reflection in the dirty glass--forty six years old, a cracked and lined tough face, with a strong square jaw and a black handle bar moustache so big people could not tell if he was smiling or frowning. His gray eyes, once sparkling, were now distant, like they would rather not see. He was not tall, six feet with his boots on, big in the chest, strong shoulders with a slight gut, but he was in good shape and kept his weight at one hundred and seventy five. Even with his last two years of idleness his hands were still calloused with large swollen knuckles and fingers. His black hair, crew cut, was beginning to show white. He wore faded Leviís, held up by a leather belt, with a silver buckle from his rodeo days, a white western shirt with snaps, and he tucked his pant legs into tall, brown, leather cowboy boots with riding heels.
            Bill looked through his reflection into the backyard. Two young robins were beneath the apple tree, reminding him of miniature clowns, but he did not smile. The mother robin, acting as if she did not see her children, was standing as still as a statue while her eyes waited patiently for the scurrying of a bug, or the slithering of an earthworm through the jungle of grass. The mother, suddenly tigress, taking three purposeful bounds stabbed an earthworm with her rapier beak. Bill imagined the terror filled cries of the worm as it writhed with all its might to try to escape and regain the safety of the warm, dark earth. The two young robins, alerted by their mother's quick movements, and seeing the worm thrashing from her beak, darted at her with pleading, gaping mouths. Their mother gobbled down the worm and gazed disdainfully over the heads of her astonished youngsters before resuming her solitary hunt. The two young robins chirped pitifully in their bewilderment. "You will learn," Bill said to the baby robins, who were now chasing frantically after their mother.
            "After a few days of going hungry, you will learn. And after you have learned, you will forget your teacher," Bill said, as though his words would comfort the two young robins.
            Stepping back from the window Bill tried to ignore the cinder in his heart. "I am tired and weary. I must go back. I must go back to the mountain," he said, as if his words were pleas.
            "I must touch the bones," he added with little conviction.
            After two attempts, one of the young robins captured a pale purple beetle. The other youngster rushed greedily to try and steal the doomed bug. Seeing the determined dash of his now rival, the young robin gulped down the beetle. The mother robin observed the conquest, and the victory, and the cornerstone of self, and with neither love nor remorse flew away. The two young robins did not see her go--they went off in different directions, both eyeing the ground in search of their own survival.
            Bill poured himself a cup of coffee. Sipping the coffee, he closed the kitchen curtain, shutting out all but one sliver of light that sliced through the room, exposing in its radiance millions of dust particles.
            Sitting in a wooden chair he placed his cup on a square wooden table that was covered with scars from years of cups and plates. A thin beam of sunshine hit Bill on the forehead. He raised his head until the ray bore directly in his eyes. His vision melted into the light and the small swirling worlds of dust. "Yes," he said forcefully, feeling the heat from the cinder in his heart. "I will go to the mountain. I will go to the mountain and I will touch the bones."
            Shutting his eyes, a vision of the mountain swirled in the red spots on the back of his eyelids, and he was afraid.