The moon was three days past full, and Billy used its light in the darkness of the night to navigate to the wood pile in the snow. The snow was fresh but wet, and under the great pine trees it had frozen a thin crust which Billy broke through with his boots, down the hill towards the wood pile to get more wood for the fire inside. Jim stood on the landing above the wood pile and Billy, when he looked back, saw the light of the three day old moon shadowed on Jim’s face, with his face in a scowl.
“We’ve got plenty of wood inside already.”
“We’ll always need more. I might as well grab it now while I can.”
“You’re wasting your time. You’re wasting my time.”
“It isn’t a waste.” Billy kept moving through the snow. He reached the wood pile and peeled back the canvas he used to keep the wood dry.
“It isn’t a waste,” Jim mocked. He kicked the soft snow at Billy, but Billy was too far away. “You’re such a chickenshit.”
“If you’re so upset, why don’t you talk to him? Why the hell is it up to me?”
“He doesn’t give a shit what I say. He’ll listen to you.”
“He won’t.” Billy kneeled in the snow and it melted into his pants and soaked his pants from the knees and on down his shins. He began gathering wood in the crook of his elbow, and he held his arm just so, in the manner of a shelf, and one by one he loaded wood onto that arm, stacking it with care. When he could carry no more he stood, and with his free hand he pulled the canvas back over the pile of wood. He began walking up the hill to the house.
The moon was three days past full. It crested above the great pine trees and launched into the open and black sky above them, and it lit the ground completely and Billy looked at Jim, Jim crying now, silently, but tears rolling down his face.
“He’s going to leave us, Billy.”
Billy looked at Jim and met his eyes. The muscles carrying the wood began to ache under the weight of the wood. He glanced at that aging January moon. He looked around at the stars. He shut his eyes and held them shut and he could smell the pine trees and the wet snow and Jim’s clothes and the cut wood, the horses nearby. He held his eyes shut and wished it all away, afraid that everything everyday would spoil around him. He the pathogen, the cancer.
“I’m sorry, Jim.” And he walked past his brother and up the stairs to the house.