Clement Robison’s house is wildly impractical for almost anyone, but especially so for an eighty-eight-year-old man living alone, even if he happens to be the one who designed it. Forty years ago, when Clem began the drawings for his dream house, he could not imagine being eighty-eight. Who can? Eighty-eight is hard to imagine even at eighty-seven. His youngest daughter, now fortyfive, summoned home—or so she’s telling everyone—by her father’s accident, doesn’t really believe she’ll ever be as old as he is. Oh, she expects, hopes, to enjoy the genetic advantage of his longevity. But the number itself, eighty-eight, is like some monstrous old coat discovered in the hall closet, scratchy and smelling of mothballs. Who left this here? Is this yours? Not mine! I’ve never seen it before.
The Robison house was modern once and people still describe it that way, although its appliances and fixtures are frozen like the clocks in a fairy tale, set circa 1985, the last remodel. A mix of milled stone, lumber and glass, it nestles into the side of the hill on a stone base, a door leading into the aboveground basement, but the family custom was to use that door only in the most inclement weather, and Clem is not one to break long-standing habits. He has continued to mount the long stone staircase, which creates the illusion that one is climbing a natural path up the hillside. The steps are charming, but there is something off about them. Too low or too high, they fool the foot, and over the years almost everyone in the family has taken a tumble or near-tumble down. Gwen’s turn came when she was thirteen, rushing outside and neglecting to consider that the sheen on the steps might be ice, not mere moisture. She traveled the entire flight on her butt, boom, boom, boom, her friends laughing at the bottom. At thirteen, the end result was a bruised coccyx and ego, nothing more.
Her father, coming outside to get the paper on a cool but dry March morning, missed a step, tumbled almost to the street and broke his left hip.
“Do you know how many people die within a year of breaking a hip?” Gwen asks her father, still in University Hospital.
“Gwen, I taught geriatric medicine for years. I think I’m up on the facts. Most people don’t die.”
“But a lot do. Almost a third.”
“Still, most don’t. And I’m in good health otherwise. I just have to be disciplined about recovery and therapy.”
“Miller and Fee want you to sell the house, move into assisted living.”
“That again. And you?”
“I’m holding them off. For now. I told them I would assess your situation.”
They smile at each other, coconspirators. Gwen believes herself to be her father’s favorite, although he would never say such a thing. His denials are sincere when her much older siblings, Miller and Fiona, bring up the contentious matter.
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