Heath sat on the edge of the bed, trying to catch his breath. He had dressed himself after a fashion. His pants were on, but his woollen socks were off. His shirt graced his back but too many buttons remained undone. His boots seemed too much of a challenge and remained on the floor at the foot of the bed and his hair had been given one single comb through and still looked in disarray.
There were reasons for why Heath Barkley looked and felt like he did. He was only just recovering from a bout of illness which had emanated as usual from his suspect lungs. After ten days in bed and only occasional trips down the hallway, today was his first effort to get up on his own and it wasn't working according to plan. Of course, it did not help that he hadn't let anyone else in on his plans to get up, least of all his wife who thought he was still sleeping peacefully upstairs.
There was a gentle tap at the door.
"Come in," Heath beckoned.
"Oooh Pa, you're up!" came the surprised and eager voice of Matty Barkley, Heath's adopted, seven year old son. Matty had been with them two years now and had well and truly settled in with his new family. Words like 'Pa' and 'Ma' rolled off his tongue as though born to them, betraying little evidence of the harsh life he had lived before coming to them.
After Matty's initial surprise, concern entered his young voice. "I better go tell Ma, you're up."
"No don't Matty. I want it to be a surprise. Listen fella, do you fancy helping me to get dressed the rest of the way so your Pa can look smart and handsome for your Ma?"
"Good," Heath felt better already. He was determined to get down those stairs and start feeling like he was part of the family again. Staring at four walls never did sit well with him and he made a bad patient even when he was trying to be good. "Okay, why don't you get me a pair of socks from my drawer."
Matty did as he was asked and then bent down to help roll them on to his father's feet. After a bit of twisting and turning in his small fingers, he got them on and then turned his attention to helping his father with his boots whilst Heath tried to help from above. "Thank you Matty," he said as he endeavored to do the rest of his buttons on his shirt. When it came to dressing, Heath Barkley had a natural grace. Somehow clothes seemed to hang off him just right and light colored clothes flattered him particularly well. For years he had tried to get his brother Nick to see that there were colors other than just black, but Nick would have none of it and stuck to his favorite threads. Today, though, even with Matty's help, Heath's clothing look disorganized. He decided to forgo making any more effort, hoping that once down the stairs, Meg would sort him out.
With Matty's help, he made it to the stop of the stairs and then faced the more difficult challenge of getting down them. Feeling as he was he couldn't walk down them. He knew he would probably fall. It was left to Matty to suggest a possible way.
"Why don't you do what Nicholas and me do?" he said with a child's logic.
"Oh yes," said Heath. intrigued as he held on to the banister for extra support. "And just what is it you two do?"
"Well, you sit down like this," Matty responded eagerly, "and you slide down on your bottom." Matty then proceeded to demonstrate by sliding down a few steps."
Heath wasn't too sure. Matty's rear was a lot fleshier than Heath's and he felt sure he was going to feel every bump along the way. But what was the alternative? To stay in bed? Cautiously he let himself sink to the top stair and took up position.
"Okay Pa?" Matty asked.
"Okay, son," Heath replied, not sounding at all confident that he was doing the right thing.
One by one they slid their butts down the stairs, stopping frequently so that Heath could catch his breath, until finally they reached the bottom stair. Just as they did, Victoria and Meg came out of the Parlor on their way to the dining room.
"And just what do you think you two are doing?" came the stern rebuke from both women.
Matty threw his hands up in the air in childish exasperation. "Coming down stairs, of course."
Heath laughed and turned to his womenfolk. "You heard the man. Now, how about this man's mother and wife helping him to the dining room. I'm plum tuckered out, but I'm famished."