George Washington Crosby is dying on a hospital bed in the living room of the house he built himself. He hallucinates, imagining the house falling in on him, littering his bed with the accouterments of his life. George remembers many things, "in an order he cannot control." Most of all, he remembers his father Howard, who had epilepsy and was a tinker, a jack of all trades. In the spring before his death, George had gotten the inclination to record the details of his life. He was sadly disappointed with the result, however, finding his nasal, ordinary voice unworthy to "testify about holy things," and ended up throwing the tape into the trash. As he slips in and out of consciousness, George's thoughts are fragmented. One idea leads to another, linking details of Howard's past life with George's past and present. Dreams blend with reality, and George awakens, disturbed by the silence in the room. He realizes that his beloved clocks have run down, and asks his grandson, who is taking a turn sitting at his bedside, to start them up again. He takes comfort in "the rising chorus" of their ticking; they seem to breathe, and, hearing them, his own breathing comes more easily. George dozes, and images of his own and Howard's lives parade across his mind. When he wakes again, he asks for a shave, and solicitous family members scramble to comply. George is dying of renal failure, and descends once again into a semi-conscious state, recollecting the pastoral landscape of his childhood home, and the convoluted dynamics of family relationships.
George's life blends into that of his father's as he recalls a childhood characterized by strife. Howard and his wife Kathleen work hard to conceal the fact of Howard's terrifying seizures from their offspring, and, except for once, the children never see their father in the throes of his malaise. At Christmas dinner in 1926, however, Howard is stricken suddenly and without warning as the family began their meal. The three youngest children are precipitously shuttled out of the room, while George's help is enlisted in getting a wooden spoon into his father's mouth so that he will not bite off his tongue. In the process, Howard's teeth close on George's fingers, cutting them painfully. Kathleen takes George to Doctor Box to see about his injury, and also consults with the physician about having her husband committed to an institution because he is a danger to the children. The doctor gives Kathleen a pamphlet from the Eastern Maine State Hospital, a "care facility for the insane and feeble-minded." At home, George finds the pamphlet and realizes that his father, "whom he loved and pitied and hated," is "a madman about to be taken to the madhouse." Unable to handle his feelings of anger, guilt, and empty despair, he takes his father's horse and wagon and runs away. Without knowing why, he stops at a friend's house, where Howard, pursuing on foot,...
(The entire section is 1176 words.)