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A gripping family medical drama set against the backdrop of dot.com-boom Seattle. Dr Henry Moss, husband and father of two teenagers, has devoted his life to the study of Hickman syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes rapid ageing and premature death in children. His beloved patient, William, lies dying at the age of fourteen, when Henry Moss makes the breakthrough of his career, the discovery of a secondary gene which halts the ageing process entirely - the 'secret of eternal youth' which could earn him millions. But in order to save William he must act quickly, and illegally. Moss faces a desperate choice. Whatever he does, someone will lose. But will it be Moss, his family, or the sinking William?
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Michael Byers was born in 1969, the son of a research geneticist and a computer programmer. He is the author of the critically acclaimed short story collection The Coast of Good Intentions, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction. Long for this World is Byers' first novel. He lives in Seattle.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was a big old pleasant high school gym, built in the twenties and not much disturbed by renovation. The iron rafters met at a shallow angle at the roofline, and the tall windows were made up of a dozen big panes, each reinforced with chicken wire, and the two ancient clocks sat on opposing brick walls, ratcheting their works forward with an audible whir, hiss, clunk. The gym smelled nostalgically of varnish, sweat, and paint, but it was not an obsolete or shabby place. An electronic scoreboard reading garfield visitors quarter fouls time out had been added on the east wall, and a recent grant from FareWatchers.com had supplied the courtside officials with a new Huston-Marke computerized scoring system, a sleek blue box that sat beneath the long scorers’ table and extended its heavy gray cables to an outlet hidden under the bleachers.
The purple Garfield bulldog, wearing its studded collar, snarled up from the court’s center circle, and the backboards were regulation glass, and the nets were in good repair, and when the boys played here a riotous, explosive sort of crowd would gather, and the breakaway rims actually got some use, and once in a while once a decade or so someone would appear who was so obviously superior to the rest of the boys that his future would be discussed with the frank and half-informed calculation any phenomenon inspires. The boys’ team often played in the state tournament and had won it six years ago, and its purple banners hung from the rafters, drifting sideways when the big purple entry doors were left open to the hall.
But tonight the girls were playing, and very few people were there. From his seat midway up the home bleachers Henry Moss could see almost everyone who had come out of the rain to watch a hundred or so people, including his wife, Ilse, and son, Darren, who sat directly in front of him, a row below, so he was looking down into their hair; and Sandra, his daughter, who was on the court, holding the ball with her back to the hoop, wearing the stern and thoughtful expression of someone taking apart a complicated bomb. The girls’ team was not nearly as good as the boys’ in fact, they lost almost every game they played but Sandra herself was very good, the starting center, and despite the team’s terrible record she carried herself up and down between the baskets with a kind of preoccupied confidence that plucked at Henry’s heart and made him lean down now and then to grasp his wife’s shoulders. She would pat his hands and hold them for a second before letting go. It was not an uncommon gesture there; the team was so bad so unwatchably bad at times, really that nearly everyone in the gym was related in some way to one of the players. So it was a tender and familiar gathering, on the home side, anyway, under the old painted roof, and Henry was faintly conscious of the fellow feeling that surrounded him. A girl made an unlikely shot, or rolled her eyes in some characteristic way, or wiped her mouth in a gesture of embarrassed happiness, and somewhere in the bleachers Henry sensed someone’s heart rising; there would come a bark of surprised laughter or a few beats of applause while the team fell back ten points, twenty before halftime. Even Darren would applaud his sister when he felt like it, though Henry suspected it was largely to draw attention to himself. He cupped his hands and shouted, Go, Moss!” when she had the ball in the post, and when she stood at the foul line, her knees bent and the ball resting easily in her big, practiced hands resting, resting Darren would wait in silence until she cocked her elbows and sent the ball feathering through the net, when he would shout down at her, And one!” with his newly deep voice, the voice of a stranger.
Behind them at the top of the bleachers tonight were a dozen or so children too young to be left at home alone but old enough to throw crumpled-up paper at each other, and occasionally at Henry. After being hit twice in the head, not accidentally, he had had enough, and he made his slow way up to the top of the bleachers, where the benches were deeply gouged with graffiti, blue and black, name after name: Michelle Grigo Peeper LaShelle VeeVee Ashlee Adam Brad LaVonn. The children, seeing that he was there to stay, moved off to the other end of the stands and eventually through the open purple doors into the long empty hall outside, where they could be heard chanting, Got no money, got no friends, got nobody that he can ” and then something he could not underrstand.
The crowd below him was clustered into groups of five or six, with a small population that circulated from group to group, making the rounds. As he watched, Darren, just turned fourteen, stood and maneuvered down beside a clutch of thhhhhree girls, who after a moment burst into laughter at something he had said. His boy! Darren was not a handsome kid his jaw was too long and seemed packed with teeth, and his eyes sat very deep in his skull, as though someone had pressed them in with a thumb. Henry had looked exactly the same at fourteen and had spent most of his adolescence staring at girls longingly from across the room, but Darren was different. Fearless.
Henry’s wife tipped her head back, looked at him strangely, upside- down. What are you doing up there? her eyebrows asked.
He shrugged. Nothing. Enjoying the view. Up close, the iron rafters could be seen to have been painted dozens of times, white over white over white, and a faint tapping on the roof was rain. When he peered down through the slats of the bleachers, he could see in the looming darkness below a discouraging litter of potato chip bags, soda cans, miscellaneous papers, odd articles of clothing, but it seemed to Henry a secret, alluring kind of place, way down there and out of sight, the sort of hideout he would have liked to investigate if he were not fifty-one, a father, and an eternal source of potential humiliation to Sandra and Darren. So he stayed where he was.
After a few minutes the chanting children came leaking back in from the hall, and one by one they ducked under the bleachers. Everyone knew they were not supposed to be there, but no one stopped them from running back and forth forty feet below him, ducking through the steel supports and laughing at the sight of a hundred asses on display in rows laughing and laughing, until someone’s mother finally corralled them and distributed them to their various parents in the stands.
At length Henry’s wife rose and climbed to join him. She was tall she had given Sandra her height and wore a white turtleneck and white jeans. I do not foresee a comeback,” she announced. She was Austrian, her accent smoothed by eighteen years of American English. You look very sinister up here, like that man in The Parallax View up in the catwalk. Did you see that?” I think we saw it together.” I mean Darren. Did you see him go down to those girls?” She leaned closer. The one on the left, farthest from him, has been looking at him all night. Isn’t she pretty?” That’s Tanya. She was at his birthday.” She put a hand on his knee. He’s not handsome, but he is smart,” she said. If it’s done the right way, it can be very attractive.” Does that count as a date?” I don’t think anybody actually dates anymore, I think they just all clump together like that and go around in a big . . .” she searched a big herd. He said he was going down to check on something and then he just went right down and sat next to them!” She shook Henry’s leg in excitement. He’s so much braver than I was, Henry he must get it from you.” I think he gets it from your mother.” What a terrible idea! Don’t tell her, she’ll just hate him all the more. How awful it must be to have us here in the first place. I’m sure the only reason he came was because he knew Tanya was going to be here too. Good for him.” What’s she doing here?” Maybe she knew he was going to be here. Or maybe he’s developed some kind of mind control device. Henry, you should ask. I’m going to cry if they kiss.” She is pretty.” He’ll grow out of that poor face of his,” she assured him. He’ll end up looking normal.” They sat together in silence for a minute, listening to the rain overhead. It was a driving, solid rain; it had been raining for weeks and weeks. Sandra scored, then watched the other team race ahead of her for an easy basket while Marcia Beck, the Garfield coach, looked on with her arms folded.
You realize if we stay too long up here together talking, people will think we’re having some kind of marital troubles.” I like it up here. Nobody chucks stuff at my head.” I promise I won’t chuck stuff at your head. Oh, isn’t it exhausting, even thinking about being a teenager again? Please, darling.” She stood, took his hand. Come be old with me.
We’ll sit far away and not disturb him.”
It was January, wet but strangely warm, unnervingly so, and with the four of them in the car the windows quickly fogged. What were you doing way up there on the top step?” Sandra asked him as soon as they pulled out of the lot. I looked up there and I was like, What is my dad doing?” I was trying to get onto the roof.” So you could jump, I guess, thanks a lot.” She leaned forward and spoke almost directly into his ear, too loudly. By the way, that ref is totally i...
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