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The Ladder

Story ID:2125
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Writers Conference:$500 2007 Family Memories Writing Project
Location:Tantallon Nove Scotia Canada
Year:1993
Person:Me
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This is an old memory. My ladder and I have been through a lot.

The Ladder


“Hey, Bill!” I waved at my neighbor. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Hi, Mike!” He waved back. “It sure is.”
Bill lived two doors down from my house. I walked the dirt road to his place.
He stopped loading his truck long enough to shake my hand. “I heard the bad news. I’m
sorry. We’ll miss you.”
Unable to look me in the eye, Bill lowered his head. “I guess I knew it was
coming. Salina and I don’t get along anymore.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I got an apartment in town. I’ll be alright.”
“Georgia and I will miss you.” I repeated. “We’ve had a lot of good times.”
Bill, tough man that he was, didn’t reciprocate. He turned to the garage. “Mike,
do you need a ladder?” he asked. “You always borrowed it to work on your roof. I’m sure
you can use it.”
“I can’t take your ladder. It’s too…”
“Mike,” he interrupted. “I’ll be living in an apartment. I won’t need it.”
“But…”
“Mike!” He interrupted again, “Take it!”
I gave in. “Thanks, Bill.” We shook hands again. He drove off. I never saw him
again.
I carried “The Ladder” home. “Georgia!” I called out. “Look what Bill gave
me!”

***************************

“The Ladder” and I became a team. Before it came into my possession, only
things I could reach with my clumsy hands were in danger of being broken, but with
“The Ladder” I was a twelve foot radius of destruction. Nothing was safe: windows, cars,
power lines, and neighbors. Children and pets ran for cover.
At the time “The Ladder” and I became rivals, Georgia and I lived in a mobile
home with an aluminum roof. The sheets of metal were folded together to form seams
and were prone to leaks. In the winter, snow built up on the low sloped panels. Heat
loss, due to poor insulation, caused the snow to melt on warm days. The water, trapped
under the snow, seeped into the seams. At night, the water froze. Ice forced the seams
apart. In spring - the protective layer of snow and ice gone – the heavy rains seeped
through the cracks. Stains appeared on our ceilings. Water dripped onto our floors.

***************************

The wind-driven rain rattled against the windows, drowning out the sound of
the first ball game of the year. I turned the volume up. It was the second inning. “Dad!”
my six-year-old daughter yelled out. “Dad!” she ran into the room. “There’s a leak in my
room.” She grabbed my hand. "Come on, Dad! Hurry! It's a big leak."
“Vanessa, it can’t be that bad.” I watched a player step to the plate and swing
his bat. “I’ll check it later.” I assured her.
“Dad, it’s a big leak! Really!” She pulled my hand again. “Come on, Dad!”
She led me down the hall and to her room. "See, dad!" She pointed up. “Look!"
She wasn't exaggerating. Water poured from the ceiling in a steady stream, splashed on
her desk, flowed to the floor, and soaked her carpet.
She stood with one hand on her hip. "See, Dad! I told you!" Her head tilted to
one side – a miniature of my wife, proud she'd proved me wrong.
I looked at her. "It's OK, honey; I'll fix it for you."
I slipped into my rain gear and glanced out the window. There were several
places I would rather be than up on my roof. The wind threw the rain against the
windowpanes in sheets. The water ran down the glass, distorted the swaying trees, and
reminded me of looking through the heat rising from a campfire. I looked longingly at my
chair. A beer sat on the table. An open newspaper lay beside it. The first ball game of the
year was on the television. I sighed and thrust my feet into my boots.
Outside, the rain hit my face like hail. The storm roared through the trees. My hat
lifted from my head and disappeared over the roof. My raincoat flapped behind me like a
cape. I shielded my eyes with one hand and leaned forward to keep my balance. I trudged
to the shed, opened the door, and there it was, "The Ladder." I picked it up. The cold
metal felt evil in my hands.
I stepped from the shed. Wind pushed and pulled at “The Ladder’s” length and
twisted me sideways. I battled my way back to the house, propped “The Ladder” against
the side of the trailer, and returned to the shed for a can of tar and a brush.
Up on the roof, I saw white caps on the waves in the wind-churned cove. They
sped down its length and crashed against the rocks at its head. The road, which wound
around its shoreline, was littered with debris, tossed there by the force of the water. I
spotted my hat tangled in the upper branches of nearby tree. The next day, it was gone,
carried off by the storm, and never seen again. The rain beat down, plastered my hair to
my head, and made my glasses useless. I crawled to the spot over Vanessa’s room and
spread tar over the metal seams.
At the edge of the slippery roof, trying not to slip off, a gust of wind blew up
my backside and lifted my raincoat up over my head. It snapped in my ears like a flag
and covered my eyes, blinding me. On my knees, I waved my arms in circles and battled
my coat back into position, but not before the cold rain soaked my shirt, gluing it to my
back. Water ran into my eyes and dripped from my nose.
I spread the black tar on all the seams over Vanessa’s room. When I was done,
I tapped the top back on the can of tar. As I imagined the heat of a hot shower, a gust of
wind, the strongest one yet, made me drop flat to keep from being blown over the edge.
There was a noise – metal against metal – behind me. I turned and watched “The Ladder”
slide from view and crash on the ground below. I was stuck
"Honey!" I yelled out. "Honey!" I yelled again. There was no response.
I knelt and pounded on the tin plates until my hands were sore. "Georgia!" I
screamed but there was no sign of rescue.

***************************

Inside, Georgia sat reading her book. The rain pounded against the windows.
Overhead, gusts of wind rippled over the roof, and caused the panels to rumble. It
sounded like dump trucks hitting large potholes. She tracked each gust as it rattled the
panels one-by-one along the length of the house. It started at one end, crashed by over
her head, and rolled like thunder to the other end.
Vanessa ran into the room. “Mom! Mom, there’s something banging on the
roof.”
Georgia looked up. “It’s just the wind, Dear.”
“But, Mom…”
Georgia interrupted her. “Vanessa, it’s just the wind.”
On the roof, I lay flat on my stomach. Rain bounced off the metal and into my
eyes. I brushed it away, crawled to the area over our bedroom where Georgia sat reading,
and bounded on the roof again.
Georgia looked up at the ceiling. “Goodness!” she said. “That was a strong
gust.”
Vanessa stood with her head tilted to the side and her hands on her hips. “See,
Mom! I told you.”
Up on the roof, I banged on the metal plates and screamed, “Georgia! Georgia, I
need help!”
Georgia stood and looked at Vanessa. “That’s not the wind. That’s your father.
Something must be wrong.” She put on her boots and raincoat.
“Where are you going, Mom?” Vanessa asked.
“I’m going to see if your father is OK.”
“OK, Mom.”
Soon after, both of us walked through the door laughing. Water dripped from
our clothes, and our boots squished with each step. “I’m sorry, Michael.” Georgia said.
“I thought it was the wind rattling the roof.”
“It’s OK.” I said and slipped my raincoat off. “I’m just glad you finally rescued
me. I’m going to take a shower.”

***********************

I carried “The Ladder” onto the deck and propped it against the porch roof. It was
time to do my annual roof repair work. After I’d coated all the seams with tar, I
began to climb down the ladder. I made it to the third rung from the top when, in the
blink of an eye, I found myself clinging to the roof's edge by my elbows. Only
lightning-speed reflexes, reflexes I didn't know I had, saved me as the ladder lost its grip
on the smooth deck and crashed five feet below my dangling legs.
I pulled myself back onto roof. “Georgia!”

***********************

“The Ladder” stood propped against the side of our new house. I strapped on
my tool belt, grabbed a length of vinyl siding, and climbed. I was four rungs up. The soft
unsettled soil around the new foundation gave way under one leg of “The Ladder.” It
began to tilt and scrape across the side of the house, as I hung on with a white-knuckle
grip. I was at a 45-degree angle with the ground coming up fast, when I decided to leap to
safety. I landed on my knees and yelled out as a rock tore through my jeans and into the
flesh of my shin.
“The Ladder” wasn't through with me yet. I looked up and saw it was about to
crash through one of my newly installed windows. Thinking quickly, I thrust my arm out,
stopped it, saved the window, and almost broke my arm.

***********************
I rent now and no longer have a use for a ladder, but I can’t seem to part with
mine. “The Ladder” is stretched out beside my car in the garage. I haven’t used it in
years. It just lies there waiting – patiently waiting.

Michael T. Smith