I’m twelve feet off the ground looking down on the flowerbed that used to have petunias or daisies or something prettier than dirt and rocks. I imagine myself tumbling over and striking my head on one of the half-buried bricks that keep the barren dirt safely separated from the weedy forest that is my lawn. Or maybe I’ll slip and impale myself on the sharp pickets of the privacy fence. How much blood would I lose before somebody hears me screaming? What happens if I get knocked out and can’t scream? I try to remember if I’ve ever been given advice about plummeting safely. I’m sure I know nothing about falling, so I vow to myself not to take it up until I’m better educated. So I sit.
Happily, if the Zombie Apocalypse happens today, I’ve got a pretty safe seat. Everybody knows zombies can’t climb ladders. I wonder how long a zombie can last without a meal. I wonder how long I can last without a meal. Or a beer. It’s getting pretty hot up here. I run my hand through my hair and think I’ll marry the man who brings me an ice cold beer.
Though I am certain I am holding still, my vision swirls and the ground seems to pull at my core. This must be vertigo. Who would even want to marry a girl who doesn’t have the cajones to climb down a ladder?
“Jackie, are you okay up there?” My neighbor calls up to me. I can see his balding head over the fence. He’s shading his eyes from the sun as he looks up at me in that serious way that makes me think he’s thinking he needs to call someone with authority, perhaps someone with negotiation skills. I know he probably should send somebody to shoot me with a tranquilizer and let me roll off unconscious onto a nice, safe tarp. There would be far less drama than trying to convince me to get back on the ladder. Nevertheless, my neighbor wants to get on with his day. I know this. I know he doesn’t want to be bothered, because I wouldn’t want to be bothered by him. I mostly want people to take care of themselves, and so he probably feels the same. I refuse to obligate him to my issues.
“I’m good,” I assure him. “Just writing some existential poetry.” He doesn’t waste any time and believes me right away. He disappears into his garage, and a few minutes later, his blue sedan drives away. He stops at the sign and turns right just as my boyfriend Elijah is turning onto the street. They wave to each other.
It must be five-thirty. Elijah always comes home at five-thirty.
I am silent and still. I feel like a teenager who’s been caught sneaking out. What will he think when he realizes I’m stuck up here, and that I’m not coming down without a lot of crying? Maybe he’ll think I’m not home, and he’ll leave to go pick up dinner, and then I’ll teach myself to fly while he’s gone. He’ll never know about this paralyzing fear that has my hiney stuck to these shingles.
It seems like an hour goes by before I hear his footsteps behind me. I don’t turn around because I am afraid to look him in the eye.
“I got this for you.” He presses a cold, glass bottle against my bare neck. I flinch, but take it with a smile. He settles himself beside me, and we gaze at the neighborhood as we sip on our beers. A few minutes pass before he asks me, “Why are we up here, anyway?”
“There was a kid with a helicopter,” I say, as if the explains it all, and Elijah nods, because that’s enough for him.
“Did you think about that question I asked you earlier?”
“Yep.” I nod, and sip my beer. I let it cool my throat before I continue. It was that beer that sealed the deal. “I think it’ll be okay.”
“That‘s not a real answer,” he tells me and nudges me with his elbow. The force of his nudge knocks me over a little, and my fear kicks in. I clutch onto his arm and scoot away from the edge.
“Fine then, I’ll marry you!” I shout it like I’m already falling and this is the last thing I’ll ever say.
“Fine then, I’ll marry you too.” He reaches into his left pocket with one finger and digs out a little diamond ring.
“You just carry one of those around all the time?” I asked him, trying to diffuse my anxiety.
“I might.” He peels my hand off his arm, picks a finger and slips the little band around it. “It’s a good thing you said yes.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
He takes a long draw from his beer before answering. “Because I am scared of that rickety old ladder you’ve got propped against the house. We’re just going to have to live up here forever.”