Nine Lives of a Cat

Last year I decided to take the broken extension ladder and go on the roof to clear off discarded tree limbs from the massive elm hanging overhead. This was no major feat. Several years earlier, I shattered my right ankle which led to a 5" plate and 6 bolts. Trusting in my surgeon's reputation and integrity, I had no idea he placed illegal snap action bolts instead of screw-ins, resulting in a cancerous tumor on my ankle. A tumor that resembled a 3" dick fully erect, competing with my then-lover's.

After a second operation with another credentialed and highly respected surgeon to remove the tumor, plate and rusted 6 bolts which bored through my ankle bone, accounting for crippling and excruciating pain I underwent almost three years, I've now a finite range of movement. Grace to years of dancing and pilates lessons, I don't limp. But, when I least suspect it, the ankle gives out. Wearing stiletto heels is one way I get to live life dangerously.

As if this weren't enough, decades ago I discovered to my chagrin vertigo. It happened the first time when I went on the roof to rake accumulated leaves. Mom's subtle requests boiled down to a firm threat, "If you won't do it, I will!"

While I toiled up on the roof in the merciless summer morning sunlight, my mother bellowed orders from below, "You missed a spot!"

After I swept the last remaining leaf to her white glove satisfaction, I turned around to descend. Instead, I froze up and couldn't move.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" shouted my mother.

"I don't know, Mom. I'm scared."

"Scared?" she spat. "I'm holding the ladder. Come down now."

I couldn't. Fraught with terror of falling, I turned around to sit on top of hot asphalt shingles. "Mom, I can't move!" I shrieked.

Miffed from several minutes of this back and forth, she said, "I've had enough of your nonsense. Just shout if you want to come down and I'll hold the ladder."

I sat on that roof for what seemed like hours. From time to time, I yelled out, "MEOW! Cat stuck on a roof!"

Each time, Mom walked around from the summer deck and shouted from below, "When you're finished futzing around up there, you can come down. I'll hold the ladder for you."

"Why don't you call the fire department?" I suggested.

She gave me one of her customary grimaces of disgust. "Will you stop it? GET OFF THE ROOF! Besides, you missed lunch."

Since then, I avoided going on the roof. During the past fall, there were too many tree branches up there. I had no alternative as I live alone. But not stupid enough to do this without witnesses to dial 9-1-1 in the event I fell. Luckily, my next door neighbor, a part-time resident, retained three Guatemalan men to build his stone path. Every morning at 7am they woke me up with chipping, buzzing and sawing.

Before I addressed the roof, I first had to do my weekly chore, mowing the lawn. Up in the country, it's a necessity. Because there are snakes, lethal ones which I can't see when the grass gets too high. The last thing I want to do is step on one. Trust me, it doesn't feel good, let alone the risk. That's one I'm not willing to take.

From their hunched-over positions, the laborers watched me yank the behemoth gas-engined lawn mower from the storage shed and mow the lawn, still wet from the prior evening's rain shower. Every time I ran over a root, the rotor blade let out a squeal loud enough to stop them from cutting, chiseling and sawing rocks. I noticed their heads swivel in surprise. Then, the lawn mower sank in the mud. I pulled it so hard, I fell down hard on my butt, screaming in surprise.

In a matter of seconds, one of the fellows jumped over the 4' high chicken wire fence that separated the neighbor's property from mine. He ran over to me.

"You okay?" he inquired, worry creasing his forehead.

"Yes, I'm fine," I said.

"You do this another day?" he suggested while pointing at the lawn mower. It had a dead man's switch which automatically turned it off the moment someone released the handle. No doubt, customized for idiots like me.

"Good idea," I said as I shoved it back into the storage shed.

"My name is William," he yelled at my back, a translation of his name in Spanish.

The following morning, under that guy's watchful eyes, I pulled the lawn mower out again. I could've sworn I heard William groan. Only once did I emit a shriek when a rabbit poked itself out of a hole seconds before I shoved the lawn mower. William, in a twinkling of an eye, was right next to me.

"You okay?" he inquired.

"Yeah. I almost massacred a rabbit," I said to his uncomprehending face. "Bunny rabbit. Lapin." I couldn't remember the word in Spanish.

He walked back to his two friends and shrugged.

Later that afternoon, I pulled out the extension ladder with apprehension. One of the anchored feet was broken, giving it an unevenness that was slightly mitigated by sinking in the ground. The hooks for the extension portion were bent out of proportion. I peeked over at the neighbor's house to see all three men put down their tools.

"Everything's okay!" I shouted at them. At this point, I realized they weren't concerned for my safety. It had more to do with them worrying about being traumatized by witnessing whatever accident I was about to have.

It took me several minutes to prop the ladder against the cottage so it wouldn't topple from being too unsteady. The extension part kept slipping because the hooks didn't work and it repeatedly fell back to the ground. I entered the storage shed and found twine which I used to wrap around one of the steps instead of the hooks. Turning around, I noticed all three with cellphones in their hands.

"I'm OKAY," I shouted again with insistence. Summoning my courage, I mounted the ladder and stepped foot onto the highly pitched roof. I tried not to look down while tossing the tree branches which accumulated over the past year. Finished, I held my breath and clambered onto the ladder. Half-way down, the twine broke and the extension part rolled down fast. I fell off and onto the ground. Luckily, the tossed mound of tree branches broke my fall. William magically appeared by my side.

"You okay?"

"Yes, no flesh wounds," I said while patting myself down to check for broken bones. From past history, I knew of my high threshold of pain: when I shattered my right ankle, I continued to walk on it. Pulling twigs and leaves from my hair and from my clothing, I ignored William staring reproachfully at me. And quite thankful for the language barrier.

"This ladder no good," he said.

"Yes, I know, but it's all I have for this height." I pushed it off the cottage and laid it on the ground. As I limped away, my right arm at a strange angle, I shot off, "Don't worry, I'm okay."

William didn't move. "You going to do this again?"

"More than likely tomorrow. But I'm not going on the roof. I have to caulk my windows."

He nodded, walked away and hopped the fence to join his friends. I watched him shrug and their non-stop gesticulations.

The next morning, limping, I set the ladder up against the cottage without using the extension portion. With the sore arm, I clung on for dear life, and the other I used for the caulk gun, flailing each time the ladder shifted.

Behind me, the fellows worked on the stone path. There were times I could've sworn I heard voices screaming, but, intent on finishing the project, I didn't pay attention.

After I finished, I picked up the ladder and stored it under the summer cottage. Then, I walked over to the fence to greet the three guys who strangely looked at me. "I'm done. You don't have to worry."

William made the sign of the cross. The following days, while they finished up with their project, I sat on the deck and wrote. I was in agony. It turns out I tore a cartilage in my chest from that flaying about. Right before they left my neighbor's, William came over and shook my hand.

"I glad you don't kill yourself."

I smiled in return.

A year later, I decided to clean up the new mess of leaves and tree branches on the roof. I went to the summer cottage and looked underneath. My extension ladder wasn't there. I looked everywhere, yet couldn't find it.

"Who in their right mind would steal a broken ladder?" I wondered. Then, it dawned on me.

William, wherever you are, thank you for that kind gesture. But don't worry, I found ANOTHER broken ladder!

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