Thursday, July 21, 2011

Twilight: Now That My Ladder's Gone

When he finally cut the tree swing down he was 86 years old. Before undertaking the task he spent an hour or so at his kitchen table trying to figure out how long it had hung there.

Close to 60 years, he figured. He hadn't replaced the rope or wooden seat in at least 25 years. It was dangerous, or so the city told him.

The swing hung from a huge maple tree that dominated the corner lot adjoining the house he had lived in since 1946. That full lot was worth a great deal of money, and he was taxed on it, but it had provided a buffer of sorts and had also served as a playground for several generations of neighborhood kids.

The neighborhood had gotten a good deal fancier in recent decades; a lot of the old pre- and postwar homes had been torn down to make way for bigger, more modern houses that he tended to regard as monstrosities. The new people in the neighborhood were often zealots about property values. They didn't like the airport noise. They didn't like the traffic, and had succeeded in getting speed bumps put in up and down the street. He had also gotten a fair amount of grief about the upkeep of his house and yard, and the lot in particular had been an ongoing bone of contention. He didn't spend much time out there and it had gotten a bit overgrown, which was just fine with him. The people from the city, though, had several times ordered him to clean it up, and were now threatening to do it themselves and send him the bill.

Two of his four children --all of whom had sailed into summer gloamings on that swing-- were now dead, as was his wife of 51 years.

Long after his children had grown up and moved out into the world --none of them had stuck around, and he had not raised them to do so-- other neighborhood kids had continued to use his lot for games of Kick the Can, Dodgeball, or catch. Inevitably, they would get around to swinging. All of this pleased him.

There was a long stretch where the neighborhood got old, just as he had. For almost a decade his block seemed to be home to no children at all. Recently, however, with the influx of young couples, the kids had come back, and his yard --and the swing in particular-- was a temptation. He'd recently seen a couple of young teenagers swinging out there in the darkness on one of the first truly lovely summer evenings. He'd sat on his back porch and listened. They were obviously good kids, trying out romance. He'd seen it dozens of times.

The swing didn't sound right, though; he heard sounds that were unfamiliar and worrisome: a steady whining from the ropes and a metronomic creak from the branch to which the swing was attached. It sounded like it was finally fixing to go, and that night he fretted that someone would get hurt.

The next day he went out in the afternoon --it was hot, and threatening rain-- and cut the swing down. He hoped the gesture wouldn't be interpreted as mean spirited, and wished he could explain to someone that it was one of the most painful and regrettable things he'd ever done. As he disassembled his extension ladder, a process that took a great deal of time and effort, it occurred to him that he would likely never have occasion to use the thing again. His whole life he'd been secretly pleased by his absolute lack of hesitation when ascending a ladder.


  1. Damn, Brad. That was lovely.

  2. Again you surpass yourself, sir. Thank you.

  3. I recognize my 90 yr old father in this. Except he still gets up on the ladder when he feels he needs to, I think just to prove to himself that he still can. And really, why the hell not?