Mitchell Waldman has fiction, poetry, and essays appearing in numerous publications, including The MacGuffin, Fictive Dream, Corvus Review, The Waterhouse Review, Crack the Spine, The Houston Literary Review, The Faircloth Review, Epiphany, Wilderness House Literary Magazine, The Battered Suitcase, and many other magazines and anthologies. He is also the author of a novel, A Face in the Moon, and the story collection Petty Offenses and Crimes of the Heart (originally published by Wind Publications). He serves as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review.
From our shared driveway, Rich watches me up on the aluminum extension ladder he lent me, painting the second floor, telling me that I’ve got the ladder angled too steeply. He’s helpful that way. A good neighbor. I’m up there with my brush, and my bent coat hanger hook and paint can, not wanting to look down at him, contented to stare at the half blue and half green piece of siding right in front of me.
I stop, put the brush in the can, and with hanger and can in one hand, move carefully, like a tightrope walker, down the ladder, and he tells me, “No more than a 30 degree angle, that’s the rule. Unless, of course...” he says, taking a drag on his cigarette, and pulling it out fast, smoke spilling out with his words, “...unless you want to take a quick slide to the bottom. Might give some people a thrill, I guess.” He looks at me for an instant with a deadpan look, then chuckles at his little joke. I smile along with him even though it terrifies me, being up on that ladder.
He helps me set up the ladder the right way. He knows these things – he used to be a volunteer fireman. Then he goes back into his house, probably to start on one of the new twelve packs I’d seen, from my skyward vantage point, he and his wife, Denise, haul in from the back of their pickup a couple hours before.
I get back up on the ladder and continue brushing, the mid-summer heat beating down on me already, the salty sweat from my brow dripping, and stinging my eyes. I brush a bit, extend my arms as far as seems safely possible, then get down, reposition the ladder and start on the next segment, all the while focusing on the work and the small patch of house right in front of me, trying to keep my mind off the two stories separating me from the hard black driveway below. I also try to avoid thinking about Rich’s story, told to me before I started, how he fell off this very same ladder about five years earlier, doing just what I was doing, and broke both his legs. “Lucky I didn’t break my back,” he’d said, cigarette dangling, twelve pack under his arm, as he’d left me there to contemplate that little incident as I headed up the ladder at 8 a.m. to start my day’s work.
Staring at the patch of siding in front of me, my hands shaking a little now, as I dip the brush, scrape the excess off on the edge of the paint can and start dabbing at the outside of my house on my little mortgaged piece of land in this city, this country, this planet, getting it done, inch by inch, because this is who we are, this is what we do.