Edwin straddled the ladder, clutching the hose with his free hand. Cleaning out the gutters had never been his favorite job, but he’d promised Margaret he would get it done before the next storm. It always seemed to rain a lot in May, he mused; thinking about other things was the only way to take his mind off what he considered his imminent doom, losing his balance and crashing to the ground.
Maybe it was part of Margaret’s plan to get him out of the picture. Ever since he retired, she seemed to be finding more ways of putting him in peril. The house was a single story, but the fall might be bad enough to break something. Anything higher than one story, he would have refused. He’d heard about a man falling to his death while painting second story windows.
“You don’t have to be that high up,” he groused, pushing wet leaves with the hose.
“Maybe we should move,” he suggested when Margaret spotted the rain spilling over the gutters and hinted they might be full of leaves and debris.
“Don’t be ridiculous, you simply need to clean out the gutters.”
“Don’t we have someone to do that?” he moaned. The expression on Margaret’s face at the remark made him wish he’d been a little more enthusiastic.
“We do, but I don’t think we should wait. Look at the sky, it’s going to start coming down again and the next thing you know, the basement will flood.”
Flood was an exaggeration. Margaret knew exactly what would happen. Water would pour in under the basement door and the east wall. Then a couple days later, it would be fine.
Water intrusions had been a constant problem with the place — the basement taking in substantial amounts of it their first spring in the brick ranch. That year, torrents of rain followed quickly on the heels of melting snow, saturating the ground.
“What are we supposed to do?” Margaret asked, surveying the mess and Edwin shrugged. Margaret was under the misconception his gender automatically endowed him with practical skills.
“Let it dry out and hope it doesn’t happen again,” was his response.
Hoping it didn’t happen again became a catch phrase in their lives and Edwin developed the remarkable talent of tuning Margaret out when she was in the mood for an actual solution.
“All right,” he said, slipping into his jacket, preparing for the task after he determined it was pointless to try to talk her out of it.
“Do you want me to hold the ladder?” Margaret offered as he fumbled with his zipper.
“No, I’ll be fine.” Then she disappeared into the kitchen to set about one of the many household duties that managed to consume a big part of her day. Margaret never seemed to run out of things to do, a puzzlement to Edwin.
Outside, there was a chill in the air and he was glad he’d worn the jacket. He dragged the ladder from the garage and started at the rear of the house. It was the easiest, the ladder on the level concrete patio. “This won’t take long.” He began to whistle and Margaret waved at him as she stood by the kitchen sink.
He moved to the side once he’d finished out back thinking about going over to the Neighborhood Spot for a beer. He frequented the place afternoons when Margaret didn’t have any chores for him or was spending the day with her sister or friends. Margaret didn’t seem to mind. He’d sit on a bar stool and chat with Jack, the bartender, who said Edwin was lucky to be retired.
“I’d love to be in your shoes,” Jack said and Edwin would nod. Edwin mostly was at the bar to socialize and could make one beer last all afternoon.
He’d usually leave a larger tip since he hadn’t spent much drinking. Lately, Edwin had begun to strike up conversations with a couple other old timers who appeared to be in the same boat.
“I never thought I’d be like that,” Edwin said, squirting more water at a tenacious clump of twigs and leaves stuck in the corner. Almost finished, he decided whatever they paid the gutter guy, it wasn’t enough. The ladder shuddered with every move.
He should get off the ladder and move it closer so he could grab the mess, but he didn’t want to climb down it one more time only to climb back up. Besides, he wanted to get to the Neighborhood Spot before the evening rush and before Margaret found another job for him.
He tossed the hose to the ground, counting himself lucky the nozzle didn’t crash against a window as it bounced away from him and then stretched his right arm as far as he could, grasping the gutter with his left hand. Suddenly, the ladder shifted from under him and he found himself slipping downward.
“Crap,” he said as he fell, flailing his arms, trying to grip something to break his fall. He landed with a thud next to a shrub in need of trimming and sat for a moment, surveying the damage. The side of the gutter was bent, the leaves and twigs clinging to the edge. “More than I can say for me.” He stood slowly, slightly shaky, and checked himself for any obvious injuries. He’d be bruised in the morning.
Peeking through the window, Edwin spotted Margaret stretched out on the sofa, her eyes closed, oblivious to his brush with death. He pushed the ladder towards the foundation; he could put it away later, time now to slip away while he was in one piece. Today, he might indulge in more than one beer; he certainly deserved it.
by Janet Yung
Reading by Dave Bonta – Download the MP3