by Todd McKie
I looked out the kitchen window at Rita as she performed her spring ritual. Backlit by the setting sun, she perched on a step ladder, trimming the wisteria that covers the latticework above our porch. She stood, as always, on the very top of the ladder, on the narrow strip of aluminum above the warning that said Danger! Don’t Stand Above Here! I’d told her a million times not to stand on the top of the ladder, but she never listened. Rita claimed she had to stand there or she couldn’t reach what she wanted to trim. She’s stubborn. And short.
…..Suddenly I had a terrible thought. What if she slips and crashes onto the deck? What if she breaks something? What if she breaks everything? And what if, in the process, she pokes out an eye with those pruning shears?
…..I pictured myself, as Rita began to fall, running onto the porch and, just before she hit the ground, diving forward and catching her in my arms. There’d be amazed silence for a moment and then we’d say things like, Oh, my God! and, What just happened? and, I don’t believe it! We’d start laughing and she’d call me her hero and I’d call her my damsel in distress.
…..Cradled in my arms, Rita would get that look she used to get. I’d start to get one of those boners I used to get. We’d run upstairs and fuck our brains out. Rita would plead, Save me! Save me! and I’d holler out, Here comes the rescue squad!
…..Afterwards, we’d lie on the bed, cooling down and giggling about Rita’s near-tragic accident and my heroic rescue. All of winter’s sorrows – all those petty arguments and resentments, the mean looks, the pissed-off sighs – would be swept away. I’d promise to buy her a new, taller ladder at Home Depot and she’d promise never to stand on the top step again. We’d start over. We’d be the happy couple we once had been.
…..I watched Rita for a while and then I sat down and opened the newspaper. I read about earthquakes, plane crashes, wars, nuclear mishaps, riots, and floods. I read about babies dying, old people eating dog food, dogs eating old people and babies.
…..I heard a faint clatter as twigs fell, then a metallic scraping as Rita moved the ladder. I listened to the soft thud of her feet going up and down the steps. I heard her sweeping pieces of the vine into a pile. I glanced outside and saw Rita stuffing the trimmings into a giant paper bag labeled Yard Waste. She carried the bag around the corner of the house, returned to the porch and folded the ladder in on itself. I could hear it clanging as she stowed it in our shed.
…..Rita came into the kitchen. She opened the freezer and poked around inside.
…..“What do you want?” she said. “Pizza or Mandarin Chicken and Rice?
…..“I don’t care,” I said. “You choose.”
…..“Well, let’s have the chicken.” She opened the package and put the pouch into the microwave. She poured herself a glass of red wine.
…..I finished reading the paper. The world was a mess, but that chicken smelled good. Rita put the rice and chicken on two plates. She pulled apart a head of romaine lettuce and poured gloppy dressing on it. We grabbed silverware and paper napkins and carried our food into the living room. We sat on the couch and watched America’s Dumbest Home Videos while we ate.
…..Hapless fools did backflips, aiming for water, landing on concrete. A mom skidded while bringing in the birthday cake. All that frosting in her hair! Junior put the family car in drive instead of reverse and – what a riot! – demolished the carport. Dad stood on a wet metal stool while he stretched to change a light bulb. Oh, oh, a bad fall and an electrical shock! It doesn’t get much better than that. Unless it’s the prom queen whose dress caught fire from a space heater. We sat, transfixed, while others were hurt and humiliated and the audience roared. The chicken tasted pretty good for something from a package.
Todd McKie is an artist and writer. His stories have appeared in PANK, Dark Sky, Staccato Fiction, Bull, Twelve Stories, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. Todd lives in Boston.