22 Mar Climbing For The Girl
The pool party crowd cheered as Little Robbie jumped off the mansion roof towards the pool.
Katy Hammond stood in the crowd below. She watched him drop. Her mouth stretched wide as she became overwhelmed with feelings of shock and awe. It was as if she couldn’t do anything, not even breathe as she witnessed him fall. Her limbs went stiff and her feet anchored themselves to the ground.
Robbie had misjudged the distance between the roof and the pool. He was flying face-first toward the concrete patio. During his descent, he saw glimpses of his life flash before him.
His life review all started with his first kiss.
He was a young boy, again, lying in the crispy, brown grass of his backyard. He was listening to the kids laugh in the neighbouring yard, wishing they had invited him to play on their trampoline with them. He ignored their throws of laughter as he gazed at the blue sky permeated with shifting, white clouds. His little body shivered. It glistened with sweat as he imagined soaring up to those clouds at a breakneck speed, stopping the moment he touched them, then as he looked down at the vast expanse of the empty sky under his feet, the earth below would pull him into a steep drop. He hyperventilated as he pictured it. He closed his eyes and took deep, slow breaths like his dad had taught him. And he calmed himself down.
He heard a thump of someone landing on the grass behind his head. He sprung up into the sitting position, twisting around, he saw a girl – about his age – who had jumped the fence. She stared down at him with her eyes the color of the clear blue sky.
He shivered, again, then quickly shook it off. He twisted himself around, facing her, and he crunched the patch of dry grass beneath him. He stared at her across the yard, he said, “My name’s Robbie. What’s yours?”
She rolled her eyes and scoffed. She said, “Jessica.” She shifted her gaze over to the Douglas Fir tree standing above them, gawking at it.
The neighborhood was cluttered with these fir trees but the boy’s backyard had the tallest standing tree.
He had only ever trepidatiously watched as his dad climbed it whenever its branches needed trimming.
Jessica stared at young Robbie for a few seconds, observing his jittery movements. She took a step towards him. He crawled backward an inch. And she giggled. She stopped at a standstill. She kept her eyes on him as she asked, “Have you ever climbed your tree?” She slowly walked towards him.
He said, “All the time.” Lying.
His mom always told him telling lies would give him canker sores. And she could find out if he was fibbing by looking inside his mouth.
He smiled wide enough to show his gums. But he shivered when she mentioned climbing the tree.
She tilted her head. Then she sprinted at him, quickly closing the gap between them. Standing over him, she said, “You look scared.”
“I’m not scared,” he said.
She crouched so they were at eye level. She said, “Climb the tree then.”
He avoided eye contact, saying, “I do that all the time. It’s boring now.” He asked, “What’s in it for me?”
A small smile stretched her lips, “I’ll do this thing I saw my dad do to my mom.”
He cleared his throat then he said, “What is it?”
“I’ll tell you if you can catch me,” she said. She leaped over him then she sprinted over to the Douglas Fir tree. She jumped onto it. And she scaled it like a monkey would. The branches shook as she made her way through them. They stopped rustling when she made it halfway up the Douglas fir.
Robbie spent most of his time cloud gazing, alone, after the neighbors stopped showing up at his door to ask if he wanted to jump on their trampoline together.
Jessica was the first kid who had talked to him in weeks.
He ran after her, stopping at the base of the Douglas Fir then he looked up. He peered through the maze of branches above him that separated Jessica and himself. She was sitting on a high-up branch, dangling her tiny legs off of it. She grinned at him from above. He could see a gap in her smile where she was missing her two front teeth.
From a neck-breaking height, she called down to him, “If you climb up here, I’ll do that thing I promised.”
As an eight-year-old boy without an aversion to cooties, this deal encouraged Robbie to reach for that first branch.
He caught a glimpse of the open sky surrounding the tree and he pulled away. He muttered, “It’s probably stupid anyways.”
Jessica grinned at him from above and said, “Is it?”
“Why can’t we just play down here?”
She shifted on the branch far up in the tree. She said, “I can’t hear you. You’ll have to come up here if you want to talk.”
He gawked at her perched on that branch. His lips parted in admiration of her bravery.
Jessica said, “Are you coming or what?” She bent over the side of the branch, shaking it.
A few droplets of amber sap landed on Robbie. A bitter taste exploded across his tongue. He spat, ridding himself of the flavor. He heard her giggle at his disgust, and his heartbeat fluttered. So, he spat again, dramatically this time. She kept giggling. So, he kept walking around blowing raspberries, pretending to rid himself of the bitter sap taste that had long left his tongue.
Her giggling stopped. She violently shook her spot in the tree, making more droplets fall.
He shut his eyes and the sap dripped down onto his forehead like rain. He kept his eyes shut as he wiped away the sticky droplets with his sleeve, carefully smearing it away from his eyes. He had been hurt by it before when he had watched his dad climb the same tree.
Jessica groaned as she called out to him, “Hurry up,” She said, “You’re getting boring.”
Young Robbie grabbed the branch hanging above him and he slowly pulled himself up, struggling to lift his body weight with his feeble muscles.
She shouted down to him, “Come on, wimp. Climb faster.” She puckered her lips, making kissy faces.
Climbing towards her, a branch cracked under him. He clung to the tree like a cat hanging onto its mother. Then he pulled himself up, as the branch snapped off from beneath his feet, leaving him dangling in the air.
Images rushed into his head, of him, falling, hitting the ground, and shattering all the bones in his legs. He shook it off.
Above him, Jessica swayed on her branch, and started singing, “Jessica and wimpy boy sitting in a tree…”
He scaled a few more branches, lifting himself a few more feet from the ground covered in fir needles and tree cones.
Jessica bounced as she sat on the tree’s limb high above the ground, kicking her feet, and bending the branch as she did. She sang, “They’re climbing up a tree,” then, she said, “But wait, they aren’t kissing, because he’s a W-I-M-P…”
Robbie’s foot slipped as he climbed up toward her, now within reaching distance of her tiny training shoe.
She flipped upside down, hanging above him like they were only playing in a small set of monkey bars. She smooched the air between them. She said, “Come on, wimpy boy, plant one on me already.”
Rising up to her level, Robbie steadied himself on the tree limb she was hanging off of. It swayed and she giggled. She lowered herself until her tangled hair gently tickled his face. It smelled of earthy dirt tones and blooming flowers. It softly whipped him across the cheeks, covering his line of sight, like he was venturing through a meadow of tall grass.
Their faces inched close together as they shared the space within her bushy, long hair. Her gap-toothed smile bounced within his kissing distance. He felt her hot, sweet breath on his face. It graced him with a calming warm sensation that spread throughout his entire body. His feelings of fear and loneliness melted away. Then she laughed, saying, “Don’t look down.”
The vast space of air between him and the ground brushed through his clothes in a slight breeze. The hard earth below, scattered in sharp, tree cones, looked like it was quickly shrinking away from him. He could feel his little body break out in chill sweat.
He glanced back at Jessica’s smile and a drip of sap landed in his eye. It stung. He swatted at the goo burning his eyeball.
Then he fell.
He slammed into a branch while another one scraped his leg. He was quickly pulled through the air. He hit another branch and gravity forced him to twist around it. Then he smacked into the ground. It knocked all the breath out of him much like being punched in the gut.
Flat on his back, he gasped for another breath to fill his collapsing lungs as he watched Jessica gracefully descend from the tree. She landed next to him with both feet on either side of his head. She dipped over him, her face closing in on his again. Then she planted her tiny wet lips on his.
His muscles relaxed for a second which seemed to stretch into what felt like an eternity. He forgot all the negative feelings that shook his body to the core And his cramping muscles sank into the ground.
But only for a moment before the dull soreness of hitting the hard-packed earth returned to him. It throbbed inside his guts and made him squirm in the dirt, sucking at air.
Jessica stood over him like an immortal giant glaring at a tiny human. And she said, “I told you it’d be worth the climb.”
After that, she walked away and he was left alone again.
This was the first memory that flashed through Robbie’s imagination as he fell off the mansion’s roof. Floating past the first window on his way down towards the pool, he anticipated either hitting the hard concrete or the glowing pool water. And he clenched his butthole, hoping it would be the latter.
Josh Ackermann escapes his desk job by writing in his free time. One of his short stories, One Helluva Headache, was published in the English Bay Review. He’s currently revising two of his first novels. And he’s is the creator of the Falling For Stories podcast; among many other titles.