“Sit down, “ she said.
“I am sitting,” he said.
The energy in his voice made her nervous.
“It’s only a two-story building,” he said, but his intonation gave him away. Some people exaggerate a small point, make it more, lean into drama, hyperbole, but Paul diminished the details, made light of everything, turned an oak into a troubling acorn, a boulder into a pebble. So if he said two stories, it was at least three with a walk-out basement.
“I’m going to hang up now so you don’t fall.”
“Talking to me won’t make me fall,” he said, “and hanging up . . . “
She didn’t hear the end because she had hung up, but she imagined the completed sentence: hanging up won’t save me.
No, but it might save her. She couldn’t be on the phone to her child as he slid down a crumbling roof to his death. If it happened, it happened. She’d hear about it later.
But she couldn’t shake the image of him on the peak of that roof four or five stories up. The building grew every time she thought about it. She could visualize him clearly: his skinny backside right on the peak, a leg on either side, knees bent, an elbow on a knee, holding the phone, the free hand running through his hair the way he did when he was excited or happy. By now his hair was standing straight up, that thick hair oiled by his hand, burnt in the sun. He didn’t wear hats or sun block, and he burned so easily.
She’d never once let him out of the house without a slathering of Johnson’s Baby Protect. And now he was sitting on some rooftop opening his cells to skin cancer in another twenty years, if the fall from the roof six stories up didn’t kill him first.
Well there’s a thought she didn’t need. She couldn’t call him back. His phone was on vibrate. The call would startle him, get him off balance.
But he’d always been an agile boy, a climber, at the top of every jungle gym, at the crown of every tree. A gentle vibration wouldn’t unseat her boy. He was steadier than that. Actually he was quite steady for a reckless, thrill-seeking thirty-year-old. He just needed reminders. Which was still her job. With her voice in his ear, he would take care, would look where he placed his hands and feet before he put any weight on them.
He’d always needed that word, just a word, from her, and then he was safe.
She called him.
“Good job, Mom.”
“Yes,” she said. “I know.” That was their agreement—that she wait at least 30 minutes before calling him back.
“Let’s try for an hour next time.”
© 2011 Kathleen Coskran