The Gable

A Transient Visitors Month 2 of 12 Teaser Tale by David O’Boyle

Illustrated by Illustration by Nadiyah Minor.

“Warning. Fall Hazard.”

The stick figure falling to his death really helped reinforce the meaning of the disclosure. Without such a detailed visual aid, who could ever assume the risk of climbing an extension ladder?

I coughed. The extension ladder wobbled. Two stories below, mom shivered in a puddle of mud.

“Doing okay?” Mom asked, squinting to shield her eyes from the earthy mist jetting out of my powerwasher wand. Compromised vision hurt her ability to micromanage my progress.

“I’m fine. Only a bit more to go,” I said.  

One’s natural response to this question from a mere ladder-holder may have produced a more disparaging remark. For an inquiring ladder-holder is about as tolerable as a hungry horsefly. My mother, however, did not deserve such a degrading classification. She was neither a mere ladder-holder nor a horsefly. Quite the contrary, the only reason she wasn’t up here powerwashing was because I insisted otherwise, and then pried the wand from her hand.

If you are lounging in the backyard with a plate of leftovers, you might be able to ignore your mother powerwashing the first story of her house. But when she drags the extension ladder from the garage past you, laboring like a draft animal, one is honor-bound to intervene, especially when their mother is a vertigo-prone sexagenarian.

Thoughts of the food I planned to eat during an afternoon of rest and relaxation made me stare longingly into the backyard. My Longines gold and steel white watch shined on the top of the coffee table adjacent to the deck chair, its winged hourglass logo, the oldest unchanged trademark in the world, sparkling brightest amongst a heap of shimmering silverware.

The perspective shift from the backyard, to mom below me, and back up to the vinyl siding and the task at hand, compromised my balance, made me swerve a bit. What if the able-bodied non-sextagenarian son was the one to get dizzy and fall? Talk about irony.

Such thoughts made me regain my balance more than the actual sticker disclosure.

“Slime on, slime off,” I said, pulling the trigger on the powerwasher wand.

Jets of water blasted strip after strip of vinyl, returning its color back to timber wolf gray from turtle green, making it howl! My mother wasn’t howling, but her lack of objection, normally as constant as a tick of my Longines, implied approval. Therefore, up I went, up and up, step after step, higher and higher, advancing on the apex of the gable, fanning the wand back and forth, removing all green residue from view.

‘It’s too high. You can’t see the green up there above the treeline anyways. Leave it. Please leave it,” mom said.

This brings us to where we started- the falling stick figure sticker. Now a step below the notorious warning sign, I took a deep breath, elevated onto my tippy toes, and reached as far as I could.

“You need your inhaler,” my mother said, hearing a honk in my lungs reminiscent of the noise the mallards made in her pool every morning during duckling swim school.

“Damn algae. Gets me too. North-facing walls are the worst. Restricted sun,” she added.  

“What’s a lung if I can save you paying a contractor who gave you a bad estimate,” I said. “What was it anyways? What were they charging?”

Mom, a DIY-er unless the task could burn down or flood the house, gave her customary reply: “Can’t remember. I enjoy this stuff.”

True enough. There was no denying that she delighted in anything that kept her pockets thick. However, the downside to such a delight was that in doing so, she never accounted for the expense of her initial failed attempts, nor the corrective action required by the exact same contractors she loathed hiring in the first place.

I tried again.

Extending like a branch intent on breaching the forest canopy, I reached the powerwasher wand high above my head. Despite my efforts, the wand’s reach fell short a second time. Everything taken care of but that last little piece of gable vinyl. Still so annoyingly green, the tiny scourge stuck out like a piece of broccoli lodged in the center of a Margot Robbie smile.

Admitting defeat to the nearly finished wall was frustrating, but it beat ending up as driveway splatter, the eventual result of continuing with the present set of plans. Amongst the wetness, the slippery ladder rungs, and the ominous black electric cord dangling and smacking into damp sidewalls like broken telephone wires in a storm, I made my decision. My life wasn’t worth much. But it was worth more than the last small piece of vinyl on the apex of a gable.

I climbed down the ladder. When I reached the bottom, I saw mom looking upward, scrutinizing ‘our’ work. Even though we were freezing, even though I felt my mother’s suppressed frustration at what she surely deemed a mission unaccomplished, I basked in a job done, even if some wouldn’t deem it well done.  

“You want me to go back up and get it ma?” I asked, knowing all too well that if I noticed the last bit of green on the trim of the gable, she was drawn to it like flies to fresh scat.

She forced a laughed. “Not a chance. It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

I breathed in. My lungs buzzed a bit too much for comfort. “I left my inhaler at my place. Should go get it. I’ll see you later mom,” I said.

“When is later?” she asked, her eyes still fixed on the gable.

“Next time you’re cooking? So a year, maybe?” I joked. This time her smile was unforced.

I woke up the next morning to a weather report that said rain. This put water damage, a death sentence for a Longines gold and white steel timepiece, on my mind. After confirming that my mother was neither at the house nor aware that my watch was even in the backyard, I drove over to rescue it before an afternoon downpour.                                       

The watch was in the backyard, good as new, right where I left it. Relieved, I slipped it on, the band running smooth over my sweaty forearms, my perspiration acting like wd-40 on a door hinge. With that in place, I cracked my neck and stretched, prepping my body to self-inspect yesterday’s labors.

From afar it looked good, far better than expected. Yet rather than find satisfaction, I found suspicion. Broccoli tooth…where were you?

Son-of-a-bitch. The green area was gone.

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