April Bloom: "Final Ladder Climb"

Many thanks to Jacqui B. for sharing a good deed experience that inspired me to write this month’s flash fiction story titled Final Ladder Climb. Here’s an excerpt from what Jacqui submitted.

“My mom received a Facebook message from a woman around her age who wrote, ‘Your husband saved my life when I was 10-years-old.’ She told my mom she’d crawled up the side of a run-down brick building using bricks that stuck out, like she always did. But one day when at the top she panicked. My dad, seventeen then, drove by, heard her crying, and stopped. She said she was afraid, so he told her to stay put, and returned with his ladder to get her get down. He told no one about it. When my mom asked him about the message she received, he said he remembered it, but did not think it was any big deal.”

"Final Ladder Climb"

photo of ladder

Mr. Landers lay prone, tethered to lines flooding his failing body with palliative liquids. His hospice room window faced west, capturing the last light of last days. The Catholic staff at this Catholic place specialized in birthing souls, so Mr. Landers hoped for the upside of being cared for by people who believed in confessions and the forgiveness of sins. During brief moments when he woke from his morphine slumber, he struggled to recall anything positive he might have done in his wretched sixty-seven years. His wife had divorced him and his daughter had disowned him, both in search of relief from chronic disappointment. For years, they had watched him flounder as he indulged in flings and fed on drugs; he had fought every one of their interventions to save him. 

On Sunday afternoon, a familiar face appeared at his bed, and for the first time since arriving at the hospice, he came fully awake. The forever love-of-his life. His wife, grasping an envelope in one hand and wiping a tear with the other, said, “I decided you deserved to get this after I opened it. I never knew.” She removed a sheet of paper from the envelope and read aloud:

“Dear Mr. Landers, 

I finally found you with technology’s help. For years, I’ve wanted to thank you properly for saving my life that winter when I was eleven. You heard me crying from the roof of a rickety building you walked by that frigid winter night. After fleeing my troubled home and the world, I had climbed up the side, using its loosened bricks as step stones. You said, ‘sit tight, little girl,’ and then returned with a ladder. You climbed up, up, up five stories, hoisted me on your back, and descended, down, down, saying ‘don’t worry, little girl, this is Jacob’s ladder.’ When we reached ground, I raced back home without thanking you or even saying goodbye. You truly saved my life in so many ways. Warmest Regards, Jane S.”

Jacob and his ex-wife gazed at one another, mirroring each other’s tears. Then he turned toward the open window, looking out at the apple orchard bathed in sunset glows. He struggled to his feet, and then he was walking in the orchard, heading toward a ladder leaning against a blossoming tree. He heaved himself up, up, up, sensing a growing weightlessness as he rose skyward. Below him, the ladder fell, creating a cacophony of sounds Mr. Landers could no longer hear after ascending to eternal rest.