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Read a Story from

Useful

Joyce, Baby

Sunshine Contractors 

End Tables

Mayvelle

Exclusively Ours

Talk Low When It's Late

You Can Always

Quit Your Job

How'd You Do All That?

Inflection Point

The Timelessness

of the Appeal

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“Only a few left,” Bill said. “Only, like, 10 nails left.”
   He was behind me, 12 feet up the ladder above and behind me. It had a rattle that I could never get used to – the scrape of aluminum against itself, pulled along a plank, flaking off paint, scaring the birds. No, you never get used to that.
   I told his wife that Bill was never good on a ladder. She knew that.
   “I believed you, but I couldn’t do a fuckin’ thing about it,” she said.
   She and I, we just stared at the floor. Like stupid birds.
   There was not much blood. I mean, it wasn’t the nails, anyway. It was the fall. You’re like me, you’re like: From even 10 feet – that’s a real injury, that’s your day just about ruined. But the one doctor said it could be fatal from even lower than that. And that was the extent of what he said about it.
   Bill was behind me. You see? I’m facing this way, he’s behind me, up high, facing the other way. I heard him mention the nails, he’s only got that many to go, and I’m thinking:
We’ll be finishing up a little early today. I’ll have time to go home, get the couch and chairs cleaned up and back out on the covered porch – get spring started. You know, early.

   But he calls out, like, “Crud!” And I turned and he was already down. One foot was caught up in the low rung, caught and bent the wrong way by the look of it. Secured, I’d say. The only part that was.
   The rest of Bill was spread out like trim boards, dumped in a mess off a truck bed. One shoe off, his painters hat in a bush, his hammer – hell if I know. He said something about the customer, but his mouth was turned into the wet grass. Well, the grass was wet where he came down. The ladder was still leaned into the roof. It was propped up on the pavement. Which was dry.
   Anyway, the customer – “Tell the customer.”
   I’ll do that later, but first I’ll – this is what I said right then – I’ll check on you first and probably take you to the doctor’s. That’s what I did. And I said that to his wife there in the hospital.
   “You didn’t do a thing wrong,” she said. “I told him to quit that climbing, getting too old for climbing, but –”
   It was hard for me to see her cry while we were waiting in the waiting room. She was getting her hair done, and they had an event planned for their anniversary that night. She ran over, got in her car and ran over, with her curlers still in. So, he told me once how long it was they’d been together, but that’s not coming to me right now. You’d think, right? You’d think: Johnny Paul and Bill would know that kind of thing about each other. They’ve been partners forever, since high school and everything.
   I do know it, I believe so. Bill and Sandi have two kids. They got married at Parris Island and they went over to Myrtle Beach for the honeymoon.
   Where are the kids?
   Then in comes Missy to where we’re waiting, and right directly after that comes Michael.
   “Kids. Hey.”
   They were hugging me like I was the one that fell off. They were on me, so I took that as a sign that they were OK with what happened. I already talked to an officer about it, I already talked to a doctor and a nurse and the rest about it. Their Mom can tell it.
   “Did you see him fall?” Michael said to me. He scratched his head with his ball cap and looked down the hall. “Did you, I mean. What did you do?”
   Missy glanced at me.
   “I’m glad y’all are here now,” I said. “It’s just been me and your Mom ever since we got in here, like an hour ago. It’s been shit. It’s –”
   My flip phone rang.
   “Sunshine Contractors, this is John. What can we do to service your needs?”
   Sandi came out of the bathroom with her curlers in a plastic bag. She had his shoes in there, too. She looked at me. You just never get used to it.

*   *   *

Next morning, I heard a guy say, “Hand me that.”
   One window washer was talking to another one. I could only see the one outside the hospital room, through the big window there. He looked in at me – he might have been checking on me. I’d gone to sleep in a chair in Bill’s room. I had some kind of sheet or something over my middle. My neck was all flamed up. The sheet had a gray stain on it.
   Those guys stood out there, on their scaffolding hanging in the air. They had their rags, their cleaners, their straps, ropes and the rest of their gear. They had a couple of pop bottles balanced on the rail across the top.
   The one guy, the younger one, tapped on the glass with his big squeegee.
   “Hey, man, you awake? It’s nice out here.” He smiled and pointed up at the sun. It was, like, 9 o’clock in the a.m. My neck was just hollering from sleeping like that.
   A nurse came in and slammed a drawer. She left. Another lady walked by and looked in. She had a mop.
   Nobody was around. Bill’s wife and the kids had went home quite a while ago. They told me to do that, too.
   Missy said, “It’s all right.” Then she got up and threw some old tissues in the trash and left.
It was a while since yesterday. I thought I might run back and look for his hammer. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it.
   “Hey. Bill. I’m going to go get your hammer,” I said. “You dropped it someplace.”
   He was watching the dudes out the window. But he talked to me.
   “That’s good. You go and do that.”
   I did, but. You know.