Are You Loveable (part two)
Mulhall heard Alfred Oliver, speaking from a height.
“Squirelliest damn thing.”
The complaint of the door diminished…then, echoing the rolling thunder, came a thud, and weak light flooded the recess beyond the railing. Paulette’s head appeared. She looked down at Mulhall over the edge of a passage, one that opened above a precipice.
“What’s your name, you?”
“See the ladder?”
He saw no harm admitting this was so. “I do,” he told her. She might not have heard. Time elapsed.
Mulhall looked up. Paulette looked down. “There you go.”
A hand came out, and a fingernail tinked against iron.
“Mulhall!” Oliver called down, in a rasp perhaps meant to be subdued. “It’s getting a little drafty up here. I’m not criticizing, but my grandma can climb a ladder faster than that!”
Mulhall leaned testingly across the rail. It swooned, cackling something in metallic notes, causing one shoe to lose contact with the planking, and by default, Mulhall to catch fast at the nearest rung. The ladder, at least, seemed securely bolted. The sky turned white.
“It can’t be any more than ten feet,” Paulette called out. “You saw me climb up. I wasn’t scared.”
But the ladder by now had slickened with rainwater, and only the rust gave purchase. He tightened his hold and stepped from safety. Both feet on the lowest rung, Mulhall stalled. A life-imperiling choice deserved a degree of careful thought. Paulette’s help had got him perched on a metal ladder, in the midst of an electrical storm; while in the meantime, she and her confederate goaded him from above with insults to his manhood. He advanced one rung higher, hazarding an awkward wrenching of the neck to peer towards the light.
Oliver stuck his head out, possibly to gauge Mulhall’s progress.
Mulhall had ceased to progress. A massive thunderclap and the deluge that followed had riveted him in place, far short of sanctuary, unable to guess his distance from the ground. He felt he might soon learn the answer.
“Almighty Saint Pete!” Oliver whispered. “How can I take hold of your hand and haul you in, if you don’t shift yourself up where I can get at you?”
Mulhall heard Paulette’s voice, muffled, then growing distinct as she too leaned over the edge, “…out of my way, and I’ll go down there.”
Are You Loveable
(2015, 2018, Stephanie Foster)