Jeff Ewing ~ The Ramp

Kepler made a deci­sion. He looked up from the side­walk and stepped direct­ly on a crack. He was twen­ty-three years old and it was time to grow up. It felt good, a load off, until he got a call from the emer­gency room say­ing his moth­er had stepped on a slug on the back porch, fall­en and bro­ken her back. A banana slug, fat and yel­low and flat­tened to the con­sis­ten­cy of dis­card­ed gum. He won­dered if it was poisonous—wasn’t that what bright col­ors sig­ni­fied in the wild? Danger, tox­i­c­i­ty, fangs and stingers? Inside the house his moth­er was laid out on the couch, her glow­ing, flow­ered muumuu sig­ni­fy­ing some­thing else, though he didn’t know what.

#

He wasn’t about to spend twen­ty-five hun­dred dol­lars (which he didn’t have any­way) on an entrance ramp; a sim­ple enough project, by the sound of it. The ancient Egyptians had fig­ured it out, Son of Sam could very like­ly build one. Hell his dog could in all like­li­hood man­age it.

Kepler couldn’t. He tried—lord knows he did—but the angles were all off, the incline var­ied wild­ly, the sec­tions sagged under even his weight. It would nev­er hold his moth­er. She was swelling before his eyes; that was his fault too. Her chew­ing rose above the hammer’s thwack, over the blare of The Price is Right. Cracklings splat­ted against the screen as she shout­ed out wild­ly inac­cu­rate guess­es: Forty-six dol­lars for a jar of Nutella, a dol­lar thir­ty-nine for a floor jack.

He worked hard­er than he had, prob­a­bly ever. Calluses rose up like dunes on the pads of his palms. He saw him­self in win­dows and bar mir­rors and was star­tled each time at the assur­ance he didn’t rec­og­nize or feel. Women appeared sud­den­ly on stools beside him. After din­ner one night at the Golden Dragon, he found this in a cook­ie: Prosperity comes through oth­ers’ mis­for­tune. He mis­read it, of course, as mother’s.

#

The first time he tried to wheel her down the ramp, the sound of two-by-fours crack­ing made him yank her back over the thresh­old.

You said we were going to Costco.”

It’s not ready yet.”

Jesus. Your father could have built a boat by now.”

Wherever his father was, Kepler doubt­ed he was build­ing boats. He was a drunk with eight fin­gers left.

He began again.

#

And again. Each time he reached the top, nailed the final tread to the thresh­old, the oth­er end would have begun suc­cumb­ing to grav­i­ty and rot. Time, with­out his con­sent, per­formed its reverse mag­ic. He felt his hair thin­ning as he worked, his skin loos­en­ing. At night, women began to look past him at oth­er, younger men. The lawn died, the paint flaked in lead dan­druff from the house’s walls. When his moth­er passed, he rent­ed a cher­ry pick­er to lift her out a win­dow.

The cas­ket was beau­ti­ful, mitered and rout­ed expert­ly. Better tools, he told him­self, but the truth was he had learned noth­ing in all this time. He was a child still in many ways, though not in the ways that count­ed. On the dri­ve home he found a dead rab­bit beside the road, lopped off its foot and tucked it in his pock­et, where it twitched faint­ly against his arthrit­ic hip.

~

Jeff Ewing is a writer from Northern California. His poems, sto­ries, and essays have appeared in Sugar House Review, ZYZZYVA, Utne Reader, Crazyhorse, Beloit Poetry Journal, Catamaran Literary Reader, Arroyo, and Southwest Review. You can find him online at jeffewing.net.