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#20

Rooftop



    Sitting on the roof of his two-story house, Miles looked down on his yard and the street and heaved a sigh of melancholy contentment. There were snow flurries in the air and the wind crept inside Miles’ coat through the gaps between the buttons. His wife thought he was reading magazines in the bedroom, but he’d gone out through the window, climbed up to the highest point of the roof, and he’d been sitting and watching his neighborhood’s pleasant lack of activity for almost an hour. Just as he was wondering what time it was, the Multioak Elementary school bus pulled up in front of the house and all four of his boys came piling out, waving their empty backpacks around and shouting, “Look at Dad! Dad’s up on the roof! Ha ha! Hi, Dad! Can we come up there too?”

     Tony, Miles’ fifth grader, picked up an ice-encrusted Frisbee from the lawn and hurled it in Miles’ general direction, but the wind caught it and Miles probably would have fallen and killed himself if he’d made a legitimate attempt to catch it.

     “Nice catch, Dad! Ha ha! Can we come up there too? How’d you get up there?”

     Miles watched the frantic activity in the yard below as his sons ran in circles and tried to trip each other in their excitement, shedding backpacks, hats, and gloves everywhere.

     “He probably went out through the bedroom window! Let’s go, let’s get on the roof!” The boys stampeded toward the front door and disappeared from Miles’ field of vision, but he could still hear the thumping of their exuberant feet inside the house. He expected them to come streaming out through his bedroom window and onto the roof at any moment, but after a short while, the thumping had subsided entirely and Miles assumed the boys had encountered their mother. He hoped that she would forbid them from getting on the roof because he knew that if she didn’t, their combined energy would easily overpower him and then one or all of them would slip on the skiff of snow coating the shingles and fall down to the frozen yard.

     He imagined their four bodies piled up like firewood in the barren flowerbed out back while he dug a big grave next to the dilapidated, empty doghouse. And, of course, the ground was hard, so digging a grave that big would be a nightmare of sorrowful, back-breaking labor. He’d be digging and tears would be dripping down his nose into the hole and then he’d hear one of the boys give a long, shuddering final breath, and Miles would realize that one of the boys had survived the fall and if Miles had just checked the bodies more carefully, he would have discovered this fact and could have taken the surviving boy inside out of the cold and given him some of the hot casserole that his mother had made for dinner tonight, and then maybe that boy would have survived and Miles would still have the one son left, at least.

     The boys still hadn’t come out onto the roof, so Miles scooted down the slope of the roof until he was on level with the second story windows and then edged sideways along the shingles until he came to the gable that led into the master bedroom. He peered around the corner of the gable through the window and there were all four of his boys, standing in a row with self-satisfied smiles on their faces. At the sight of their father, they all burst out laughing. Miles laughed too, not sure what he was laughing at, but then Freddie, his third grader, yelled, “How’s the weather out there?” and Miles realized that they must have locked the window. He tried it just to make sure and found that it was indeed locked.

     Miles didn’t feel like being a good sport. Here he had just been concerned for their safety, imagining how sad he’d be if they all fell off the roof and died, and the whole time they’d been happily stranding him in the cold.

     He made a very stern face and said, “Boys, let me in.”

     “What? What? What did you say? We can’t hear you!”

     “Where’s your mom?”

     “She’s taking a bath! She can’t hear you and neither can we!”

     “Then how did you know I asked about your mom?” shouted Miles.

     Now all four boys were jumping up and down on Miles’ bed and chanting “We can’t hear you! We can’t hear you!” They still had their shoes on, too.

     Miles took his stocking cap off of his head and put his right fist inside of it, wishing he hadn’t neglected to wear gloves. He hesitated to take such drastic action, partly because he knew how much his boys would probably love it, but he was not going to sit out on the roof until his wife discovered him. He didn’t want his boys to think he was a chump. He got on his knees in front of the window, clinging to the side of the gable with his left hand, and then while his boys watched with eyes filled with amazement, he punched through the window, sending shattered glass spilling onto the bedroom carpet.

Chad , his second grader, screamed in terror as if Miles was some kind of home invader. “You’re all in very big trouble,” said Miles. He took his hat off of his right hand and let go of the gable in order to reach in through the broken window, the sleeve of his coat dragging against the sharp edges of the glass that still stuck out from the frame. His hand found the lock without a problem, but as he flipped it open, the shifting of his weight caused him to begin a slow slide down the roof.

     “Oh no,” said Miles. His boys stood frozen in fear on the bed, watching him creep down out of sight. Miles made an unhopeful grab at the bottom edge of the window frame, but the glass gashed his hand open, he couldn’t hold on, and his last words to his sons before he fell off the roof were, “See what you did?”

    

     When Miles came to, he was lying on his back on the front sidewalk and most of his body hurt. The snow was falling heavier than he remembered and his boys were gathered around him looking less concerned than he thought they should considering how awkwardly he must have landed on the cement and the fact that he could easily be paralyzed for all they knew.

     “Where’s mom?” asked Miles. His right hand hurt more than anything else and he held it up to examine it in the light coming from the front porch. Blood dripped down from the gash and sprinkled across his face. He let his hand fall back to his side and wondered if there was still glass stuck in his palm.

     “Mom’s taking a bath,” said Joseph, his fourth grader. “We already told you.”

     “You didn’t tell her I fell off the roof?” Miles groaned and realized the back of his head was wet. He was probably bleeding there too. He experienced a sudden surge of nausea and it felt like the sidewalk was warping and buckling beneath him. There were bursts of orange light on the edge of his vision.

     “Dad,” said one of his boys. “Dad, what should we do?”

     “Don’t bury me,” said Miles, his words slurring together. “Just don’t bury me yet.”