It was an old Manila rope. We found it, like so many of our childhood treasures, in the city dump. We could not believe our luck. It was at least fifty feet long, and other than a few frayed spots, in perfectly good shape. What idiot would throw such a thing away?
My friend, Jimmy, shimmied up the tree, and tied off one end of the rope to an outstretched bough. The free end actually touched the ground, which meant there was plenty of slack to tie a knot with a loose loop in it, which would help us to hold on. The tree itself was sited perfectly, at the edge of the creek’s embankment, meaning that with a good running start we could swing out far above the dry creek bed. It was exhilarating, particularly for someone like me, who is afraid of heights. I got the same feeling of joyous terror years later when I discovered amusement parks.
On the occasion of my ninth birthday I begged my mother to let me go out and play while she prepared Sunday breakfast. My uncle was in town, a rare treat, and she really did not want me to ruin my Sunday best. But she relented, admonishing me not to get dirty. A fool’s errand that, sending a nine-year-old out to play, and expecting a presentable return.
I headed directly for the creek.
Jimmy, and a couple of my other pals, were already there, taking turns trying to outdo each other on the rope swing. Each one took a long arcing run, then leapt from the edge of the embankment. Our friend, Ray, impressed everyone by hiking his legs way up, and actually clearing the landing zone for a second full sweep around. When he landed I grabbed the rope, determined to match his feat.
“Watch this!” I shouted as I dashed off the end of the world.
For a few glorious seconds I was flying, screaming from the pure joy of it.
Perhaps the rope was not as substantial as we assumed. Perhaps our neighborhood terrorist, Blake, had sawn at the knot up in the tree. Or maybe the rope had simply rotted over the course of the summer from continuous cycles of sun, rain, and strain. At any rate, at the climax of my joy, at the very apex of my sweeping arc, the rope broke. Then I truly was flying.
By the time my friends reached me I had somehow managed to sit up. I was too stunned to cry, or perhaps there was just too little air left in my lungs to support a wail. Jimmy bent down to check me out. I saw his eyes grow big, and followed his gaze to my left arm.
It was obviously broken, mangled into an unholy configuration not meant for this world. Suddenly I somehow found my breath.
At the hospital, through the fog of pain, I heard bits of whispered conversations between my parents and the doctor.
afraid of doing further damage…
could sever the median nerve…
permanent loss of the use of that hand…
With these lovely sprites dancing in my head I was carted off to surgery.
When I awoke my mother was sitting at my bedside. She smiled, and welcomed me back to the world of the living. Then she explained that dad had taken Uncle Dan to the airport. “He had to catch his flight. But he wanted me to tell you, you’re one tough trooper, and that he loves you.”
“Is there any cake left?” I wanted to know.
She laughed, and ran her fingers through my hair. “Of course, silly. It hasn’t even been cut. We’ll have it tomorrow, with ice cream and presents.”
I cheered up a bit at that. Then I braved a look at my arm, laying atop the sheet. It was in a full L-shaped cast, with only the thumb and fingertips exposed. In bright green marker were the words, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”, signed by someone I did not know. They had drawn festive red and blue balloons to each side.
My mom saw the puzzled look on my face.
“You came back from surgery with that. It’s the surgeon’s signature.”
I gave my fingers a tentative wiggle. They moved. I realized then he had given me the best possible birthday present, bundled up in half-inch thick plaster of paris wrapping – a fully functional left hand.
I can’t recall what Jimmy gave me.
(c) 2010, by J. M. Strother – All rights reserved.
Two Inspiring Ladies
This post is doing triple duty for me this week. First off, it is my #fridayflash. Second, it is my contribution to India Drummond’s Writing Adventure Group (#WAG on Twitter) prompt – Broken. Third, it is my entry in Deanna Schrayer’s first writing contest over at The Other Side of Deanna. It has a Birthday theme. So I pondered over “broken” and “birthday” for a few minutes when this concept sprang to mind. I was pretty pleased with it. Not too often I hit three birds with one stone, whether they’re in the bush or not. Thank you India and Deanna for the inspiration.