My younger brother Dwayne was always doing something reckless. The day he jumped off the roof was a Saturday.
I was awoken exactly at seven that morning with a loud knock on my door. A couple seconds later I heard another knock down the hall.
The day was finally here, the day Dwayne and I had been dreading for months. Feeling the crisp air, seeing the days getting shorter and shorter, we knew it was inevitable. But when the knocks came, it was still somewhat of a shock.
It was once again time to rake leaves.
Dad had years ago given up on getting us to do yard work every weekend. When once we were eager little helpers bringing him tools he needed, lugging around a watering can, pushing the wheelbarrow (after getting a ride in it first of course), now we were surly, uncooperative teenagers.
Dad could now pretty much only count on us to do any work at all a few days a year. Of course that just meant he would wait until all the trees were bare before getting us to rake the leaves and naturally the entire yard, both back and front, was almost completely covered in them.
Dad’s knocks were followed by a question: “Who’s in the mood for some raking?” Of course it didn’t matter how we answered that ridiculous question, 20 minutes later we found ourselves out in the yard, knee-deep in damp leaves, and clutching some old wooden rakes.
Dad explained exactly how we were supposed to proceed. In a startling amount of detail he told us where we should begin (the NW corner of the back lawn), how big the piles should be (five feet wide, three feet tall) and when we could take a break (he’d let us know). I’m surprised he didn’t have a Power Point presentation to show us. Naturally Dad wouldn’t be helping us with the leaves. He mentioned something about having to work on his plans for cleaning the gutters and went inside.
After making some piles as per Dad’s strict instructions, Dwayne, not surprisingly, decided to buck the system. He quickly headed toward the house and started piling leaves next to our tall fence. He began to work very fast. Dad, after glancing out the window for the third time, in a surprising move, decided not to say anything. He must have figured it was hard enough to get Dwayne to do anything as it was, so why mess with a good thing? I just wondered what Dwayne was up to.
I continued working on the other side of the lawn. I contemplated getting a tape measure to measure my piles and when I looked up I noticed that Dwayne had disappeared. I thought maybe he had gone inside to use the bathroom. But just then I noticed some movement up on the roof.
I looked up and had to shade my eyes to see Dwayne emerge from the attic window. He stood there for a moment surveying the yard. I rolled my eyes and shook my head. I really wasn’t too surprised to see him up there; Dwayne was always doing something dumb: jumping over ditches on his bike, skateboarding on the highway, you name something stupid and Dwayne’s probably done it.
I was about to tell him to quit screwing around and come down and help me with the leaves when he started making his way to the edge of the roof. With his arms extended at his sides, he slowly crept to the side of the house where his leaf pile lay.
“I just can’t do it anymore!” he shouted, perched on the edge. Suddenly I knew what he was up to. “I cannot rake another damn leaf! This has got to end!”
I dropped my rake and bolted towards the house. “Dwayne!” I shouted, “Don’t do it!”
But it was too late. He took one last look down at me and grinned. Then he jumped.
A surprising number of thoughts went through my head in those two or three seconds: Dwayne not diving head first was a good idea; didn’t a science teacher once tell me how much weight a pile of leaves could support?; I think he’s wearing my socks; what if he seriously injures himself, winds up in a wheelchair and I have to take care of him?; Dad’s going to be pissed if he spreads those leaves all over the yard again.
My last thought was: Maybe, just maybe he’ll be alright as long as he lands right in the middle of the pile.
He almost did. Arms flailing, Dwayne hovered over the pile for a split second, and then just kept going, over the fence and into the Johnson’s yard.
I cringed, expecting a large crash or Dwayne crying out. But all I heard was kind of a muffled crunch. I rushed to the fence. “Dwayne?! Are you okay?” I couldn’t see over the fence and quickly ran to the street to go around.
“Dwayne!” I called again. There was still no response and I wondered if old Mr. Johnson was going to lock him in his garage just like he did with all our stray tennis balls and Frisbees.
When I finally made it to the other side of the fence I saw Dwayne sprawled out on a thin layer of leaves. I stopped running and slowly walked toward him. He wasn’t moving and I was sure he was dead. “Dwayne?”
There was no answer. When I got to him I could see his eyes were closed. I knelt down beside him. “Holy crap,” I muttered. Just then he opened his eyes and smiled.
Startled, I stumbled backwards. Dwayne laughed.
“You’re, you’re not dead,” I stammered.
“Dead?” He looked down at himself. “Not yet.”
As I helped Dwayne up he explained what happened. He never intended to jump onto his pile, he just wanted to scare me a little. That’s when he remembered overhearing Dad and Mr. Johnson talking about their raking strategy a couple weeks ago.
“Man, Mr. Johnson’s worse than Dad. I’m surprised he didn’t have a Power Point presentation.” I smiled. “So anyway, I knew he was going to pile up the leaves against the fence right here, so I figured, what the hell?”
“Weren’t you scared you were gonna break your neck?” I asked.
“Nah, a science teacher once told me a big pile of leaves could actually support a lot of weight.” I smiled again.
“Could you see the pile from the roof?” I asked.
Dwayne shook his head. “No.”
“So how’d you know it would still be here?”
“Huh,” Dwayne said. “I guess I didn’t think about it.”
I shook my head. “Well, we better get back before Dad has a cow.”
We slowly made our way back to the yard. Dad appeared on the back steps a short time later and told us we could take a break, he needed to tell us about the gutter-cleaning plans.
When the leaves were finally done and we were up on two rickety ladders cleaning out the gutter sludge, we saw a befuddled Mr. Johnson emerge from his house. He looked around for a moment, scratched his head, and picked up a rake and started raking.
I looked at Dwayne and we burst into laughter.
A couple hours later, with the gutters finally somewhat clean, we noticed a tired-looking Mr. Johnson put down his rake and go into his house.
“Looks like Johnson’s got those leaves raked again,” Dwayne said.
“Yup,” I said. I took a step down my ladder and stopped. “I dare you to jump on that pile again.”
Dwayne snickered. “Yeah.” He looked at me. “Are you serious?”
“Sure.” Dwayne grinned and started going up his ladder. I smiled as I watched him scamper onto the roof and walk toward the edge.
He was always doing something crazy.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED