By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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Rain was getting in. A lot of it.
And there was evidence of bats.
And when I asked you why it was
so damn expensive, you cited
careful measuring, a high-
quality cap, an exacting process.
So I did it myself.
I borrowed a thirty-foot ladder, which,
at full extension, was barely tall enough.
I clipped the cap to my belt, glanced up
— a makeshift prayer — and ascended
step by step, looking straight ahead
at the brick in front of my face.
With each slow step I felt the ladder
bow inward, but I climbed higher
until there was no house, just
chimney, then even higher, as if I were
the sun having finally risen. Listen:
the roof sloped away below me
at angles hitherto theoretical,
and, as I screwed the cap on, I dared
to lower my eyes and glimpsed
my neighbor and his wife —
tiny down there — pulling at the edge
of a blue tarp mounded
with fallen leaves. And, feeling braver,
I turned my head and saw another
neighbor standing in his yard, gazing up
at me, likely wondering if I’d fall or how
I could be crazy enough to do that
without someone bracing the ladder.
And in that moment I also saw
myself, from the ground, just as he
saw me: a man way up high making
some inscrutable repair to his chimney,
a little guy poised above the neighborhood,
the kind of guy, maybe, who does
things like that — practical, taciturn — who,
when handed an impossible task, shrugs
and gets to work. That’s right, the sort of guy
I am not, not even remotely, with all my
bellyaching and fears. Have I mentioned
that my hands were, by this point,
raw from scraping against the brick?
I wiped them on my shirt and realized,
as I tightened the last screw, that
people talk, and soon all my neighbors
would understand that I was the one
who had done this work. And so
I descended the ladder feeling
very much like the type of man
I have, for a long time, wanted to
go to bed with. And you with your
outrageous estimate — you inspired that.
And for that I would happily pay you
your five hundred bucks.
Benjamin S. Grossberg