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Dreamscapes Fiction

Judy Radano
A Fallen History

“I’ve always been a klutz,” I say to anyone who witnesses one of my crashes

I fall all the time and know one knows why. I don’t mean I fall in love all the time or that I fall out of grace or into some random luck with frequency. I actually physically fall, hard, onto the ground. I could be walking along and even carefully watching where I’m going when, suddenly and without warning, my ankle gives out or my leg buckles or my foot rolls and, next thing, I’m a crumbled Humpty Dumpty, broken and hurt and usually bleeding.
“I don’t know how she ever made it down the aisle,” Sam likes to say jokingly to the kids, to friends, to family.
I’ve had x-rays, MRI’s and cat scans. I’ve had neurological tests and nerve tests where a technician sticks me with pins connected to an electrical devise that’s supposed to measure my pain and sensate response levels. I’ve had physicians shine little laser-like beams into my eyes and others poke around my spinal disks. Everything checks out fine and normal. No neurological damage. No detectable muscular weakness. No thinning of bones or joint degeneration. I have, at various times, been prescribed orthotics, braces and even good old-fashioned ace bandages. I still fall.
“I’ve always been a klutz,” I say to anyone who witnesses one of my crashes. My mother, no Pavlova herself, would agree.

I have fallen so much that I don’t even bother to see a doctor anymore when I get one of my proverbial sprained ankles. I know the drill. I get myself home somehow and swab peroxide on the cuts and abrasions on my knees and hands that usually result from the fall. Then I apply ice to the ankle and affected area of the foot. For the next day or two, I rest my leg as much as possible and elevate my foot to a point that is higher than my heart. After a few days, I switch from ice to warm soaks to ease the pain. Then I watch my foot slowly shrink in size from its swollen elephantine state as it turns magnificent hues of black, blue, brown and yellow, a personal earthly aurora borealis. For the next couple of weeks, I don’t dare try to walk anywhere without supporting my ankle somehow with a wrap or a bandage, protecting my lower leg like bubble wrap around crystal stemware. It’s been years since I’ve worn high heels or sling back shoes. I’ve been known to wear flat, foam-soled shoes under a designer gown to black-tie formal affairs.

“I’m a really great dancer,” I like to boast. “I may look clumsy off the dance floor, but when I’m out there, I’m smooth as clotted cream.” I have reached a point where falling hardly interrupts my daily routine. My most recent fall occurred on a sterling day when the outdoors called to me like a siren. I yearned for a walk, went in search of the sustenance I could gain from the smells and near silence of fresh air along a wooded path.
The trail I chose is one I turn to often. Although I have to drive to it, I favor it because it is safely off the road and paved. But although it boasts tree-trellised curves and at least two breath-robbing, heart pounding hills, it is a linear trail which ends abruptly after one marked mile at a post and rail fence. The only way to get back to your car is to turn around and retrace your
steps on another mile walk.

I walked that day feeling energized, alert to the world, glad to be alive. I got all the way to the fence when my foot suddenly rolled and I toppled like some toy dropped from an upper story window. Both knees were cut and covered with dirt. A small stone embedded itself into the fleshy part of my right palm, just below my thumb, where I used my hand to brace myself against the impact. The abrasions stung. My neck throbbed from the jolt. Blood already trickled down into my socks. I was a mess.
I was alone, however, and had to get myself back to my car. My ankle was stiff as I walked back and the swelling began to strain against the confines of my sneaker, but, amazingly, I felt no pain. I walked, in fact, with almost no discernible limp. Over the years, the muscles and ligaments in my ankles have turned into Play Doh. They stretch and swell and turn color like always, but eventually find their original state and shape with almost no direct encouragement from me. Quite notably, it is one area were age and overuse have actually diminished discomfort.
I called Sam when I got home. “I fell again,” I told him.
“You really have to start looking where you’re going,” he said.
“Mom, you’re getting old, you know,” Jack, our youngest, told me later.
“Stop walking outside where the ground’s uneven. Just exercise down the basement.”
“You’re out of shape,” Sam chimed in.

The next afternoon, I went to an exhibit of impressionist art. I saw paintings so infused with light the weightlessness of it could fill countless colorful balloons that would soar skyward forever. Contrarily, my enlarged limb anchored me to earth. I felt as if my body were straining to split in half, the upper part wanting to float away while the lower part remained mired in lead.
Not too long ago, when I was younger, thinner and more in shape, I would jog along the trails that I now walk. I would wear little jogging shorts instead of baggy sweats, a long swinging pony tail instead of a discarded baseball cap. On one of those mornings when I felt I had a firm grip on the world, I was a lioness loping across the savannah, nostrils flared, when my foot rolled on a rock and I crumbled as if a hunter’s arrow had found my heart. I limped home, severely wounded.
“Mom, you just can’t be going out there like that,” Nicky, my oldest, scolded as if it were my habit to venture beyond an undefined boundary into forbidden territory.
“When are you gonna start to listen and be more careful,” Sam asked?

Once, when I was working for one of the city’s largest advertising agencies, I had an appointment with a client a few blocks away. My boss and I, Mr. Leland Harrington III, one of the agency’s partners, were going to meet with the senior vice president of First Metropolitan Bank of Philadelphia to get his reaction to a proposal we had sent ahead. I was representing the creative team. Mr. Harrington was representing himself and the rest of the agency.

It was a warm Spring morning. We decided the walk to the bank would be a great time to talk and to finalize our ideas in anticipation of our client’s critique, so we passed on a cab. Mr. Harrington, as always, was immaculately dressed in a gun metal gabardine suit, a poppy-tinted silk tie with matching hanky poking exactly an inch and a half from his vest pocket. We hadn’t planned it, but I matched him perfectly in a pewter linen skirt and jacket with a white silk blouse. We were an outstanding-looking team, he and I, walking along as if we owned the sidewalks when, for some reason, my professionally shod foot slipped out from under me. Instead of owning the sidewalk, I was suddenly sprawled upon the sidewalk, dislodged papers from my presentation folder fluttering around me like injured wings.
“Oh, my God, my God,” Mr. Harrington wailed as he stood over me. “Don’t do this to me,” he said. “Please! Not today!” he added as he looked around to see how many of the other business people scurrying along the street had noticed my faux pas.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” I assured him as I picked myself up, gathered my papers and smoothed my skirt. And it seemed everything was just fine, because not a hair on Mr. Harrington’s distinguished gray head moved the whole time.

My first job out of college was with a large advertising and public relations firm where everyone was smart and stylish and clever and hip. They were everything I wanted to be and I bought clothing and shoes at John Wanamaker’s and Bonwit Teller’s that might help me fit in even though my starting salary was more suited to J.C. Penney’s and Lerners. I uttered “shit” and “fuck” with sophisticated abandon at certain pointed moments, never indiscriminately, never slipping over into gutter-mouth territory. And then one day I fell right in the hallway of the open Production Department were I was serving my professional apprenticeship.
It was not a dainty fall. I crashed with a thud on the carpetless linoleum floor, caught the entire department’s attention as my co-workers rushed over to recover the shoe that had departed my foot and sailed off into the open door of our supervisor’s office and helped me pull my ripped skirt down over my exposed upper thighs. Despite my embarrassed protests, the department head insisted I go get checked out at the hospital. “Company rules,” he said. “We can’t take any chances with our insurance coverage.” “But I’m fine,” I said. “It happens a lot. You should see me on the dance floor. I’m as graceful as a swan when I dance.” It wasn’t as if it were the first time he had seen me disabled. I interviewed for the job on crutches. It was the same way I had attended graduation ceremonies. Me, the first in my immediate family to finish college, could not even climb the damn stage to receive my diploma. The fall at the close of my senior year came on a warm Sunday morning when my parents were away somewhere, that time visiting friends in New Jersey. I was home alone, on break from classes, studying for the highly dreaded comprehensive exams, several days of tests covering all four years of courses, the passage of which was required for graduation at my small liberal arts school.
That morning, I decided I could use some help. Never an avid Catholic, I nevertheless felt Sunday Mass under the circumstances would be good, would maybe provide some divine intervention like from Saint Jude or the Blessed Virgin who might, in a moment of pity, overlook the fact that I was a bit tainted in the virgin area. But I still had a lot of studying ahead of me so I cut out of the church a bit early. I was only a half-block away, when my cool little sling-back heels turned inward and I landed on the sidewalk in a very prone position.

Now the funny thing was that, within a very few minutes, Mass ended and parishioners streamed out toward their homes and cars. They must have also had tests to study for or big breakfasts on their minds because they all stepped over me or walked around me as if I had simply decided to sit down and rest in the middle of the sidewalk in my Jackie Kennedy A-line dress with demure lace mantilla over my head, de rigueur church garb of that day, and I wasn’t anything they wanted to disturb. A neighbor finally saw me and helped me into his car but, all in all, the situation was a poor advertisement for piety.

“I don’t know what happened,” I offered to Frankie, the kid from our street who had his dad’s car that morning. Frankie, the scion of a successful imported cheese and macaroni business his grandfather had started in South Philadelphia, was someone I hadn‘t seen too frequently since he was sent off to Valley Forge Military Academy and Junior College to “straighten out“. “I just fell for no reason,” I said as I gritted my teeth against the throbbing of my ankle and the tight swelling already overlapped the straps of my shoe.
“Jeez,” said Frankie. “You should be more careful ‘cuz you could really get hurt.” Back when I was thirteen I had already grown breasts and sported a figure that drew whistles and hog calls from the older, tough boys that hung around outside Robbie’s Luncheonette and went to the dances at Holy Cross but who never went inside Holy Cross to dance. They stayed out in the parking lot and drank from bottles hidden in trunks and under car seats. They would show up at Chez Vous Skating Hall on Sunday afternoons, slouch along the sides of the rink and leer at all the girls gliding round and round like music box figurines. I was one of those girls, trying to look cool as ice, blocking out as best as I could their tongue clicks and wet kissing sounds as I skated by but secretly loving their attention. And then two of the younger boys on the floor, hot dogging as usual, darted in front of me and our wheels clanged and our legs got tangled up and the three of us went down together and a bunch of skaters behind us who couldn’t get out of the way in time piled on top of us. There were a lot of screams and of course the music never stopped, but it was the laughing that was loudest. I heard it as if it were just for me even though I told myself it couldn’t be. I couldn’t help it. Those kids came out of nowhere.
“Are you okay?” It was a guy in a black leather jacket with slicked back hair but also with soft green eyes and a gentle hand that was lifting and steadying me while his buddies remained along the side, still laughing.
I wanted to say sure, I’m fine, but I felt shaky and didn’t trust my mouth not to let something really stupid slip past my lips so I just gave a nod. He let go then, shrugged and turned away and said something smart to his friends that made them laugh harder, but he left his scent in my space and his stamp on my flesh.

I was only seven or eight when I conquered my fears and decided that I wanted to become queen of the playground. The playground where it happened had no grass or trees, just dancing shadows from the tall, stark church across the road. It sat in a coal mining town in a rural part of the state and the swings, seesaws and slides sat crudely on black dirt and cinder. The kids from my town went there on hot summer days to get out of their houses where moms were either preoccupied or absent, on the job at one of the sewing factories nearby or the big cigar factory just down the block from the playground.

I was a swing junkie. I learned quickly the proper leg-pumping technique that would let me soar so high that the chains would buckle and the metal bars clanged and gave a little jerk when you pushed past the barrier of gravity and interrupted that smooth arc in which the swing traveled. It was wonderful, but I wanted more.
So one day when the swing was soaring just about as high as it could go, I moved my grip up on the chains till I was standing on the tiny seat platform, still pumping my knees till I could hear that satisfying clang of the bars and feel that thrilling jerk when my body went beyond that horizontal parallel to the earth and my feet on the board would actually point upward to the sky. And then on one of those wonderful back-and-forth U-shaped trips it was suddenly me forming the arc through the sticky sweet summer air without benefit of my transportation because I had left the swing behind. For a brief second or two I floated completely free before landing unceremoniously on the dirt and cinders below. I was scraped raw and bloody over a large portion of my arms and legs and I would like to say that I was appropriately recognized for my risk and injury, but the fact is, hardly anyone noticed. I was just one more kid who fell off a swing. I picked myself up and went home.

Later that night Mom helped me wash up. She got out a bottle of mercurochrome and handed me a box of band aids. “Why are you always falling?” she asked, as if I could reach into my pocket, pull out the answer and offer it to her like one of those cellophane-wrapped red and white mints she sucked on to mask her cigarette breath.

My very first great fall came a few years earlier. I was quite small, maybe three or four. Mom and Dad had not yet bought their first house and we were all living in a third floor apartment in a building with a landlord-operated grocery store at street level. Mom had to walk down the hall outside our apartment to get to the laundry room on Mondays when she washed our clothes. I went with her.

But one day when Mom was busy and I was bored I thought it would be fun to squeeze out on the little ledge that reached out over the staircase down to the level below. I kind of guessed Mom wouldn’t see me. It wasn’t just on Mondays that she was busy. She was always busy. This meant I could sometimes get away with things when she wasn’t looking.
The ledge was very narrow but I didn’t take up much space. I could hear the washing machine motor and feel the vibrations through the wall. The hand wringer that Mom pushed the wet clothes through squeaked as she turned the crank. The whole job took all her time and attention. I was very far out on the ledge when I looked down. I held my breath for a few seconds and I closed my eyes. Then I fell. Or maybe I jumped. For sure, I flew through the air for a second or two with wings for arms and a little bird mouth that chirped “Mommy” just before I hit the landing below and went to sleep for a while.
When I woke up, I was on the sofa in our living room and Mom was standing over me and there was also a very nice man with a black leather bag and a little light he was shining in my face. He spoke softly and gently touched my chest with a disk at the end of some tubing stuck in his ears. Some of the neighbors were there too and I felt happy because they were all watching me, hovering over, like angels who had come just to keep me safe.

I waited and watched for angels forever after, but they never came back.


© Judy Radano 2003
email: jradano@erols.com
THE REDEMPTION CENTRE
Judy Radano

“Wouldn’t that cut crystal ash tray look nice in the living room?” she would ask

a member of the Philidelphia Writers Group


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