The ladder leaned against the house. I looked up its rungs, then to the child crawling towards the other end of the roof.
I can't do it.
"No!" I shouted. "Stay there I'm coming!"
His tiny giggle stopped my heart. His white, unclad bottom shone at me as he toppled on his side, over-taken with mirth.
"Don't move, sweetheart. Please, just stay where you are."
I'm not going to be able to do it, I thought. There's no way. I can't, just can't.
I have to.
My hand stretched up, toward the next rung. I saw my fingers shaking and pulled back, forcing my body to be steady.
You're fucking crazy, you know that? He isn't even your kid! Why do you care?
"Because his mamma's laid up in there with a joint in her mouth and won't wake up," I muttered, talking to myself.
So call the damned cops, my mind screamed. Or the fire department. They save kittens in trees all the time, why not a kid on a roof?
"Because he might fall before they get here," I answered.
I put my hand out again and that time, shaking or not, I started up.
The metal ladder pounded lightly against the house, grating at me, toying with me.
Oh god help me, I'm scared.
Get hold of yourself, Jenny. Just get up there and save that baby.
I tried to move up the next rung, but my body wouldn't move.
Damn it, I'm only four steps up! I'll never get there in time.
Jacob crawled along the edge, reached down into the gutter and threw dry, brittle leaves into the wind. His soft, baby-like giggle drifted through the air. If I hadn't seen him myself, just heard his giggle, I wouldn't have thought he was in any danger at all. He sounded happy.
With courage I didn't know I had, I surged up the ladder.
And I almost made it. Almost.
My stupid feet. If I hadn't frozen.
I might have saved him.
If I hadn't stopped.
I could have saved him.
And I didn't.
He slipped. My fault. Just as I got to him. Like a fool, I grabbed for him, reached out. I didn't care if I hurt him. Anything that happened would be better than the fall.
Please just let me save his life.
My fingers met empty air.
And he fell. So did I.
I landed on top of him, killing him instantly. Your fault, your fault! I survived. I'm the one that survived. I'll never be able to live with myself once I get out of the hospital.
I hear his giggle in my sleep. Floating through the dark at me, taunting me. He giggled as he fell through the air, legs and arms waving.
I see his eyes, big and round and dancing with glee. That smiling, toothless mouth.
And I hear the impact, too. When I close my eyes, I hear the sounds of flesh smacking concrete, feel the muffled sensation of bones crumbling beneath me like shards of broken glass. His tiny, shattered body ground into my skin. Slivers of bone poked through his flesh and into my own.
Over and over again, I feel his body give beneath me, small enough to fit within the area of my stomach. I know he was probably already dead when I landed on him, but ...
He still giggles in my head.
The nurses laugh in the hallway, and I hear him. Just a bit. Someone presses the call button on a bed and the nurse's station monitors beep ...
Jacob giggles, high-pitched and amazingly clear. I see it again. He falls.
The doctors said I can go home tomorrow. One thing about this whole ordeal is that I'm not afraid of heights anymore. Jacob cured me as much as he cursed me. Tomorrow, I go home.
And there's a nice, tall bridge on the way.