The Cane

by: T.E. Cowell

A work of fiction that revels not in the view from the top, but in the ascent… 

Tim hadn’t given any thought to how he’d get down. He hadn’t envisioned he could climb this particular tree in the first place, but then, somehow, he had, or at least he’d gotten partway up the tree, which was all that he had it in mind in the first place. The tree’s lowest branch was about eight feet off the ground. Standing at the base of the tree on his tiptoes, Tim had reached his arms up over his head as high as he could and was just barely able to grab hold of the lowest branch, which in actuality wasn’t a branch at all but a stub, a relic of a branch. After grabbing hold of the stub with both hands, Tim pulled himself off the ground, placing the soles of his shoes on the tree’s wide, rough trunk, holding a kind of quasi pull-up for a few seconds while looking up the trunk for the next available branch to grab hold of, which, as it turned out, was another stub a few feet higher up. Tim reached with one hand and grabbed the second stub, then lifted himself up even higher until he was able to plant his foot firmly on a branch, an actual branch, long and wide and partially covered in moss. After that, Tim was able to grab hold of another actual branch, and then he found himself up as high in the tree as he cared to be.

From his new vantage point he looked first at the neighboring house, the bushes and fence no longer blocking his line of sight. There was no one and nothing to see through the house’s windows or near the house, and the house itself wasn’t much to look at in Tim’s opinion. He looked away from the house and saw a horse in a nearby field, its head down to the grassy ground. Past the horse and in a slightly different direction he saw the lake, and past the lake a neighboring island. The gentle outline of the island against the blue sky, the gradual dips and rises of the land, reminded Tim of a woman lying on her side.

After a few minutes of being up in the tree Tim decided he was ready to get back down. He never stayed long in the trees he climbed; he found the challenge of climbing trees much more enjoyable than hanging around in them. It was the journey not the destination that mattered to him. Repositioning himself with both of his feet on the tree’s lowest stub, Tim looked down at the ground preparing to jump. He blinked his eyes before he jumped, as if they were out of focus, and then he squinted. The ground was a longer way down than Tim felt comfortable with.

Jumping from a height of six feet or so was something Tim was perfectly content with. He could manage such a jump without risking hurting himself, so long as he was landing on grass. Sometimes after he jumped from a tree he did a little roll after his feet hit the ground, which seemed to help take some of the pressure off his feet and legs. Tim was thirty-four. He was trying as best as he could to stay young, fit, and healthy. Climbing trees seemed to him like a healthful activity. He didn’t know any other thirty-four year olds who climbed trees, but then again, he didn’t have very many friends.

Before jumping from the tree, Tim imagined how painful it was going to be. Then, just as he was preparing to jump the part of the stump he was standing on gave way and Tim fell to the ground. One of his feet hit the ground first and after it did an intense pain shot up Tim’s body, coming to an abrupt stop in the vicinity of his lower back. He fell to the grass and writhed in pain, his eyes scrunched shut. He gasped and grunted and knew he was in trouble. He knew instantly that this was serious. He had heard something pop in his back as he’d hit the ground, and now it felt as if the damaged area was on fire.

Finally, Tim managed to stand up. He hobbled back towards his house, and went inside and called his supervisor at work, thinking he should give her a heads-up that in all likelihood he wouldn’t be showing up to work tomorrow morning. He picked up his phone and dialed her number.

“Hello?”

“Hi. It’s Tim.”

“Hi, Tim.”

“Hi. Uh, so it’s looking like I won’t be able to come in tomorrow.”

“What?”

This is what his supervisor always said whenever, in the past, because of a cold or flu or something, Tim had called to tell her that he couldn’t make it in to work. As if she hadn’t heard what he’d said. As if what he’d said was so out of left field that it required a second telling.

“I hurt myself,” Tim said.

“You hurt yourself?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Well, to be honest, climbing a tree.”

“Climbing a tree?”

“Yes,” Tim said. “Climbing a tree.”

“Why were you climbing a tree?”

“For fun,” Tim said. “As a kind of hobby.”

Tim’s supervisor advised him to make an appointment to see a doctor and to get an X-ray, which he did the following day. The doctor told Tim that he had damaged multiple vertebrae in his lower back.

“What happened?” the doctor asked.

“Pardon?” Tim said. He didn’t want to mention that he’d been climbing a damn tree.

“I mean,” the doctor said, “did you get in a car accident or something?”

“Yes,” Tim said. “A head-on collision.”

The doctor gave him a curious look. Tim didn’t like the look so he looked away. The doctor was young, and it was hard for Tim to take a doctor who didn’t have white hair seriously.

He was advised, if he ever wanted to walk right again, if he wanted to keep his job, to get surgery.

“How much?” Tim asked.

The doctor named a figure that made Tim laugh.

Tim called his supervisor back later that day and told her what he’d learned. He told her how much surgery would cost according to the doctor to which she simply said, “My god.”

Tim had been hoping to hurt himself for a while now, accidentally, of course, while on the job, so that then he could get on disability and live out the rest of his days, in theory at least, in relative comfort as a physically-disabled person. Now though, he’d have to find something else, another job. He would also have to buy a cane to make walking less strenuous.

He bought a cane and before long he was hired on as a taxi driver. Because he was still relatively young and had to get around with a cane, he found that people tipped him generously. Everyone felt sorry for him, it seemed, everyone including himself at times. He hated not being able to walk straight, hated the slight limp in his gait. Sometimes someone he picked up asked him how he’d hurt himself. Sometimes Tim would lie and make up an outlandish story, while other times he’d tell the truth, which, sometimes, seemed to him just as outlandish.

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