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Short Story: The Top of the Stairs

Shoshana Schwartz

Lunchtime in the Schwartz household. Five children return from five different schools at five different times. They reject my food eight different ways, jostle each other with their ten elbows, and vie for my singular attention. Two return to school — and will come home just in time for supper. Therefore, if lunch isn’t on the table at exactly one o’clock, the words “smooth day” temporarily disappear from our family vocabulary (temporarily being anywhere between one day and two years).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I made the financial arrangements, and then haggled with the driver over where he would drop Avi off. The driver’s goal was to drop him at a place on his established route. My goal was to be out of my house for as few minutes as possible during lunchtime, while not overtaxing Avi.

Picture a rectangle on a hill. My home is the top-left corner of the rectangle — X marking the spot — at the very top of this hill. In front, the building faces a stone-paved street not used for cars (correction: not supposed to be used for cars). In back is a long staircase (we’ll call this Staircase A) down to a main street. The driver’s idea was to have me wait for him at the bottom of this staircase. I did not share with the driver the logistics of my being outside for ten or 15 minutes while my other children help themselves to ketchup; I only told him that I could not wait outside for any length of time. We compromised: he would phone me just before he reached the bottom of Staircase A. I would then come outside, wait at the top of the stairs, and he wouldn’t let Avi off until he saw me there.

I prepared Avi for the van. Being a person who doesn’t like to leave things to chance (nor cause irreversible trauma to persons of the tiny persuasion), I decided to execute this plan in stages. On the first day, Avi would be personally greeted at the bottom of Staircase A by an older sibling (“Reuven”) and escorted home while I watched from the top landing. The second day, Reuven would wait halfway up the staircase. On the third day, if all went well, Reuven would be home on ketchup patrol while I waited at the top of the stairs as the driver had suggested. I would wave to him as soon as Avi got off. He’d climb the stairs while I watched from above, and we’d go home together, happily ever after.

All did not go well.


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