(Ponsie and Carolyn, intrepid as always, have finally reached their destination, the Mortimer Mansion, with limbs intact and hearts of steel. They are, they believe, ready to face whatever dangers await them in their attempt to purloin the purloined Needle Knockers trophy snatched by the evil Letitia Mortimer right out from under the outraged nose of Ponsie’s Aunt Harriet. Finding the enormous footprints of a hound that must be the size of an elephant to have feet that big has, it must be admitted, somewhat dampened Ponsie’s enthusiasm but he is nevertheless bravely prepared to march into the future – provided Carolyn hasn’t forgotten to bring her doggie knock-out drops. They stand now at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the front porch like Hillary standing at the foot of K1.)

“It’s a long way up, isn’t it?” I said doubtfully.

In fact, standing at the bottom of the stairs and craning my neck just to see the top left me reeling with vertigo. Head spinning, I felt like Howard Carter must have felt the first time he stood at the bottom of the Cheops pyramid and thought, “There better be a Pizza Hut on top of this or I’m outa here.”

Carolyn took the first step in stride, of course. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Wait! Don’t we need crampons and safety belts? And those shoes with spikes in them?”

“Ponsie -”

“What if I fall?”

“Ponsie,” Carolyn snapped in frustration, “it’s only a porch for gawd’s-sake, it’s not the Eiffel Tower.”

“The Eiffel Tower has an elevator in it. I’d prefer that. Come on. Fly to Paris with me. I’ll pay.” At the time that seemed like a perfectly rational suggestion. I was already reaching for my credit cards.

Carolyn crossed her arms underneath her magnificent breasts, lifting them to unnatural heights of plumptitude which I barely even noticed at the time (which will give you some idea of how focused I was on…Paris) and tapped her foot while glaring at me like Medusa with a really bad headache. “If you think I’m going to let you chicken out on me now, after that hellish drive and sad, sad lunch, you’re badly mistaken. Get your butt up these stairs before I decide to help you. With my foot.”

I sighed. It seemed to me that I was always being faced these days with two unacceptable alternatives, one just as evil as the other but less, perhaps, immediate. There was nothing for it. I was going to have to fess up. I mumbled, “It’s just possible I may have a slight height problem, hardly worth mentioning.”

“Don’t be silly. OK, you could stand to be an inch or two taller but what can you do about it? And is now really the time to bring it up?”

“Not my height,” I said, gesturing rudely toward the stairs. “Heights.”

“You’re afraid of heights? I never knew that about you, Ponsie.” She eyed the porch. “These heights aren’t very high,” she said dubiously.

“Trust me. They don’t have to be.” I pushed at the bottom step with my toe. “You sure this is safe?”

“It’s been here for a hundred years or so and it hasn’t fallen down yet.”

“My point exactly. Overdue, wouldn’t you say? Maybe I’d better wait in the car.”

“Ponsonby Quincannon Braithwaite!” she snapped, sounding just like my mother when she wanted me to clean my room, “You get up here right this second or I will leave you to face the wrath of your Aunt Harriet. Alone.”

She had marched up to the porch and stood towering over me like the angry-mom version of the Colossus of Rhodes straddling the Gibraltar Straights – if the a-m v of the CoR was wearing spike heels and a miniskirt. There was nothing for it. I was going to have to climb. But, I reasoned, nobody said I had to climb standing up.

I shut my eyes and crawled, taking each step one knee at a time without looking down. I tried to pretend I was climbing sideways, like an inchworm. That helped some (although not looking helped a lot more) and I started to make pretty good time about half-way up.

“If I told anybody about this -” Carolyn muttered under her breath.

“Please don’t. My reputation isn’t all that good as it is. That would kill it.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t. Nobody would believe it anyway. And don’t whimper.”

“I didn’t whimper. That was speaking low so as not to wake the dog. If it’s sleeping.”

“It was whimpering. I know whimpering when I hear it and I’m hearing it now. A classic whimper of the Old School. The kind of whimper little brother used to make when I stepped on his sandcastles with my flippers.”

I risked a peek. Her smile at the memory was positively angelic. I shut my eyes again. “You’ve got a mean streak, you know that?”

“Climb, you mental monkey. We haven’t got all day.”

It was but a few minutes later, say five, give or take, perhaps ten, certainly not more than twenty, that I reached the last step to the porch and was able to haul myself to my feet by hanging onto the front wall of the house, resolutely facing it rather than the driveway way waaaaay below.

“Ponsie, you can be such an ultimate dweeb.”

“Unfair, Carolyn. I have depths of courage unknown since the time of the Crusades,” I replied , somewhat defensively, I admit. “Just not about heights, that’s all.”

“Or dogs.”

“Or dogs bigger than me. When they’re sitting down. And dogs with mouthfuls of razor-blade teeth, of course.”

“I’d roll my eyes but to do you justice I’d have to roll them all the way round to the back of my neck and that would hurt. Ring the damn bell.”

I did. Here at last was something I knew I could handle. I pushed the button deftly and with, if I say so myself, elan.

“Congratulations,” Carolyn said, acid dripping from every syllable.

“Huh,” I said, and I meant it to sting.

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