Too Many Steps

Here we are next to this long, long pool and it’s hot today, but this isn’t a pool pool.

“What is it?”

“It’s a reflecting pool.”

“What kind of pool is that?”

“The kind not to swim in.  Look!  There it is!”

“The Washington MonumentMy, I’m impressed.”

Still far away, and it was probably tall, but it looked skinny to me.  And no windows or doors I could see.  “Where’s the statue?”

“That was Lincoln’s Memorial.  Do you know what this is?”

“What?”

“This is an obelisk.

“Oblist?”

“Ob-el-isk—see the shape?  It’s a tower in the shape of an obelisk.

Another big word—was I supposed to be thrilled by the sound?

Stood and waited while Mom read and read—I don’t know what she read; she was always reading something; it never seemed to match up.

Vacation.  It wasn’t like it used to be, it was just Gary and me now in the backseat and after awhile WHAM! Gary finding a way to push my face into the seatback ahead, squash my nose.  “What happened back there?”

‘Oh—he just hit his head on the back of the seat.”  See?  Gary telling the truth but missing the beginning part.  Or then, when I kicked him hard in the shins and he howled—

Now what’s going on?”

“He just kicked me!”

“I just kicked him,” I always agreed.

No, on vacation—not going to the doctor’s or the dentist’s—there were two people up front, Dad driving and Mom with nothing better to do than watch, no getting away with much of anything now.

Besides, we were “too old for that”—meaning Gary, because he was four years older.  I still was on the lookout for revenge.  Just generally.  The kind that happens by accident.

We were going farther away from the ‘oblist’, that thing Mom kept pointing at.  The windows were down.  My brother was singing, Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord—  The same line three times (I guess he didn’t remember the words) and then pounced on the last line, His truth is marching on!  A song that was appropriate to sing in a parking lot in Washington D. C.

Singing and singing—and probably chewing bubblegum, too.  Because there were lots of bees around and one flew in his mouth.

Really!

“Hmmmmm-HMMMMMM-Hmmmmm-HM!  Hmm!  Hmm!”  He was making a noise like a humming but very strong.

“What’s wrong?  What happened?”

“I think a bee flew in his mouth,” I said.

“Oh now, a bee wouldn’t fly—”

“Hmmmmm-HMMMMM!!!”

Dad—looking in the rearview mirror.  “Dummy, open your mouth!”

You’d think—but I guess—it didn’t occur to Gary or me that a bee in your mouth would fly out if your mouth was open.  Seems reasonable to close—terrified because you don’t want to be stung—and how can you think of everything in a situation like this?

“OPEN YOUR MOUTH!” Dad roared.

Gary did.  The bee flew out.

Finally, a place to park.

Well, there was a door, and there was a statue (not very big).

“—Has eight-hundred-and-ninety-seven steps!  With fifty landings and memorial stones—  Over five hundred feet high!”

Gary saw the stairway.  Maybe he figured he might as well get started.

“But—there’s an elevator, honey.  I don’t think you can—”

Elevator with a squashed-up bunch of people waiting to get on.  Gary kept going.

“I’m sure if we wait—”

And going, he’d already disappeared around the first bend.

“I’m going up the steps way, too,” I declared.  And ran after him.

“You can’t—”

Up, up, up—not very much to look at.  Step, step, step, STEP, step, and the landings only made the climbing harder, I thought, unless you stopped and sat down somewhere and waited.  But Gary’d be way ahead of me if I stopped—

Step, step, step, STEP, step.  I should have counted!  I should have had some idea how much farther.  I should have—

I stopped.  There I was.  Not even sure I could count as high as—

I sat down on a step.  No fair, the steps were wider than normal stairs.  They didn’t have carpet.  And not just my legs, my hand was sore too from pulling on the railing.

How far had I come?

How far had Gary gone?  Way ahead of me.  Probably two steps at a time, his legs are long enough.  Probably—

Where was everybody?  Nobody else was climbing the stairs.  “Gary—?” I called.

Hard going down steps—I never thought of that.  If they’d been carpeted I could have slid down on my belly.

Worn out I reached the bottom.  There was Dad, waiting for me.  “That’s a lot of steps, isn’t it?”

“My legs ache.

“Come on, let’s take the elevator.”

“No.”

“But—Gary’ll beat you to the top—” Dad pointed out.

“Let him.”

“But—there’s a view of Washington, you can’t imagine how far you can see—”

“Let Gary.”

“I don’t think I could climb—what?  Nine hundred steps.  That’s a lot of steps for anyone to climb.”

My legs went on aching.  Maybe I’d have to have surgery.

“Your mother’s already up there, she’ll be disappointed if we don’t join her.  And there’s not that many people now, see?  When the elevator comes down—”

Dad took my hand.  “You want me to carry you?”

“I’m too big,” I said miserably.

“Well, a little ways—  Or, how about—did I ever tell you about Christopher Colomb—George Washington?  You’ll never guess what!”

“What?”  Without even thinking we were on the elevator.

“—What his teeth were made of!  I don’t know how he never got splinters!”  Dad could smooth-talk me into anything.

To the top, in an elevator.

“Where’s Gary?” I demanded.

“Isn’t he with you?”

“No, he was walking up.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll be here in a while.”  Mom smiled at Dad, Dad smiled back, some type of inside joke.

“Wow!  Honey, look how small the people look!”  Huh?  I looked.  Not small enough.  I expected they’d look like ants on the sidewalk down there; instead you could see what color their shirts were—and stuff—even one I bet was wearing Mickey Mouse ears.  Like I can’t have.  Or a Davy Crocket hat.  Like I can’t have.  Or—

“We’re five hundred feet up!  It takes a penny three seconds to reach the ground from here,” Mom declared.  “But don’t drop one—if it hits a person it might kill them!”

“Neat!  Dad?  Can I have a penny?”

“I have to save them for the meters.”

“Just one?”

“Did you hear what your mother just read?”

“Yeah.”  If my mother hadn’t read it right then, I bet my father would have thought about it and dropped a penny himself.  Looking down at those little people again I wanted to drop Mom’s book, that’s what.

Where was my brother?  I went to the top of the stairwell and looked down. “Gary?” I called.  “Gar-y?  We’re up here!  We beat you!”

My mother was reading to us again, “—The fastest anyone ever climbed the stairs was seven minutes, ten seconds.  Imagine that!”

Suddenly Gary was standing next to us.

“I didn’t see you coming up!” I blurted.

Gary shrugged.

“I bet you went back down and took the elevator.”

Gary shrugged again.

“I bet you didn’t climb the whole way.”

And if he didn’t, then how’s he know for sure I didn’t, either?

So there.  By my calculations, it’s a standoff.

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