The Ladder

Nathan Dragon

When I was maybe 27, 28, I was driving north with my panting dog in the back.

At some point we moved over from 95 to a local street. But before that, we’d been driving over marshes on an elevated highway and my mind was blown. We drove by a ladder sticking up from below, just peeking up above the highway guardrail.

The top of a ladder, Vic, I yelled. Ha! Would you look at that!!

That summer I worked on a roofing crew. I liked the work. I had an eye for ladders.

My mind said: Stairway to Heaven. It wasn’t though. It was 95 north into New Hampshire.

It was cloudless and hot that week, easy to remember that. It always was cloudless and hot and I always felt wet and heavy.

The ladder caught sun in a way it shouldn’t have. It blinded me, made me feel lighter. Maybe I was in heaven—so dogs do go there. I’d wanted to close my eyes and keep them closed but I opened them because I wanted to and because I wanted to live and I wanted my dog to live.

I’d never told anyone about that ladder because it seemed, at the time, melodramatic and embarrassing.

But later when I thought of it, it made me feel hopeful. Like the ladder was used for a getaway somehow and someone who needed to escape did. Climbed up to the highway. Lived. Keep living.

I kept driving.

I opened my eyes as my dog barked.

Nathan Dragon's work has been in NOON, The Baffler, Hotel, New York Tyrant, and Fence.