I was watching a girl in the park today, all alone in the middle of the polo fields. I didn’t know she was there when I started walking across the fields, because the fog was thick coming in off the water, but she gradually emerged from the grayness as I got closer to her. She was young, in her late teens or early twenties, and dressed in an old-fashioned dress and lace up boots, something she’d have worn if she’d been alive in the early twentieth century.
That was odd enough, but what was even more unusual was that she had with her a wooden ladder, about ten feet high with thick rails and rungs that had been painted black. She wasn’t carrying it across the fields, mind you. She was just standing alone with her ladder in the grass and fog, looking up into where the sky would be, if you could see it through the fog.
I looked up too, but I couldn’t see anything.
When I looked down again, I saw that she was working the rails of the ladder into the ground, twisting and pushing it until it sunk a few inches into the damp soil. When she appeared satisfied with its placement, she took her hands off the ladder a few moments and watched as the ladder held… held… held… and then began to tilt forward and fall. Then she grabbed it again, pressed it down once more deeper into the ground.
Then she put one foot on the lowest rung.
And then her other.
And she began to climb.
Was she a gymnast, this girl? A circus tightrope walker? Whatever she was, her sense of balance was amazing. The ladder swayed this way and that, drifting one inch, two inches, and then swaying back the other way again just as it seemed that the balance would be lost, that the point of no return was about to be passed.
Up one rung.
At four rungs, the ladder tipped dangerously forward, and she pulled it backward and overcompensated, going too far. She took her feet off the rung and slammed them into the grass, and the ladder came with her, almost hitting her in the head when she landed.
“Next week,” she said, “I’ll do five.”
“That was amazing. How long did it take you to learn that?” I said.
“Three years. My father said he learned it in two, but it took him six years to get halfway. I’m going to do it in five.”
“Is he an acrobat?”
“He’s a florist,” she said.
She put her ladder beneath her arm and walked off into the fog.
And that was my day.