Stair Masters

Originally written in December 2013

In the fall and winter, when it wasn’t nice enough to play outside, Mitch and I made our own amusement. We’d set up base on top of the wooden stairs in our tri-level home. Thirteen steps. The same unforgiving number that disabled our mother after slipping and falling down them. While she was fortunate enough to walk away from the accident, though still suffering nerve damage, my brother and I shouldn’t have with the shit we pulled.

One rainy day, Mitch and I wanted to ride the stairs, mastering them like the bull fighters my brother idolized back then. It was between that and a race car driver, so here was his chance to combine both.

We dumped a plastic storage bin of our toys onto the living room floor, coating the beige carpet in Lincoln Logs, Matchbox Cars, stuffed animals, xylophones, plastic car washes, Wild West play sets, and Jenga blocks. We haul the plastic green storage tub up the hardwood stairs to the third floor. Mom was either taking a nap or watching “Young and the Restless” in the family room on the first floor. Mitch and I would peer over the railing at the linoleum stairs leading down from the living room to the entranceway. The hutch was covered in coats, layered on top of each other like fabric fish scales. Mom sat in the room that was off to the side of the hutch, out of our view from the watchtower of the house. The sappy violin soundtrack from the soap opera wafted up to Mitch and I and I could almost picture the two lovers on the TV screen, how they’re cradled in each other’s arms, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, while a mysterious breeze keeps their hair constantly moving. While Mom was enveloped in the evil twin plotline, she thought all the noises were from us playing noisily. Hey, the rain may have kept us in, but boredom was not an option.

“Get the pillows from our beds. We can sit on them,” I said as I inspected the storage bin for take-off.

Mitch’s tiny feet thumped down the hall to our room.

The handles on each end of the bin would make great grip bars for our descent. One handle had fallen victim to a teething puppy so that side became the rear. Mitch trudged down the hallway with a mound of pillows blocking his view, like a garden gnome carrying a stack of seed bags. I slid the bin towards him and he tossed them in. He looked from our feather pillow seats to the thirteen steps below.

“Maybe we should give it a test run,” he muttered.

We both thought about Mom. She’d lose it if either one of us got hurt. Dad would be sure to give us a swift crack on the ass as soon as he got home from work.

“You’re right. Just to be sure,” I said.

Easing the bin over the edge, it gracefully glided along the steps as if it were running on a smooth rail. Upon reaching the carpet at the bottom of the stairs, the tub stopped suddenly, but gently. None of the pillows even moved. Mitch and I looked at each other then back at the plastic tub. What were we worried about?

“I think we’re good to go,” I said.

After dragging our green bobsled back to the peak, we ensured that the pillows were properly secured within the tub. By the test run, we only had to worry about cushioning our butts should we have a bumpy ride. A bruised tailbone would put a damper on the rest of the day.

Now, being the nice older brother I am, I offered the front to Mitch- forgetting the fact that the front was hanging over a flight of stairs. He could go first because I’d still have plenty of room in the back. We were still that small. Besides, Mitch would be hugging the container’s edge, trying to look over the front as we go down the stairs. He just needed a little boost to get into the bin.

My hands were placed on the rim of the bin as Mitch tip-toed into our plastic coffin as if he were testing hot water before entering. He paused, his eyes wary of what stood before him. I nodded my head like a horse nudging its young onto its feet after being born. Live a little, Mitch! I’d be right there next to you!

He eased into the wobbling container until he let gravity take over, lifting his other foot in the air. His weight at the front turned the container into a balance scale instantly, which I couldn’t counter. Mitch screamed, falling forward with the tub as I lost my grip on the rim, the plastic slipping out of my prying grasp. Like a rollercoaster cresting over a hill, the bin plummeted down the steps with Mitch in it. My hands smacked my face as I tried to cover my eyes from watching my brother get mangled on our stairs.

With him in the front, the weight within the bin wasn’t distributed evenly when it hit a snag on a step halfway down. I watched in horror as the bin capsized with Mitch still in it. It bowed like the rear of the sinking RMS Titanic, going until it was fully upside down. This didn’t stop it.

The rim I had lost my hold of scraped along the rough wood steps, rolling Mitchell along inside like ice in an empty cooler. Green plastic etched against the newly painted wall, shavings sprayed into the air as if the rim was being sanded down.

Well, the bin stopped just like it did during the test run. Suddenly. The pillows used to cushion our butts (our only conceivable vulnerabilities at the time) lay strewn at various points on the staircase. One cleared the railing entirely during the capsizing, like being launched from a catapult into the blinds across the room. The plastic strips on the windows were still swinging back and forth after the tub had landed.

Silence ensued as I noticed my brother’s limp arm sticking out from beneath the plastic lean-to against the steps.

“Mitchell?” I called down.

No response. I took one step down, my hand gliding along the glossy railing.

“Mitchell?”

A dull moan echoed within the chamber beneath the container. Chin colliding with step, knee knocking against snapped plastic, wrist pinning between plastic and wood, shoulder clipping the railing, and being suspended in air- that’s what my brother remembers. For me, each contact he had with the stairs was instilled in my mind like a frozen frame during a game replay. They played in my head over and over.

“What was that?” my mom yelled from down in the family room.

Oh, shit. My heart imploded at the thought of my mother coming to see how I killed my little brother. Almost falling down the stairs myself, I stomped down the steps and lifted the storage bin off him. His face was beet red as he tried to regain the wind that had been knocked out of him. His Thomas the Train shirt was lifted over his belly, the tag sticking out of his collar, the waistband of his underwear was folded over itself.

I heard the staccato slap of the TV remote against the coffee table downstairs and knew that Mom was on her way up. Dad would be home anytime from work, too. We were in deep shit. Well, I was. At the time, I wasn’t sure if Mitchell was going to make it and no way would they punish their injured baby.

I patted down his shirt. I tugged his pants up over the folded underwear, and jabbed the tag back beneath his collar.

“You’re all right,” I said, trying to console him and save my ass at the same time. “You just got knocked around, but you’re okay. It’s not that bad.”

The words sunk into his chest like a slow compression, taken aback that I was trying to sweep this under the rug. He could’ve died! His eyes burned with a vengeful, “You. You did this to me.

Mom’s slippers clacked against the linoleum stairs behind us, the one coming up from the entranceway to the living room. We hadn’t tried those stairs- at least not that time; they have as much give as concrete. The floor-to-ceiling windows ran the length of the south-facing wall, their light hiding nothing from my mother’s eye: a battered Mitchell, a toy minefield, a mangled storage bin, and a series of green scrapes down the staircase wall.

What,” my mother said, gasping. “What happened?!”

Her shirt bobbed onto of her frantic chest, her lungs inflating and deflating by the second. With Mitch still in a state of shock, I had to fess up. I felt terrible for what happened to him, but now it was time where I was in trouble. I figured it’d maybe lessen my sentence when the punishment was handed out.

“We tried making a rollercoaster. I should’ve got in first.”

“A rollercoaster! After everything I’ve been through?”

“Well, we put the pillows down for safety.”

Mom looked back at the battered Mitchell and she swooped down to his side, being careful not to move him much should anything have been broken.

Well, look how much they helped your brother. Mitchell, sweetheart, are you okay? What hurts?”

Mitchell’s lips sputtered as he started to cry. He was bringing the waterworks for Mom and I was screwed. Mom caressed his face, wiping away the newly formed tears from his chubby red cheeks. I glanced over my shoulder and out the windows. My father’s car was stopped halfway on our driveway and halfway on the street. He was grabbing the mail. He was home and I was dead.

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