Through the slightly opened window, he could smell the sweet fragrance of lilacs and dogwood blossoms borne on the warm air from the courtyard below.
At least they allowed him this one connection with the outside world. He guessed they figured that a bedridden old man isn’t going to escape, especially from two floors up.
He loved spring. It reminded him of playing baseball as a kid in an empty lot down the street from his house. He loved the feel of the soggy earth beneath his feet. He loved the freedom of shedding his winter coat.
Freedom. It had been so long since he knew what it was like to come and go as he pleased. Now his days were spent in this hospital bed. They served his meals here. They made him swallow his pills here. They changed his diaper here.
He gazed through the window at the setting sun. Soon it would be dark. There would be one more check tonight, then lights out.
He waited until his nurse was gone. She had left his window open just a crack. Maybe she knew how he felt about spring. Had he told her? He couldn’t remember.
He pulled back his blanket and sheets, sat up and swung his legs over the side of his bed. His feet dangled well above the floor. He slipped off the bed and came down hard on the bare soles of his feet. A pain shot through his legs, but he resisted calling out. He hoped no one had heard the thud.
He shuffled over to a chair in the corner and sat down, looking around his room from a new vantage point. This was where his visitors sat, although he hadn’t had a visitor in a quite a while.
He looked at his bed. To him, it was more prison than bed. How strange it seemed to not be lying there now and to see it empty, like a prisoner surveying his vacant cell from the outside. For a moment, he felt like a man again.
The window was now less than two feet away. He could feel the warm breeze on his face. It called to him like spring beckons a child to come out and play.
He knew what he had to do. He stood and slowly made his way back to his bed. He peeled back the blankets, letting them fall on the floor. Then he pulled off the sheets and dragged them back to the chair. Sitting there, in the dim light, his hands shaking, he tied the sheets together, corner to corner.
When he was finished, he flung his newly fashioned “rope” across the linoleum floor to see how long it was. It barely stretched beyond his bed. He knew it was too short. What else could he use?
He thought of the fabric shower curtain in his bathroom. He went in, reached up and unhooked the plastic clips that suspended the curtain from a rod across the shower.
He dragged the curtain back to the chair. Sitting back down, he picked up the end of the string of sheets and tied it to the corner of the shower curtain. Was it long enough now? It would have to be.
He stepped over to the window and cranked it all the way open. He tied one end of his makeshift rope to the handle and tossed the rest over the ledge.
He stepped back over to the chair and pushed it to the wall beneath the window. Grabbing the back of the chair, he pulled himself up, first kneeling, then standing on the seat.
Holding tight to the marble ledge to steady himself, he swung his right leg over it, through the open window frame. Then he raised his left leg and extended it into the open air behind him.
He was now on his belly, his head poking into his room and his legs dangling out of the window. He inched back and grabbed the cloth rope with both hands. He knew he’d have to climb down quickly, that he couldn’t hold on very long. And so he began his descent.
He tried to ignore the awful pain in his shoulders, the trembling of his arms, the way the coarse brick wall was digging into his skin. He tried not to look down. He tried not to worry if the rope would be long enough.
Instead, he closed his eyes and breathed in the lilacs and felt the warm breeze on his face and ran down his street to the empty lot and returned to the joy and the freedom of spring.
Don Tassone’s stories and essays have appeared in a range of literary magazines. Many are posted on dontassone.com. His debut short story collection, Get Back, was published by Golden Antelope Press in March 2017.