One sharp bark jolted me awake.
“Okay, okay.” Throwing back the covers, I swung myself into a sitting position. The rough tread on the safety step felt cold beneath my bare feet. In near darkness, I felt more than saw the intense stare from the round black eyes of the small white creature standing near the foot of the bed.
“Okay, Ellie. I know we have a deal. But, it’s not even five o’clock.”
Guided by ambient light from atop the water tower, she watched while I pulled on yesterday’s socks and shoved my feet into clogs placed at-the-ready by the foot of the bed. I reached for my robe. “Get your leash.”
The dog paid no attention to my command.
A slight detour through the kitchenette was necessary to flip the water kettle switch on. The full pot responded with a hiss. Ah, coffee. Soon.
I wrapped a warm scarf around my neck and grabbed the oversized hooded sweatshirt from its hook near the door. The sleeves of my heavy robe bunched up in odd-shaped lumps inside the sweatshirt. I stuffed a small flashlight into a pocket and stooped to buckle Ellie into her little harness.
Before the door could be pulled shut behind us, a gust of rainy wind blew in under the eaves. The mini poodle turned to retreat into the dry studio.
“Oh, no you don’t.” I reeled in the line, brought her close and marched her toward the yard.
In a methodical grid pattern, the dog took her time to survey the scents in every inch of grass between sidewalk and birdbath.
Nearly drenched, we headed back toward our refuge. I tugged the leash slightly to the right. “We’d better go out front and get the paper. If we don’t, it’ll be too wet to read.”
Paper was a word Ellie knew well. It meant an opportunity to check on the world outside the gate. She changed direction, and led the way along the walk beside the house. Easily, the dog navigated the raised wooden cover over the access to the area beneath the house. As she crossed the hollow structure, the light tapping sound of her tiny paws was drowned out by the sounds of rain.
I kept to the concrete walk which skirted the cover. As we passed near the motion detection light, our path was lit.
Swollen with rainwater, the heavy redwood gate presented a challenge. It took several hard tugs to pry it open.
The car, with its nose to the garage door, sheltered the newspaper. I knelt, tucked the end of the leash under my left knee, stretched out and reached around the rear wheel. With help from a driftwood stick my grandson brought home years ago, I coaxed the paper close enough to grab.
Victorious, I stood up and tossed the stick under the blueberry bushes. Cold, rain-soaked clothes chilled my neck and back. The front of me wore a covering of dead leaves and driveway grit.
“Come on, dog, let’s go.”
With the paper in my left hand and leash in my right, I trotted back along the house in long, fast steps. In my mind’s eye, I saw the studio’s entryway and looked forward to my snug little nest.
I had no inkling of pending disaster as I stepped out and placed the heel of my left clog atop the wooden cover. As heel touched rain-slicked wood, my momentum shifted my body weight forward to a position just over the cover. My right foot floated to the top of an arc and began to descend toward its next contact with the earth.
At this point, a freeze-frame would show an old woman and her dog hurrying to get out of the rain. Nothing amiss here. I’d prefer to stop the telling now, but I’ve brought you this far and would not want to be unfair.
My left foot skated across the wood and flew out into space. My right foot quickly found its place next to my left.
Now let’s freeze a second frame. Except for a look of sheer panic and my arms flung upward in a frantic reach toward heaven, a magician’s levitation trick never looked better.
Of course, as anyone with any sense knows, laws of physics rule. What goes up must come down. And down I came. On top of the basement cover with a mighty “whump.” By my side, little Ellie stood stock still.
Irrefutable facts: When a person in haste falls, it can mean some level of hurt. When an old person falls, whether in a hurry or not, something is very likely to break. A hip, a head, neck, back – well, you get the not-very-pretty picture.
I hadn’t fallen in more than ten years. Stunned, I reclined there on my back, wind knocked out of me, my robe flung open and my gown hiked up above my knees. Time ran out on our light and we were out of its range. Darkness descended.
Self-made adrenaline began to course through my veins. Along with it came fear and confusion.
Inside my head, my inner voice yelled.
Hey! Are you hurt? Can you get up?
Ugh. I don’t know, but I doubt it.
Do you know where you are?
Yes. Prone on top of some wet wood. And I’m getting cold.
To prove my point, I shivered.
Think, my voice told me. Think about the important stuff.
Okay. Good idea. I’ll call somebody. My phone … It’s in the studio.
Now, that’s real smart.
I’m getting wet and there’s a cold draft up my gown.
Well, pull it down.
I laid the paper on my stomach and tentatively reached down toward the hem of my gown, an impossible distance. I gave up the effort.
The insistent voice nagged.
Time to determine the damage. Somehow, you’ve got to make it back to the studio. If you have to crawl or drag yourself, so be it. The door’s not locked. You can reach up and grab the handle, then crawl inside where you left the phone.
I groaned, rolled to my left. After testing to see what parts would move and what would not, I shakily maneuvered myself onto my knees. I felt no pain, but could feel myself going into shock. With great trepidation, I slowly got to my feet and shuffled the short distance to the studio. So far, so good.
Inside, I turned on lights and hung up my soggy sweatshirt. With slow, careful movement, waiting for indications of injury, I dried and fed the dog. While strong, hot coffee brewed, I changed into dry sweats and socks.
At last, I eased into my comfortable chair, my phone and a cup of coffee on the table beside me. Besides growing bruises on my right arm and backside, it looked like I escaped major injury. I couldn’t imagine how.
Smiling, I gently shook open my morning paper.