by Dvora Elisheva
There is a story yet to be written. It is a story that has no beginning and no end. It just is. It is the story of the ladder’s rungs, the only story that has a middle. The rungs rarely wonder where they have come from, or where they lead to. They are only aware of being stepped upon, or lived on, depending on your perspective.
The middle-most rung, of the dozens on this long ladder was the one most sorely abused by its climbers, or so it felt. Every time a climber reached middle, they would stop and stand, full weight on the rung. Some would look only up before pushing higher still, always giving a full weight thrust on the rung, leaving him feeling exhausted and truly put upon. Others would look down, and then cling tighter to the sides of the ladder, clearly not understanding that the ladder could be dislodged if jerked too much, and then? Perhaps a new beginning… the middle rung didn’t know. He had only ever been in the middle.
A few reached his rung, and simply passed on. He was a passing touch to the soles of their shoes, barely felt or noticed. A greater few would do something quite bizarre, they would turn and then jump—straight off the ladder into who knew what nothingness. Those ones never attempted the climb again. The middle rung wondered if they survived the fall.
He didn’t know which was worse, not truly knowing from whence he had come, or not knowing where climbing past him would lead.
“I’m only a piece of cut, sanded and carved wood,” he once murmured to himself.
“At least you are natural,” a voice called in his direction. Drawn out of himself he attempted to look past himself and noted a new ladder by his side. There was a middle rung on that ladder too, but she looked quite different. How did he know the rung was a she? Perhaps the dangling rubber from her edges gave her away. She seemed rather worn, and well, flat.
“I AM flat,” she said in an insulted tone.
He realized he must have spoken out loud. “I’m sorry,” he said, I’ve not met another ladder in quite a long time, and never met another middle rung quite like you. What do you mean, you are flat, and I’m… natural?”
Round wooden rungs can make no expressions, their faces are wrapped around themselves with the rings of the wood from which they are carved. Yet, it is possible, his rings seemed to tighten a bit, as though to assure that the rung was securely in place.
The other middle rung sighed. “I am flat and I am not natural. I am made of machine formed metal, with rubber glued to me, so my users won’t slip, and so they can stand on me for hours if they must.”
Did a piece of rubber sway a bit? Was she, ahem, flirting with him? “YOU, sir, are natural,” she reasserted, “and quite handsome I might add.”
“Handsome?” If rungs could blush, he would have. Instead, he seemed to swell a moment, and then relaxed back into the holes he so comfortably fit into. He had never received a complement before. It was strange, and different, and felt kind of nice. A lot nicer than being stepped on or by-passed.
And so began the friendship of the middle rungs of an old wooden ladder and a modern metal ladder. Neither of them stopped to consider how they came to be resting side by side. They were too stuck in the middle to see from where they began, or to where they led. They just were.
Life became interesting, as he found that the people who climbed her generally stood for extended periods of time on, or just below, or just above her. Sometimes her ladder was moved to his right, then to his left, then in front, and then behind. He began to realize that there was a world beyond his rung and beyond hers.
She began to realize the same thing. They may have been only middle rungs, but they began to see that they were not alone. They conversed of many things. Sometimes the other rungs above and below would join in, but it was mostly the middle round rung and she, the flat modern rung.
One day the ladders were moved such that the rungs were almost touching. Almost, but not quite. The rubber on her rung had become quite loose by now, from so many standing and rubbing their feet on her. It was she who suggested they might be closer yet, perhaps, dared she ask, they could touch?
It frightened him at first. He had only ever been touched by those stepping on him. No one just touched his rung, and certainly no one ever climbed on him and exclaimed at his handsome rings, and smooth feel. No one.
But a gentle breeze was blowing that day, and she was certain she could reach him, if only she tried. The moment came when a climber pushed her rubber in the direction of the middle rung, along with the breeze blowing in the same direction. She willed herself to touch him, if only for a moment, if only through her rubber, she was sure they would find a new way to communicate, and perhaps, a way to stay together forever.
The rubber lining on her rung stretched, and for the briefest moment in time it touched him and wrapped around him as no foot, or hand had ever done before. For the first time his face was discovered and she knew what he looked like and she liked what she felt and saw through the feeling. The magic of touch flowed magically between them both and then, abruptly ended, as the rubber unwrapped and snapped back to her rung, bringing with it the memory of his incredible smoothness, making her ashamed of just how unnatural she was.
For the longest time neither of them could speak. If a wooden rung can weep, he wept. But it was more like the sap of a tree after being cut. The silence was destroying him, and still she did not speak, though their ladders remained so close he could have touched her with a whisper.
Then he saw someone climb her and trip on the loosened rubber of her rung. They made an exclamation and tore the rubber off of her and threw it off into a distance he could never really perceive. He heard her cry of pain, but was helpless. What could he do? Stuck in the middle as it were.
Eventually her ladder moved away, then further away still, until she was totally out of sight.
It has been many years now. He is still a serviceable middle rung. He was, after all, well made by a master craftsman. Every now and then he remembers the feel of her rubber stretched thin around his face, and for a brief moment he remembers what it was like to be seen, to be touched, to be wanted.
The middle rung who does not know his beginning and cannot understand his end sighs to himself, part in sadness and part in gladness. He wishes her well, wherever she is.