"Don't look down!"
Those fatal words. Down went my eyes, my foot lost its grip along with my fingertips. Down I went.
"Told you not to look down. You gotta get back up."
"Ya big baby. Come on. I'll start over with you." He jumped landing on his feet.
We walked back to the side door. It was recessed into the side of the old brick school house. A row of brickwork began the wall at this entrance. It protruded almost a half inch from the face of the wall along the outside of the entire school facade. There was just enough room for the small feet of grammar school children. The edge of the Keds ankle-highs grpped the small ledge which began level with the porch leading into the side door. Another protrusion wrapped around the walls at just eyelevel, at least for a third grader attempting to "walk the wall."
Generations of kids hugged the bricks in an attempt to complete the entire school wall like a fly. Richard had done it.
"It's fun," he said. "I'll show you how." That's how it had begun.
The recess bell had rung releasing Kids from class. Doors had flung open to a flood of tiny humans into the world of sunshine. The midday sun shone bright and warm welcoming the happy voices of children unfettered by desks and books.
"Come on, Rickey. Let's walk the wall." Richard was already turning his feet outward against the bricks to place the entire inside of his feet against the wall facing. His Keds' soles perched precariously on the half inch ledge.
"You have to get as much of your foot on the edge as you can. Next is the important part. your fingers have to grip these bricks." He placed his fingertips on the upper row. The pressure he bore whitened his nailbeds as he stepped away from the porch landing.
"Just don't look down," Richard said inching his hand along the brick layer, then sliding his foot beneath him.
"Just do what I'm doing. It's easy."
"I don't know.."
I watched him perfecting his rhythm, hand, foot, body slide. Less than an inch of space lay between him and the brickwork. Quickly he came to the corner and just as quickly he was out of sight beyond it.
"Fraidy cat!" I heard from the other side of the building.
"Fraidy cat!" The call was picked up by the other kids nearby. I could hear the beginnings of laughter.
"I'm not afraid!" I yelled. I jammed my feet up against the wall and tried my weight. My outer foot sagged but it held me. I clutched the brick line at eye level then slid my right hand forward. I inched my right foot along lifting my left from the safety of the porch. I was doing it. I was walking the wall. Well, I was hugging the wall. Walking meant moving which I wasn't to the laughter below me. Slowly I crept sidwise inch by inch. The corner looked a hundred miles away.
"Come On!" I heard Richard's voice from the far side. "I'm alomost at the next corner!"
I hadn't even closed in on this one. Richard was going to finish before I could even round the first.
Budding confidence propelled me onward. The derisive calls of chicken began to die down as they began to latch on to the wall behind me. The calls changed to "Hurry up! Get out of the way!"
With my tongue protruding in concentration I picked up the pace. The corner! I was at the corner. With the chill of the bricks against my cheek, I slipped my hand around the edge searching for a hand hold. Finding it I edged forward and slid my foot around out of sight. Now to pull my entire body around. My cheek scraped along the mortar and brick. Don't look down I reminded myself. One more stretch of my arm and foot places me at the edge. My eyes stared at the corner. I looked up to see both walls rising to the roof a lifetime above. Finally I was facing my next challenge. Twenty feet lay between me and the next corner. Richard was already there feeling around to the longest portion and then he was gone.
"It's easy!" His muffled shout reached me.
I was doing it. Just don't look down. I moved with more agility now. Search, slide, move. I hugged that wall with open arms. All that held me up was fingertips and Keds' soles. I was a mountain climber in the Alps straddling a crevice. Onc slip and I would plunge to a horrible death. Perspiration beaded across my brow furrowed in concentration. A push from behind. I froze.
"Hurry up! The bell's gonna ring soon."
"Don't push." I yelled facing away from my tormenter.
"If you don't move I'll push you off!"
A fall to certain death loomed in my future. It all depended on me.
"OK1 OK! Gimme a sec." Slippery fingers inched over the bricks. I moved forward again.
My progress improved with the threat of total annihilation. One push could disloge me. Determination pushed me onward. The second corner came and went. I looked along the face of the third side. It reached to infinity. Richard was already at the four post mark. He looked back, loosed his left hand and waved.
The next fifteen minutes were filled with sweat and work as I continued walking the wall. Below me, now, were the kids playing tag between the four upright posts. I stepped down onto a set of steps leading to a door separating the wall's walkway for rubber soles. I rested as I slowly walked the top step to the next challenge. One of the kids behind pushed me aside. He jumped up onto the ledge and crab walked to the next corner. I slowly set my foot on the overhang lifting myself up. I faced the corner as I moved onward. Reaching the corner for my next turn I heard the bell ring.
Kids were running to get in line. I saw the rows of children form before my eyes. Doors opened and teachers came out to see that all their pupils returned to class.
I looked down. I held on. I looked down.
"Come on Rickey. We gotta go to class. Just jump down. It's only this high," he said holding his hand chest high. "Look. See. It won't hurt to jump down."
Maybe in reality, I thought, but to my mind it's a cliff in the heights of the Andes. A jump could plunge me to my death.
"Oh stop pretending you're a mountain climber and jump down. I'm going to class." He ran off. The lines for class were fast disappearing. Reality finally interupted my climb and I dropped off the wall. My Keds landed flat on the pavement and I scampered off to my class. My teacher held the door for her last pupil. She smiled as I found my desk.