That Friday morning
in early April I had taken a shortcut down an alley bordering our neighbors' back yards.
It was at Martha Gardner's house I saw a man high in a tree. He inched his way outward on
a small limb forty feet above ground. At the end of the limb a kitten, unable to descend,
crouched in terror.
Martha, clothed in a red housecoat, stood on her back porch clutching a plastic milk jug
in one hand, a newspaper in the other. She watched the man with astonishment.
I asked, "What's he doing up there?"
"Trying to save the cat, I guess."
"Is it your cat?"
"Never saw cat or man before."
The branch made a cracking noise, bending perilously under the man's weight, as he
continued to move forward. Descending from the porch Martha asked, "Tell me one thing, if
he falls, am I liable?"
She was exasperated. "You mean a perfect stranger can come into my back yard, climb a tree
and break his neck and I have to pay for it?"
"I'm afraid so."
Martha moaned, "Only in America!" and clutched the gaping red garment closer to her.
On the gate leading to the alley hung the man's coat. It was a tweed of expensive make,
but slightly frayed at the sleeves.
The limb groaned once more. I shouted, "Get back! The limb's going to break. The cat's
not worth it. Get back!"
He called down, "Take my coat and use it for a net. I'll shake the end of the limb."
As he crept forward, the limb broke with a splintering noise. Martha screamed, dropping
both milk jug and newspaper. I grabbed the coat and sprang under the tree. Within seconds
a furry ball hit the coat with surprising impact. Only later did I realize I had saved a
cat's life and ignored a man's safety.
Fortunately, the man did not need my aid. As he fell his arms reached forward
instinctively for a branch some fifteen feet below, his back arched and his body relaxed
as though he were an aerialist performing a routine act. From branch to branch he dropped
easily to the ground and came forward.
"Is the cat hurt?" he asked.
"No," Martha answered, " but I am. I think I just had a heart attack."
I handed cat and coat to the man. He stroked the cat tenderly for a moment, then released
it. The man smiled at us shyly. "I hope I didn't inconvenience anyone," he said.
"No trouble at all," Martha replied. "Each morning I come to the back porch, look at
young men swinging from trees and then I drop my milk jug. It's regular routine."
Reprinted with permission
from The Brother
Copyright © 2005
by Jack Barron