“Come on, Dad,” Savannah said. “Whatever happened to relaxing in your golden years? Sipping mint juleps on the porch, listening to U2, or whatever you old folk like?”
“I don’t know. What do you old folk drink?”
“You’re not funny, sweetheart. And fifty-eight’s not old. Shit, U2’s still touring and Bono’s sixty-nine.”
“The normalization of geezers gyrating on stage doesn’t make it acceptable. And the same goes with retirees diving into an endless stream of projects.”
Montgomery Ignatius Alexander Gold, Jr. knew the real reason his daughter pushed back on his endeavors. It wasn’t about his inability to idle, but rather her silly humiliation phobia. He tried to put himself in her shoes, but for someone who refused to let apprehensions stand in the way of his own ambitions, it seemed to Montgomery that parenting by example would be the most effective—if not only—approach. Plus, one family’s touch of embarrassment could very well be their patriarch’s pride.
Two years earlier, he rented an art gallery for twelve months. He created an installation that filled an entire wall, depicting every girl he ever dated, no matter how briefly. A long timeline chart included a photo and reason for the relationship’s demise. A handful had a question mark. Though nothing in the gallery was for sale, he hosted an opening exhibition with a wine and cheese spread, hired a receptionist, the works. He considered it a museum of his love life. His wife occupied the last spot on the wall, with a prominent photo twice the size of the others. He didn’t affix an explanation below it. The gallery visitors assumed they were still married, living happily ever after. His friends and relatives, on the other hand, knew why it didn’t last with Vicky.
Maybe he shouldn’t have retired early.
Montgomery hit the jackpot seven years prior when he sold his stake in Techion, the leading producer of driver-assisted AI software. When the self-driving car disaster led to Congress banning the murdermobiles in 2025, people still craved a version of the technology. Driver-assisted cars were the answer. And now, every car around the world built after 2027 utilized his brainchild. Techion’s CEO hailed Montgomery a genius, but truth be told, the idea hit him one night in his twenties – sitting on the couch after a canceled date, eating a Twinkie, drinking a beer, watching a rerun of Knight Rider.
Retirement on a sixty-acre property in upstate New York two hours from the city was the cure for eighty-hour workweeks. Fish-stocked ponds, streams and virgin forests blanketed the estate. Though his idyllic home offered the peace and quiet Montgomery convinced himself he craved, he could never sit still. He’d tried his hand at many pursuits over the years – art, guitar, furniture making, writing, cooking. They were all simple hobbies that didn’t bring him to where he wanted – no, needed – to be. Techion and its CEO, Bill Frazier, were synonymous with modern life, but nobody knew Montgomery’s name. He’d yet to make his real mark, and destiny banged ever louder on a door that slipped gradually out of reach.
According to his latest life test, he only had another forty-three years (plus or minus three months), presuming he maintained his current diet, exercise routine and lifestyle. Sure, even the laziest of people could get plenty done in four decades. The real issue was life’s a young man’s game. He needed to reach his goal now.
The plan was simple, and Montgomery could accomplish it in his own backyard: A five-hundred-foot ladder. And when he finished building the world’s tallest freestanding A-frame ladder, every person on the planet would know his name.
Savannah pulled her chestnut brown hair into a pony tail and tied it with one of the hair bands perpetually on her wrist. “Sure you’re not suffering from heat stroke, Dad?”
His daughter’s question snapped Montgomery back to the present. He shifted, flapping the back of his palm tree-splattered turquoise Hawaiian shirt to air out the sweat-soaked cotton. Cold beers on the shaded veranda did little to quell a stifling eighty-nine degrees. Unseasonably hot for Thanksgiving, even these days. Inside, the AC ran full blast, while the turkey roasted in the kitchen and everyone else packed the living room to watch football on his 98-inch quantum dot wallpaper TV.
“Been thinking about this for a year,” Montgomery replied.
“I just don’t get it. A five-hundred-foot ladder?” She squinted at the sky, seemingly calculating the height. “How is that even possible?”
“With ingenuity, engineering and the right tools.”
“But why?” She took a sip of her pumpkin ale.
“Why else? To get into the Guinness Book of World Records.”
Beer dribbled out Savannah’s mouth as she gawked at her father. She didn’t wipe it away.
“Come on,” Montgomery said. “Would you rather me line up thousands of dominoes? Or raise the world’s fattest pig? I’m gonna tickle the clouds.”
“I’d rather you just take it easy and spend time with your kids and grandkids. Tickle them. Why do you want to be in a record book, anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean, ‘What do I mean?’ I don’t know how else to phrase the question.”
“No, I mean, ‘What do you mean?’ as in what are you talking about? Isn’t it obvious?”
Staring at him, she shook her head and mouthed, ‘what?’ as if he said the most preposterous thing she’d ever heard.
“Sweetie, there’s only one reason to be in a record book.” He took a sip of his ale. It was already warming up. “To be famous.”
“You are famous.”
Montgomery laughed. “Maybe some software developers know my name.”
“You were on the cover of Wired.”
“The print version. What, five people saw that?”
“And building a ladder is a path to more fame?” As usual, she wouldn’t let go of a topic she disagreed with.
“Yup,” he said. “And when I get to the top, everyone will know Montgomery Gold.”
He kicked his feet onto the white cushion of his modern outdoor sofa that cost far more than it should’ve and settled into it, not bothering to remove his loafers. Had Vicky been there, she would’ve admonished his etiquette.
Savannah shook her head in disbelief. “Wait, what did you just say?”
“When I climb the ladder. I’ll have Guinness, news crews, the works. It’ll be an event.”
“I thought you were just making a five-hundred-foot ladder.”
“You can’t make a ladder and not climb it!”
“Are you gonna wear some sort of harness or rope or whatever?”
“And tie it to what?”
“Sorry,” his daughter said, not masking her distress. “I can’t let you do this.”
“I’m not asking your permission, sweetie.”
Savannah exhaled. Montgomery didn’t want to upset her, but better she knew now than start prodding him with questions once all the materials arrived. “Should I have food trucks? Maybe bands?” he mumbled.
“Do you think mom would’ve been okay with this?”
“Okay, definitely not.”
“So then how can you do it,” Savannah screamed.
“Because she’s not alive anymore.”
It was Montgomery’s turn to sigh. The two stared at each other a moment, then simultaneously took a swig of beer and gazed out toward the Catskill Mountains. In the season’s unnatural heat, the foliage had turned a burnt yellowish green, looking like a moldy grilled cheese sandwich forgotten in the back of the fridge.
Most of the trees on his land still held their green leaves. He wished they’d fall. He wished the branches were covered with snow. He wished he, Savannah, and the boys could sit by his outdoor fireplace, bundled up, reminiscing about the one and only time the family attempted a camping trip.
Winter’s breath lay in waiting beyond the horizon, ready to pounce with a vengeance. Despite what the atmosphere teased, the Earth still moved away from the sun. The chlorophyll would soon be sucked from those green leaves and they’d fall just like everything else.
Vicky adored all things green, especially clothes and accessories. The color accentuated her turquoise eyes. When she lay there on the road, killed by that mother fucking self-driving Uber, she looked so stunning in her emerald green dress. Was that a morbid thought? He didn’t care if it was, shrugging off any illusory criticism. She was a gorgeous woman, a woman he missed every damn day of his life. Too bad life tests can’t predict accidents and murders.
There were still open questions about Vicky’s death and Montgomery intended to get some answers.
Though his parental responsibilities compelled him to tell Savannah about the ladder, he lied about his reason for building it. Perhaps he even lied to himself. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Guinness Book of World Records or being famous.
No, he wanted to climb to the top of that ladder, look God in the eye … and demand to know why the hell the bastard stole the love of his life.
Rob Samborn is a novelist, screenwriter, entrepreneur and avid traveler, who has lived I five countries and studied nine languages. Set in Venice, Italy, his debut novel is an otherworldly adventure that follows disconnected soul mates across four centuries. He’s represented by Brower Literary. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and dog.
Located in Los Angeles, California.