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The debate over health care in the United States: a parable

funny short story: the debate over health care


The man leaves his garage carrying a ladder. He walks to a large oak growing in the middle of his yard, sets up the ladder up at the oak’s base and climbs to the last step, where he stands looking into the branches. He is wearing corduroy pants and a tee shirt purchased at a concert he’d attended a few weeks ago, from which he has yet to remove the tags. When the ladder wriggles, he sticks out his arms for balance, maintaining his upwards glance.

Cars pass. Eventually one slows, then pulls up to the curb. A man gets out and walks to the base of the ladder and asks the man standing at the top, “What’s the big idea?

“It’s not safe, what you’re doing,” he adds.

The man on the ladder shushes him.

The man on the ground has left his car running. He glances in its direction, listens to the engine’s slow rumbling. “It’s people like you costing the rest of us billions.”

The man on the ladder doesn’t quit looking into the tree. The man from the car, enraged, grabs the ladder’s legs with both hands.

He wasn’t planning on shaking the ladder’s legs. He has taken hold of them without even meaning to do that. It occurs to him he hasn’t the first idea what this other man’s reasons are for having put up the ladder, or for staring up into the bows of the tree. “People have to pay when idiots like you fall from ladders,” he says. “Or when they blow up the garage, or cut off a hand with a circular saw.”

“You left your car running,” the man on the ladder says, still without looking down. “Did you mean to?”

They both turn and look at the car.

Anyone in any of the cars continuing to slide past the house might think of the men as a team deliberating on the best way to proceed with their—well, with whatever their task was. Tree-trimming, perhaps.

“Where’s the idiot you’re supposed to have helping you?” the man holding the ladder asks. “You climb to the top of some ladder, staring up at God knows what. But doing all that without someone down here helping you—”

“Shut up,” the man on the ladder says. “Shush a minute and look.”

Finally, the man on the ground does look.

After watching him look a while, the man on top of the ladder returns his gaze toward the top of the tree.

“That’s—is that what I think it is?” the man on the ground asks.

The man on top of the ladder reaches, grabs a branch and hoists himself up. After a moment the man on the ground puts one foot on the ladder, then another. Soon he’s at the top, staring up into the tree. His car idles for some time, until eventually it falters and, out of gas, dies.

Patrick M. Faller teaches writing at Kent State Tuscarawas. His stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Inwood Indiana, and Souvenir. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFaller >>
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