Did you ever wish your little sister was a little brother instead?
Five-year-old GiGi placed one foot carefully in front of the other and wondered how many big brothers, like hers, wished they had little brothers instead of little sisters. Determined to show her brother that she could do this on her own, she spread her arms for balance and took her first step along the edge of a cliff.
Her brother wasn’t really a crab. She called him The Crab, because he was crabby.
A hundred feet below she could see the bottom of a dark canyon. At least, it seemed like a hundred feet.
She wasn’t afraid.
Stumbling, she crouched and wobbled. Extending her arms, she regained her balance and took another step. The Crab always demanded bravery from her, and made her do death-defying feats so she wouldn’t be afraid, like when he made her lay on her back in a ditch and take pictures of him jumping over her with his BMX bike. Could she say no? Not even! He was bigger, six years bigger. He wanted a little brother, and she was it. To be certain that he was watching her death-defying feat she glanced his way and noticed a hint of worry in his medium-blue eyes. He was covering it with a smirk. GiGi could see through the smirk and smiled to herself. This was right where she wanted him.
Her next step caused the board she walked on to roll forcefully out from under her feet, casting her over the edge. She splayed her arms in the certainty of death. Fear paralyzed her little chest and she couldn’t utter a sound as she plummeted into the canyon.
Her life flashed before her eyes before she hit, and guilt consumed her as she recalled the time she killed The Crab.
He wanted to build a tree fort, not an ordinary fort, but a double-decker in the biggest tree in dad’s woodlot. Dad told him he could help himself to scrap wood behind the garage, and help himself to all the nails he wanted—that is—until the day dad needed nails and wondered why the fifty-pound box was empty. GiGi knew where they went, but she also knew better than to say anything. The nails went up the ladder into the fort The Crab was building. She’d carried them up to him one handful at a time.
The Crab used the last of the nails to build a railing around his upper deck. When he needed help holding the railing in place, he conscripted GiGi. That was the day she lost her fear of height.
Cutting down whole saplings, The Crab had stripped the limbs and hauled the slender trunks up the ladder to make railings. GiGi held them in place while he drove the last few nails. She tried to tell him it was too heavy and she couldn’t hang on. Leaning over the railing, he kept hammering, hammering until GiGi couldn’t hold on any longer.
Over the side of the upper deck The Crab plunged, flipping and thumping on his back on the ground in a heap of pine needles. Now motionless, his long, blonde hair covered his lifeless face.
She knew she had killed him.
Down the ladder, she rushed to his side. And to her great relief, he’d come back to life. He didn’t come back like his old self though, more like someone who’d been beaten with a crabby stick.
Now, it seemed only fair that she was falling to her own death in a hundred foot canyon. Then abruptly she landed on her back, gazing up at a great mound of earth that loomed above one side. Turning her eyes she gazed up a gray cliff above the other side, the cliff she'd fallen from.
Blue summer sky brightened a narrow strip above, and she could see The Crab looking down, his eyes filled with intense compassion. She imagined that she might have looked at him the same way after he fell from his tree fort.
Then off the cliff he leapt to save her, seemingly weightless, seemingly suspended in effortless flight down to where she lay. In his eyes she thought she saw tears, as he frantically grabbed her up the earthen mound. GiGi was glad that she wasn’t dead after all, and that The Crab flew down to save her. Her own heart leapt because he would sacrifice his life for her. Atop the mound he stood proudly with her shirttails clenched tight in his fists and GiGi dangling from them.
Dad couldn’t seem to stop laughing, and Mom covered her mouth in horror. Dad had told GiGi to stay away from the edge just a moment earlier, but GiGi tried it anyway. Cupping his hands around his mouth, Dad called out.
“Don’t worry. It’s like falling into a pile of pillows.”
Standing on the big empty expanse of floor that someday would hold up the walls of their new home Dad stood with Mom and continued to explain, “I just had the footings filled with pea-stone. It’s only a couple feet down. And now that the footings are filled with pea-stone the trench is like a big pillow all around the house.”
GiGi wasn’t sure what pea-stone was exactly—squishy when she landed—but definitely not the kind of peas she would want to eat. She couldn’t stand in the loose pebbles, but she didn’t have to. The Crab had carried her to safety. He had jumped off a cliff to save her. And that meant he loved her, even after she had killed him at the tree fort.
That was all that mattered.