Every day for the past week, supper had been devoured in a hurry. Ethan had suddenly decided that the play structures in the little one-block park across the street, which had been there for his entire life, was the best sort of dessert. He had, in the way of little kids, decided that his visits to the slide, the teeter-totter, and the swings must come after supper, but he was more than willing to force the clock regarding just when after was.
Every day for the past week, Rose and I had taken turns courting indigestion, stuffing down our own supper to make sure he got his play-time in. It had been worth the effort, as Ethan had been flirting with insomnia previously, and this week had been a paradise of easy bed-times.
But tonight, he was carefully counting peas before each spoonful, and making potato sculptures with the slow deliberation of someone in a movie who has seen a UFO. It was my turn on playground duty, and I finished my supper long before he did. I exchanged a look with Rose when I stood to take out my plate, and we shared our confusion. Ethan had seemed as excited as every other night when the plates were going down, but that excitement had disappeared by the time he came in from the living room.
When he eventually finished, I said, “Ready for the playground?”
He looked up at me, corners of his mouth a little down-turned, eyebrows tented, and said, “Do I gotta?”
That demanded another look at Rose. She, behind him, was free to shrug. I felt myself mirroring his expression as I said, “Not if you don’t want to.”
His face cleared. Not all the way, but there was definitely relief. “Good. I’m gonna play Legos.”
I thought I should dig a little. I could understand a kid suddenly wanting to use a slide that he hadn’t taken notice of previously. It was like suddenly noticing that air exists; it’s been there all your short life, but one day you blow on a piece of paper and you’re aware of it. That playground was sort of the same. We’d taken him across when he was very wee, slung him on the little kid bucket-swings, then fallen out of the habit. It had become a mere part of the background until, for whatever reason last week, it came into focus.
To suddenly become disenchanted, though, was a bit of a worry. That’s usually connected to a bad experience. When I’d been out with him, we’d been alone, and he hadn’t hurt himself on anything. Rose hadn’t mentioned anything, either. Maybe we’d missed something.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go across the street?”
“No.” He didn’t stop in his amble toward his room.
He replied, as he rounded the corner out of the hall, but I didn’t understand what he said. “What was that, Ethan?”
He shouted the same response, as kids will, not just a little louder to carry the distance, but top volume. I still had no idea what he said, other than it had two syllables and might start with a G or a K. There was something in it, though, a slightly hectic edge, that made me drop it. I could ask again later, in hopes he would be more settled.
I was still afflicted with curiosity, so I went to the living room and had a look at the playground. It was just as it had been every other night previous, a line of structures on the near edge of the block, the rest of the space given to tiny ball diamond and an open field that saw little kids playing football in the fall. It was just as empty as ever, slide unslid, teeter-totters inert, only the swings showing any action, set going by the wind.
But that wasn’t right. One of the swings was moving, one of the big-kid ones that was just a straight strip of rubberized canvas. The others, another of the same sort and two of the little-kid baskets, hung like plumb-bobs. I looked past the swings, to the trees of the block beyond, and saw no sign of wind stirring their canopies.
Just that one swing, swishing through a broad arc, an enormous pendulum without a clock.
I watched, mesmerized. I wanted to call Ethan out of his room, get him to say that word again so I would know what it was. But I was starting to think that I had heard it as clearly as it could be heard, and I also remembered the slight tinge of hysteria in his voice when he repeated it.
As I stared, someone came in view. I didn’t know his name, I just recognized him from a similar passage the last time I was out there with my son. An older man, accompanied by a small trotting dog and a mild fug of smoke from his pipe. I had nodded at him then, as he passed, and he responded in kind, the standard suburban mutual acknowledgement. He didn’t look in my direction this time, but he did glance at the mobile swing without slowing his pace.
A moment after he was past the swing, it stopped dead at the bottom of its travel, suddenly as immobile as the others.
I craned to see the man as he departed. Neither he nor his dog seemed concerned. When I lost sight of them, I pressed my ear to the window, listening for… anything.
I almost jumped when the thunder of Ethan’s feet came up through the floor and into the glass. He had pounded out of his room, carrying something made entirely of blue Lego, with an unlikely arrangement of wheels. “Daddy, can we go out and play now?”
There was no sign of the nervousness that had gripped him earlier. I turned, and saw all the swings hanging and still in the light of golden hour.
“I thought you didn’t want to go tonight,” I said, cursing myself internally for wanting to rekindle worry in my innocent, happy boy.
“It’s OK,” he said, laying down the Lego thing as he headed for the shoe rack at the front door. “It found someone else.”
“Inktober 2019 – Swing” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.