April McGowan

Short: Swing

“Well, you can’t have it!” She screamed loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.

Jimmy slammed the door in Macy’s face as she tried to follow him into the front yard of his mother’s house. He felt her eyes on him as he approached the aging swing hanging sideways off the old oak.

“Why does that old thing matter to you anyway? You were never here to use it.” She stood on the other side of the screen door as the accusing tone in her voice raked over him. Macy didn’t seem understand his penchant for keeping everything. Or at least his trying to. Did she forget how he’d owned nothing for years?

“I’m doing my best to clear out this house, and all you want to do is pack everything away.” Macy pushed open the door, stood on the steps and put her hands on her hips, a stance that told him he was on her last straw. Some things never changed.

Jimmy wiped his eyes and pretended to ignore her. He turned over the swing seat and saw the initials carved there. His finger followed their outline, bumping over rough, cracking wood. He glanced back at his wife.

“I don’t expect you to do anything. I just want it.” Taking out his pocket knife, he cut the single lasting rope that held it suspended over the ground for the past twenty years. Satisfied, he tucked it up under his arm, ignoring the splinters that poked through his shirt and into his flesh.

“Fine. You keep whatever you want. Go rent a truck and haul all that garbage out of here by Monday. Whatever’s left is being donated to the poor.” She pushed past him towards her car.

Jimmy grabbed her as she moved by, pulling her towards him. She swung around, wrenching her arm away. He put his hands up and took two steps back. “Listen, I appreciate your taking care of everything all this time, Macy.” She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I know you did a lot.” Her head snapped up, eyes blazing at him. That got her attention.

“I did it all.” The last word ground out past her teeth.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

“That was your doing.” The bitterness in her tone didn’t shock him. The accusing looks didn’t either. He deserved her wrath.

“I know it was.” But, there was something he didn’t understand at all.

Glancing back at the old house, the only home he’d known really, he decided the question had waited long enough. “Why’d you stay married to me, Macy?” He didn’t look at her. Rather, he hoped she was already driving away in her car.

“We made a covenant.”

Jimmy closed his eyes at the pain he heard in her voice to avoid seeing it in her face. “I broke that, didn’t I?”

“No. You never did. Least ways, I don’t think you did.” She sounded strange. Regretful?

“I’ve been in jail for twenty years. That’s not enough to break it?”

“No.” Resentful.

“I robbed a bank and that man died because of it. That’s not enough?”

“No.” Macy’s voice was just above a whisper.

Jimmy moved away and sat down on the front step. He slipped the swing seat from under his arm, tracing the dedication. “Did they use it?” He heard her step closer, then stop.

“Yes.” Her voice choked. “They’d push each other and pretend you were pushing them.”

Pain. Clear and bright it tore through him. He’d missed his children’s growing years. He’d missed being married to the most amazing woman he’d ever known. He’d missed taking care of his mother in her aging years. Missed Christmases and birthdays. Flu’s and chicken pox. First days of school, first dances, first dates and first broken hearts. He’d missed his mother’s funeral. For what?

“There’s nothing I can do to set things right. God knows I tried.”

“God knows?”

He glanced up at her face, wondering at the tone she’d used.

“I think so. I talk to Him about it.” Jimmy shook his head in shame. “Those men I was with. They knew they had me. They found a stupid desperate kid who wanted nothing more than to take care of his wife and new twin babies. They promised him things, things deep down he knew they’d never deliver on. And that stupid boy agreed to drive their car for them.” He shook his head at the memory. Even now he could feel the fear and excitement that had welled inside. He’d gripped the wheel, ready to make their escape as soon as they climbed in the car. He’d gun the engine and they’d make off with everything he needed to take care of his family. No working sixty hours a week at a minimum wage job could give him that kind of security. Their bills would be paid in minutes. They’d be set for months until he could find another job. And then the next one.

He would have never stopped.

“I thank God the police caught me, Macy.” They hadn’t caught the others. He’d been honest at the trial, he didn’t know their names, didn’t know where they lived. There was a public outcry. Someone had to pay for that security guard getting shot. Jimmy paid.

“Did I hear you right?”

Tears welled as his eyes met hers. “Yes, you heard me.”

“You had to suffer for what those men did. You lost everything for them!”

How could he make her understand? “If the police hadn’t caught me, I’d have gone right on taking the easy way. The kids would have grown up with a father who was a criminal.”

“That is how they grew up.”

He shook his head. “No. They grew up with a father who paid for the crime he committed.”

“You didn’t commit that crime.” She sniffed. “Robbery. You should have been out in five. You paid for someone else’s crime.”

That was the rub. The very thing that opened his eyes to God. “I needed that time to turn my heart around. If I hadn’t got caught, who knows what kind of man I’d have become.”

She shook her head at him. She probably thought he was crazy. “You haven’t become any kind of man.”

Macy’s words cut him. She hadn’t let the kids come by more than once a year to see him. She blamed it on the prison atmosphere. She only came to see him three times a year, claiming it was too hard to see him in there. None of it was true. She was punishing him, over and over again for the mistake he’d made.

“Are you ever going to forgive me for being weak?”

“I don’t know that I can.” Tears streamed down her cheeks.

He glanced down at his hands, rubbing his thumbs over the seat. “You know why I made this?”

“I have no idea. But your mother insisted we put it up in the yard.”

“So part of me would be here.”

She tried to snort, but it ended in a sob.

“Sometimes it takes a man a long time to realize what’s important to him.” He held out a handkerchief to her. Taking it, she dabbed her eyes.

“You had to go to jail for twenty years to see what’s important?” Anguish laced her every word.

He shook his head, unable to make her understand. She would stay married to him forever, because of a vow she made before God. But, it’d be like they were strangers. He didn’t think she’d let him live in the same house with her. There was nothing he could do to change her mind.

His gaze traveled over the porch, stopping on a looped rope he’d intended to use to secure the boxes on the trailer they were pulling. Standing up, Jimmy grabbed the rope and headed towards the big oak in the front yard. He tossed the rope high, slung it over the branch, and then he did it again. Fall leaves rained down over his head, showering him with the dust of passing time. He secured the swing seat and patted it.

“Let me push you.”

Macy shook her head at him. Then her eyes went wide. He could see almost see the light turn on in her mind. She’d finally remembered.

“We used to swing together, in the park.” Her voice was just above a whisper.

“That’s right. You said you felt free when you were swinging; lifted up, the ground rushing by, but you were safe. You said you’d always want to swing with me. That you felt like nothing could touch you when I was pushing you. Invincible.”

Tears streamed as she clenched her eyes closed. “We were kids.”

“We were in love.” He patted the seat. “Let me push you.”

Macy crossed her arms over her chest. She shook her head at him.

“Please. Then you can go.”

Jimmy didn’t know if it was the word please or the promise he’d let her leave. Whatever it was, she gave in. Walking slowly towards the swing, she turned her back to him and slipped down onto the seat, the ropes creaking against her weight as she settled back. He put his hands over hers, gave them a squeeze and stepped back, pulling her on the swing with him. Then, he let go.

He pushed her, again and again, and watched her legs instinctively go out and back, pumping. He gave her a harder push. She let out a quick gasp and laughed. Ten years fell away.

“Not so high.”

“Swings are meant to go high. That’s the whole point,” he repeated the same words he’d used all those years ago. Fifteen more years stripped off. She was above him now, head tipped back, looking through the branches.

“What do you see?” He took a quick peek past the orange and yellow of the dying leaves.

“Blue sky.” Her voice came in a wisp to him as she swung away.

He smiled as joy met and mingled with bittersweet regret. They’d never be the same, but he’d always have this. He pushed her again, but he didn’t need to. She was on her own, pumping higher and higher, laughing now. Then, as if someone blew a whistle on the playground, she slowed her legs and came back to rest in front of him. He stood behind her, once again putting his hands over hers. She didn’t move away. Instead she leaned back, her head coming to rest against his chest.

“I missed you.”

“Me, too.” This was it. Goodbye. He braced himself for the pain he knew was coming.

Macy stood and stretched in front of the swing. Her hair was mussed and interwoven with tiny bits of leaf and moss. She ruffled her hair, shaking out the lose pieces and gave him an embarrassed smile. Then she came around behind him whispering in his ear, sending a shiver of hope down his side. “Your turn.”

Holding his breath, Jimmy met her eyes and found warmth there.

“You going to get on, or what?”

He nodded and squeezed his body in between the ropes. Again, they groaned. He put his feet up, feeling like a little boy. He felt her hands wrap over his.

“Ready?”

“I’m set.”

Her hands pulled him back, and then she gave him a heaving push. He was much bigger than she was, but she got the job done. He began pumping his legs back and forth. Laughter bubbled up from his chest. The ground swung away and back, his stomach pulling down with gravity at each pass. Her hands pushed, her voice laughed and then he heard a thud. Turning behind him he saw Macy sprawled along the ground, shaking. He jumped from the swing, out of instinct. Landing hard, he felt his ankle give a bit. He’d pay for that tomorrow.

Racing to her side, he saw her shuddering was from laughter. He knelt down and began pulling bits of earth and tree from her hair and clothes.

“Are you okay?”

“I tripped over the root.” She kept laughing, drawing him in to share her joy with him. As their smiles faded, she focused on the sky above. “Thank you for the swing.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

Macy’s locked her eyes on his. “We need to take it with us. I want you to put it up in the back yard.”

“For the grandkids?” A hopeful confusion washed over him.

“For us.” She took his hand. “For us.”

Copyright by April McGowan 2011

2 Comments

  1. Louise dunlap
    Oct 11, 2011

    A very good story April, and well written. Have you pitched it anywhere? I’m sure there are markets for it. I just had one accepted today by Live.

    • amcgowan
      Oct 11, 2011

      Thanks, Louise. I don’t have much luck finding places for short stories besides contests–and that starts to get expensive! Congrats on your article being accepted by Live! Wonderful news!

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