THE SWING (re-published in ’Weirdmonger’ book in 2003)
If I, as a child, were capable of love, I certainly loved Robert. But really we were not even children, being little more than infants: me the ringletted, simpering one, him the boy I would always love to be.
There was a large swing in the orchard garden which hung on a blossom-tressed bough, a feature of our growing-up from that poetic moment in time when my father so proudly erected it. Robert’s father, however, was too sad to think about doing such things for his son’s pleasure. Both mothers—Robert’s and mine—had gone off somewhere together. My father had shrugged off what he called an inconvenience of passion; but Robert’s father had grown all bitter inside and lovelorn.
The wooden seat of the swing was almost too high for Robert and I to reach. Robert tilted backwards, his two palms pressed smart to the short horizontal plank, tugging up the rest of his unwieldy body in a combination of levered bone and sideways gravity. The first time he managed a wide swing, there were tears down his cheeks—in and out of the air like a puppet angel. The sky bluer even than his eyes. Joy on his face, his lips revealing snagged milk-teeth in a prolific smile. The ratio of swing-length to his effort grew greater by the second, making me—the mere spectator—jump up and down in excitement.
Our fathers stood at the kitchen door, mine waving generously, Robert’s slowly stirring some thick pea soup he had momentarily removed from the heat.
Now, my turn.
Robert, despite his size, helped to hoist me into position, my short frock riding up my thighs somewhat. But, at that age, neither of us cared. My father shouted for Robert to help push me. So he did. At first gently, then with gathering force. It was surprising the degree of strength pent up in our tiny pumping bones. Higher and higher, I lifted into the sky.
Today, I dream of those ancient times. I’m much older now but living in the same house. My mother has returned for a short stay until she dies. Robert’s mother is persona non grata, for whatever reason. The two fathers disappeared together one dawn on tiptoes. Robert died of a broken neck. Simple as that.
He had never wanted me to help push him—relying, as he did, on a mysterious physical force that needed no firm surface for leverage to bring himself to that point of no return where angels trawl for souls.
As they say, whilst human beings reach out for Heaven, angels die the other way.
My mother’s dying in the bed I’ve put her, where she still enjoys looking out at the orchard. Well, it was indeed an orchard once upon a time, but now more like Hell’s garden for devilishly green fingers to nurture.
I stare at the bare bough and, then, as the golden shafts of sunset (frequently so rare) tilt through the scrawny trees like Heavenly eyesight, I see a swing again hanging from it. Rocking to and fro, gently, silently, it beckons me with an inborn importuning.
This time I require no helping hoist. His body outstretched horizonatally, Robert—now grown up into the man he never was to finish becoming in real life—grips one end of the bough tightly by both hands whilst his feet are curled round the bark at the other end. I yearn to push calmly out upon this swing, a swing whose manly face, although full of strain, smiles at me. Thus, I sink my seat into the knobbled saddle of cantilevered flesh and bone—and pump my body against slip-fingered gravity.
Our Fathers In Heaven, both of them, forever and ever, till kingdom come . . .