Dec 22

Swing Summer

We go, that afternoon, to the tallest swings in town. We have to, because we are the tallest kids. Not as tall as our parents, yet, but our legs are long enough that when we go to the smaller swingset, we scrape them on the ground. I meet my best friend on the corner in front of my house and we walk the rest of the way together. The sidewalk is hot with the summer sun, so hot that I say I can feel it through the soles of my shoes. She says that's silly. She's called Alice. She's not older than me, but she wants to be.

We meet Sam and Isaac at the corner of the playground. They got there earlier but waited for us, leaning against the fence and talking about Isaac's new bicycle. Sam has dark, curly hair that he keeps up in a hat. He has a little brother but didn't bring him today. "Where's Teddy?" I ask him.
"Home. He's having a birthday party?"
"How old is he turning?" asks Alice.
"Ten."
Isaac snorts. "Imagine being so excited about turning ten."
"Yeah," I say, "I mean, he's still little."
Sam looks at his feet. "It's just as well. This way we don't have to take turns." There are only four swings. There used to be five, but the fifth one came down when one of the chains rusted out. Isaac swears he was swinging on it when it fell.
I take the swing farthest left, and Alice sits next to me. Isaac picks the swing next to hers, and Sam takes the last one on the other end. We start swinging. I'm the best at it, I go the highest, ever since I learned how to pump when I was six. Sam and Isaac try to knock each other off their swings, squawking like birds, until Alice tells them to cut it out. "You know, you could get hurt. My cousin knows someone who fell off a swing and broke open his head. His friend saw his brain."
"Did he die?" asks Isaac.
"No. He was fine, but he had to get twenty stitches. And they shaved off all of his hair." Alice shudders. 
"What did the hair have to do with his brain?" I ask.
"Not sure." She kicks her swing higher and looks straight up into the sun, like she sees something the rest of us can't.
"Hey!" I say, "Look!" Alice and Sam are perfectly synchronized, kicking up and swinging back down at the same time. "Sam and Alice are married!"
"Married, married, Married!" sings Isaac, and we laugh so hard we almost fall off our swings. Sam blushes.
"Don't be dumb," says Alice. She slows a little to bring herself out of rhythm. "This is a stupid game."
"You don't have to make it a big deal," I say. 
"Married, married, married," Isaac says again. 
"Don't be a dummy, Isaac, they aren't married anymore."
"Does that mean they got a divorce? Like Julie's parents?"
"My mom says we're not supposed to talk about that," says Alice. 
"Why not?" asks Isaac, "It's true."
"We still shouldn't," says Alice. She's stopped swinging, and sits slouched on her swing, twisting the chain around her hand.
"Why'd you stop?" I say.
"I'm getting nauseous," she says, savoring the long word, "I have motion sickness."
"You never had motion sickness before."
"Maybe you've just never noticed it."
"Stop fighting," says Sam. "If she doesn't want to swing, she doesn't have to."
"Yeah," says Isaac, "if she wants to be boring, she can."
"I'm not boring," she says, "You're just acting childish."
"I don't want to swing anymore, either," says Sam. He starts dragging his feet to slow himself down.
"Don't," Isaac tells him, "You should jump."
"Jump?"
"Off your swing," Isaac explains, "Swing really fast, then jump off at the high point."
"What's the farthest you've ever jumped, Isaac?" asks Alice, and she giggles. 
"Farther than Sam has." He grins. "Come on, Sam. Jump for it."
"I don't want to," says Sam in a small voice.
"Why not? Are you scared?"
"No!"
"Then why not?"
Sam can't answer that.
"Come on, Sam," I tell him, "You can do it. I bet you can."
"Tuck your knees," says Alice.
"No, stick them out," I say,  "you'll get farther that way, because you'll be more streamlined."
"If you jump with your legs stuck out, how will you land?"
"Does it matter?" asks Isaac. "Don't worry about landing, Sam. Just jump." But Sam won't. His face is pale, and he's gripping the chains of the swing so hard that his knuckles are white too. Even so, he swings higher and higher all the time, so high I think he might go all the way around. "Jump, Sammy boy."
"No. I won't." His voice breaks. "I'm nervous. I can't."
"Yes, you can!" I say.
"Don't be nervous! You don't have to be scared," says Alice.
"I don't want to," says Sam quietly, and I want to tell him, no, you don't have to, but I can't find my voice, and I can't be heard over the sound of the way Alice and Isaac are chanting "Jump, jump, jump!"
Sam closes his eyes and he's gone. He lets go of the chains, and he flails his arms as he flies up, up, up, and I can already tell that he's going to land all wrong. The angle is wrong, he's got one leg tucked, and one flying out behind him like the tail of a bird. His eyes are closed. Alice covers hers with her hands. Isaac is staring at the sky, imagining his friend at the peak of his flight, but Sam is not flying anymore but falling. I'm the only one who sees him land. Softly, surprisingly softly, he collapses on the ground. His hand twists.
"Can you bend it?" I ask him, and he can. He doesn't cry, just stares at his wrist like he's seen a miracle. And in a way, he has. Impossibly, he's unharmed. 
"Don't tell my mom," he whispers. And then he picks himself up off the ground and goes home.
We never swing together again, and in a way, it's just as well. We are too old for the swings.