The Swing

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
Haruki Murakami from Kafka on the Shore

Nothing terrible happened.

It was just a nap, but she often remembered it in her longing to re-experience the sublime sensual moments of that afternoon long ago—when her world was small and perfect.

Lying on her stomach, the little girl moved her hot, tanned legs across the cool sheets of her parents’ turned-down bed. The warm summer breezes created a semi-rhythmic sway and rrr-uu-ssh sound to the lowered window shades. And the dreamily fading sound of the traffic below, produced for her almost-five-year-old psyche, a cradle-rocking embrace.

Breakfast that summer day had begun with the mixed smells of bacon fat and soap detergent and the “rump-rump” of the washing machine moved to the middle of the large kitchen. Her mother, seeing the little girl eying the attached clothes ringer from her two sofa-cushioned chair—for she was a little one— said, “Come on now, hurry up and finish your breakfast.”

Oh, how she loved to stand on the chair and crank the ringer and watch the clothes transform from heavy, dripping globs to flattened sheets that dropped into the wicker clothes basket. The little girl didn’t know it was Saturday. In her mind, it was the day Mommy didn’t have to go to work and the best day of the week.
During the week, her elderly nana was in charge.

“Stop all that running around, you’re making me tired,” she would often call out.

The little girl learned that if she was quiet enough, and took off her shoes, she could take the ever-useful small green sofa pillow out to the front hall, and rest it on the round wooden globe at the bottom of the railing, and run up the stairs, slide down, run up, and slide down over and over until her nana called out for her. The little girl’s world was small, and she went from window to window observing all the motions outside. There was a large gray school with big tall windows across the street, and sometimes she spied children playing behind the thick iron fence. There were no slides or swings in sight, but still, she longed to join the raucous calling-outs, and running and chasing.

 The little girl loved to watch the traffic too. Lots of cars and trucks like her daddy’s truck moved in the street. Sometimes big trucks would go by making loud noises. And every once in a while, one that her daddy said was a cement truck lumbered by with its belly going ‘round and ‘round.

 But the screeching and wheezing sounds that signaled the approach of the orange and white bus that stopped in front of her parlor window was what she liked to listen and watch for the most. Standing on the cushions and leaning over the back of the sofa, the little girl watched the people getting on and off throughout the day, and sometimes if she woke early enough, she saw her mother getting on one of the buses. But mostly she liked to watch the people getting off the buses in the late afternoon.

 “When’s Mommy coming home, Nana?”, she would ask every afternoon.
“Soon, soon, dear, you better go watch for her.”

 First checking to make sure her nana wasn’t watching, the little girl silently jumped up and down on the couch when she spotted her mother.

Daddy came home after Mommy.

 With her mouth pressed to the window sill, and smelling the dust and varnish of the wood, the little girl watched out another window that overlooked the dirt driveway and would run out when her daddy shut off the truck’s engine— for she was old enough that summer to go outside by herself. Standing on the running board, the child waited for him to roll down the window, or if it were warm like it was on that wonderful, heartbreaking day, he would put his head out the window so the little girl could lean up and kiss him.

 That summer her daddy had brought home a swing set for her birthday. She had never seen anything standing that tall in the back of daddy’s truck. And it was for her! The swing set was set down under a scraggly tree in a tiny plot of weedy grass, not unlike the backyards of her two young friends who lived on either side of the little girl’s brown and black speckled asbestos shingled house. The little girl and her friends usually played on the swing set after supper when the day’s lowering sun made the city heat more bearable. They would squeal with delight as they leaned backed and pumped their feet. They liked to swing higher, and higher until the legs of the metal frame would start to pull up from the additional stakes her father had used to secure it—for he knew his little girl. The sound of the muffled, earth-pounding “thump” of the loosening stakes, made her daddy come to the bathroom window one evening.

“You kids, stop that now, you hear. Stop all that high-swinging stuff, or I’ll take that set back to the store!”

The three swinging arcs stopped abruptly.

“Your daddy’s mean,” one of the friends whispered in the little’s girl’s ear. The little girl knew her daddy would never bring the swing set back; nevertheless, she lowered her head and cast her eyes on the three dusty depressions made by the “high-swingers.”

 After her nap on that hot afternoon, the child’s day turned wondrous.

“We’re going out for dinner!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” her daddy said.

“Nothing fancy, just to Lucy’s Diner,” he said as he turned and looked at her mother.
“Oh, goodie, goodie!” the child cried, as she ran in continuous loops between the kitchen and living room. She had never been to Lucy’s Diner or any other eating establishment, but she knew where Lucy’s Diner was located. Its’ blinking neon sign with the big “LU” was partly visible from the parlor window. She knew it was the diner because she and her daddy drove by it once a week on the way to get gas for the red Chevy pick-up truck. She always liked looking for that bright, colorful sign. Sometimes, if her daddy’s truck was going slow, she could look inside and see the stools with their shiny red tops lined up below the counter like toy soldiers. The little girl wished she could spin around and around on one of them. Eating at the diner was too big a thought for her to imagine on those trips to the gas station.

The little girl spent the remainder of that hot afternoon playing outside in the shade of the house. Finally, her mother called out, “Come on in sweetie, it’s time to go.”

“Yippee, yippee,” the little girl shouted.
“Stand still so I can wash your face and hands.”

Holding her parents’ hands, she hopscotched across the street, and as they approached the diner, the rising hot air and acrid smell from the black pavement rushed over the little girl. She let go of their hands. It was too hot. Her daddy held the worn door open for her, and a new sensation surrounded her.

“Why is it so nice and cool in here, daddy?”

“It’s air-conditioned,” he said as he hoisted her up onto the red-topped stool.

The stool!

“Now stop that twirling around,” her daddy said.

“How about some chocolate milk and a hamburger,” her mother said, as she smiled and turned the child to face the counter.

The heat of the day still lingered, as the little girl and her parents crossed the street to return home. The little girl was tired, but already daydreaming of the spinning stool, and the big dish of french fries that the three of them shared. Her mother pushed open the front door and started to climb the stairs. She suddenly paused, turned around, and noticed that the little girl’s father was still standing on the front porch.

“You’re going out?” she said. “You’re going to see her?”

The little girl heard a new sharpness in her mother’s voice. She was too young to recognize the pain, but it frightened her. Not daring to look back at her father, or ask who “she” was, the little girl followed the hem of her mother’s skirt upstairs. Her mother kissed her goodnight and hugged her so tight the little girl almost cried out.

It was a hot and restless night. No cool spot on her bed could be found. The little girl’s bedroom curtains hung limp, and there were no soothing rhythmic sounds to ease her confusion and fear, only the intermittent sound of a garbled sob from her parent’s bedroom. Long after the sporadic, muffled noises ceased, the little girl thought she heard the “clunk” of her daddy’s truck door, and she waited for him to come up the stairs, but he never did. Tiptoeing downstairs, the little girl roamed the house looking for her daddy. She found the kitchen door that led to the side porch open, and a faint wisp of tobacco smoke gave away his presence.

“Hi, pumpkin.”

She climbed up onto the glider swing, and tucking her legs up, and pulling her nightgown down over her knees; she nestled into the crook of his arm. They swung back and forth slowly and silently while her father blew smoke circles for her, only this time she didn’t have to say, “Blow another one, Daddy.” Her daddy’s arm was hot and sweaty, and he pulled her close, yet she didn’t pull away. She thought about her mother’s tight embrace and sobs at bedtime.
The little girl didn’t understand, but her world was larger now, and the motions were slower. She put her head on her daddy’s chest and closed her eyes.


  1. Lori Lee Palmer

    Kathleen – “The Swing” was an interesting story told from the point of view of a five year old girl. The sensual details, especially of sounds, drew me into the time period of the story. Great job!

    • admin

      Thanks, Lori. Glad you enjoyed the story. Funny thing; I left out a couple of paragraphs when I first posted the story and didn’t discover the problem until hours later. I’m not sure which version you read, but the good news, I guess, is that the omitted paragraphs in the first version weren’t the critical parts.

  2. Pat Goldman

    Wonderful story. I could feel the heat of the day, the cool of the air conditioner, the smell of the dinner, the soft breeze from a window, the cool of the sheets and the formulary sounds of the street. Oh…yes.. and who can forget the thumping noise the legs of the swing set makes when flying to high? Nice job Kathy!

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