Swing High

Swing High

A Story by nathanwohosky
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I wrote Swing High several years ago, I couldn't help putting it up after re-reading it. Still makes me sad.

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My lungs rattled harshly as I mounted the decaying steps to the abandoned home. 

I pressed hard against my cane to support my trembling body that was as decrepit as the house I was entering. My hospital gown fell open in the back. I didn’t bother trying to use my arthritis-riddled hand to close it.

I was alone, and the dark December sky gloomed above me, threatening to downpour on the agile frame I carried.

The threats no longer held any sway over me, not like they did seventy-three years ago.

Once my sluggish body reached the splintered porch I turned slowly and surveyed the sky.

Dark angry clouds were billowing together and the distant sound of thunder hit my failing ears. A smile cracked the wrinkles of my worn face as a drop of rain hit my weathered cheek.

It trailed down a groove that age had created and landed on my lips. I tasted the precipitation with my tongue and my smile widened.

I was home.

     I didn’t have much time to go on, so I looked toward my getaway car and chuckled to myself. I can hear Sammy and Trish talking about this tomorrow, wondering how their senile old father snuck out of his hospital room and drove Trish’s car four hours in the drizzling rain.

     I’ve been bedridden for seven years, but something deep inside me has been pushing, telling me not to let my muscles atrophy. Knowing I had one trip left in this marrowless bag of bones that I call my body.

It’s a fascinating thing, adrenaline. The ability to shock your body into believing it has more energy than it should. I’m not a doctor but I do know adrenaline has kept me alive my whole life.

     No memory of this dilapidated assembly of termite-infested wood should have been inviting for an old man to come see.  I suffered the entire sixteen years I lived here with my constantly intoxicated parents. No reason a dying old convalescent like me should want to spend his last bit of time on earth being reminded of the horrors he grew up with.

     However, I returned victorious. Not in strength of the body but in strength of wisdom and understanding. Know that I did not journey here for one last glimpse at the sewage of my youth but as a reminder of what made me.

     I pushed the stubborn door open with my left arm and let the hinges cringe and creak as loud as my joints were creaking at the time.

     As soon as I walked in I could almost instantly smell the scent of liquor and cheap cigarettes on the air. Is it possible for those smells to last over seventy years? I doubt it, but the sense of that constant smell came to me instantly as if my parents had not died years before. As if they hadn’t died screaming in a fire caused by an unwatched cigarette in the bed sheets. They were too drunk and stupid to save themselves as they were quietly consumed. God looking down without pity giving them a preview of the hell they created in the afterlife.

     I took another step further in and I was ten years old again walking inside from the storm. My father greets me hello.

“You little s**t! Look at all that damn mud you just tracked in!”

My mother comes and greets me as well.

“I ain’t raising no f****n’ insolent brat take those boots off!” Her greeting includes a kiss, the kind of hello kiss my mother would give, a firm smack to the top of the head.  I shake my head and I feel stronger than I did as a little boy. Stronger now because they couldn’t touch me, couldn’t abuse me, and if they were here they couldn’t hurt me any further than I already was.

     I glance around the miniature living room, torn mattresses and flannel sheets have been a new addition to the living quarters. A vast array of colors cover the walls, different names sprayed here and there and sometimes mention of dates. On the far living room wall, the one that faces the dirt driveway spanning a mile off the main road was a mural of a grim reaper.

     Only his beady red eyes showed from underneath his abnormally large hood. His scythe was raised high in the air and grasped by both hands as if he intended on reaping my soul. It’s funny how nothing can scare you when you’re so close to the end of everything. Every threat to my life is no longer anything to worry about.

       I move closer to examine the new sleeping arrangements. Blood drops cover some of the mattresses and old syringes lay scattered about near the beds. Empty bottles were lined up against another wall, articles of clothing were scattered here and there. 

     Cigarette butts and ash covered everything in the entire place, which is why the house greeted me with the same smells as it did as a child.

     A part of me was satisfied, another part wanted to laugh that some damn local drug addicted kids kept up the reputation that my home had when my parents were still alive.

     When my parents burned alive in their bed, in this very home, I inherited the house and property. With all the failures they had as parents and as people in general I was always amazed that they had gotten their s**t together enough to completely pay off the house.

     That’s why I never tried to stop the decay that had slowly taken over that began after they had died. Even though my parents had smoked in the house and were raging alcoholics they kept an extremely clean place. So when they died I figured since they never lived to be old and tortured as they should have been, then the only thing they ever loved would slowly fall apart.

     It wasn’t a matter of revenge on them, I believe they paid themselves back for all the evil things they did. Maybe it was about revenge to begin with, watching it all break down and fall apart.

I’d leave the doors and windows open, not a single one was broken, which was surprising with the recent tenants. The local kids knew that no one had lived here in decades so they’d bring their mattresses, booze, and needles and make a weekend out of the place. It was somewhere to go, somewhere out of the rain where they couldn’t hear their own parents screaming. Now and then I wish I could have afforded that luxury as a child.

     I moved through the hallway into the kitchen where empty candy wrappers and broken shot glasses littered the counters and floors. Again my mothers voice greets me as I enter the kitchen.

“You’re hungry huh? You have two f****n’ feet right? Walk to the store and steal something. You’re young you can still get away with it. Why should your father and I suffer when you can take care of it yourself?”

     She never cooked; there was never any food in the house either. Unless you wanted to eat moldy bread, or drink milk that had been in the icebox for over a month. I can remember sneaking into bed when my parents stumbled in the house at two-thirty both liquored up from their night down at Leed’s Bar. I’d be happy just to go to my room unnoticed. Even if I hadn’t had anything to eat all day I went to my room and prayed to God in heaven that they forgot about my existence. If they had ears at all they could probably hear the rumble of my stomach, but even if I was dying I doubt they would’ve heard me. On the rare occasion they’d remember to tell me goodnight, which would consist of a whipping for something I had forgotten to do or something I had left lying around.

     As often as I could I’d sweep through the house as soon as I heard their car approaching. Knowing that I was avoiding a lot of trouble just by making sure everything was cleared up and away. The least they knew about my existence the more my chance of survival seemed to be. I didn’t think that I grew up with bad parents; I just accepted it as a fact of life. I thought all offspring viewed their parents in the same way as I did. How was I to know any different?

     I didn’t have any friends other than my imagination growing up. I kept to myself at school, sitting in a bathroom stall during lunch because I had no money for lunch and my parents never packed a bag for me.

    I just figured that’s who I was supposed to be, I knew I was different but never felt a certain way about it. I just knew that it was my place to hide, to keep out of view and to stay to myself.

     I walked through the kitchen down the hallway that used to be lined with photographs of my father’s family. I never saw any of my mom’s side, from what I remember hearing they all hated her and shunned her for marrying my father who wasn’t so far up on the social ladder.  Maybe there was more to the story, but she didn’t talk about it all too often. The only time her family came up was in a drunken argument with my father.

     The first door on the left was my parent’s master bedroom. The door was slightly cracked open and I could see the charred walls and furniture. I pushed the door open a little more and peered in, it looked as if no one had entered the room since their death. No mattress here, not even any spray paint or trash around on the floor. The room just had such a feeling of overwhelming death, a pungent odor in the air that warned all who entered that they would soon be making a voluntary U turn.

     I looked around slightly, careful to not actually step inside the room. Satisfied to see nothing had changed, I moved down the hallway to the only other bedroom in the house.

     The whole reason for my struggle was for that bedroom. Not the room itself, but the meaning that the room itself had to me a night years ago, a night a lot like tonight. It was in mid December and the sky was dark and lighting was flashing all around the country.

       I open the door to my old room and my eyes flew instantly to the open closet. More memories swept over me as the closet consumed my thoughts. I had slept in this closet more often than in my own bed, it had become my coffin, my death, and my comfort.

 

     “Where’s that little s**t?” My mother’s voice rang clearly in my head as if she was yelling it from the next room.

     “F**k if I know, he’s probably out on that damn swing again, I think your son’s a f*****g fairy.” Came my father’s reply as he slurred his words and stumbled around the kitchen.

     “If he’s a f*g it’s from you, can’t even get your limp dick up to f**k me anymore.”

     “Hell the kid’s probably Richard’s, you fucked that boss of your enough I’m sure! No wonder he’d be a damn c**k-sucking fairy! And maybe you’ve just gotten so used up by him I don’t want to get it up for a w***e!”

     “Used up? You’re a sack of s**t! There’s plenty of men old and young at Leed’s right now that would f**k me in a heartbeat!”  My mother responded slamming glass onto a counter.

     “Go for it s**t! I’ll throw you and your f****t son out on your a*s!”

    

     Those were the conversations I’d overhear in my closet as a little boy. Some varied slightly, but overall if they ever included or remembered me, that’s how I remember my parents talked about me. They were truly meant for each other. Never in my long life have a met a couple more removed from the truth and reality, or more evil than the people who brought me into this world.

     They never left each other because down in the deepest heart of hearts they understood that they would never find other people to accept them. Or anyone willing to put up with their s**t, so they stayed together, and stayed miserable.

     My room was filled with a random assortment of clothing, mostly undergarments that the drunken teenagers had left behind after their sexual escapades. I’m happy that someone got to enjoy that room, or got to share it with someone who they were close to. In the sixteen years I lived in the same room I never saw love, sex, or closeness with an individual.

     When I met Grace I was already thirty-two years old and she swept me off my damn feet. She showed me that what I had grown up to believe about myself wasn’t true, and blessed me with my two beautiful daughters.

     There were also beer cans strew across the floor accompanied by cigarette butts and condom wrappers. The room looked like hell and somehow it made me happy, happy that the decoration finally matched the feeling that it had given me as a child.

     I glanced out the window and saw that the rain was starting to come down in light sheets and a flash of lightening lit the sky for a split second. God’s flash was on, must be taking his pictures again, documenting what’s happening to me.

     I stare out into the darkness of the field and suddenly my eyes are fixed on the object that I came for. About twenty yards out from the house stood a lonely oak tree in the middle of a field. Dangling still from one of its perfectly horizontal branches was a swing. If I ever loved anything growing up it was that swing. My closet was an escape, but nothing could reach me on that swing. My parents knew that I would go out there for hours on end, especially if they were on a drinking binge. I’d play games with myself and pretend I was a rich explorer, out to discover a new country, or lead people to safety.

     It was the only place where my dreams came true, so I’d sit there and ponder. Discovering new things about myself and the world around me; but most importantly it was out of earshot of my parent’s voices.

     There was a night when I was ten years old, a night like any other at my home. I was sitting on my bed looking longingly at my swing, wondering how much longer I could stomach the drinking and yelling going on in the kitchen and living room.

     “You drank all the f*****g whiskey?” Mother’s dear voice blared. “A*****e!”

     “Who broke my ashtray…” There was silence and I had frozen dead and stared at my bedroom door. I had broken it on accident earlier in the day. 

“That little s**t!”

“You probably broke it your damn self, dumb drunkard!”

     I instantly bolted for my closet but then froze, that was like putting myself in a coffin.

“He won’t get away with it don’t try to protect him!” My father yelled. I had moved quickly to the window and opened it, the cold air and rain poured in as I did. I heard my father’s boots banging on the hall floor, him stumbling into the way knocking his family’s pictures to the floor as he came toward my room.

     I put my foot on the windowsill and had launched my way into the shrubs about four feet below my window. I had scratches all over my legs and stomach but didn’t wait to check my wounds. I bolted for the safety of my swing.  

     The rain began to pelt down as I neared the swing. I had also forgotten my jacket so the rain immediately soaked through my t-shirt and I started to shiver.

     I made it to the swing and sat down holding my shoulders trying to gather warmth. It was warmer in the house, but I was surviving much better out on the swing than I would have been surviving inside with my insanely drunk father.

     The rain was stinging cold but I remember rocking back and forth, shivering in the cold. Then as if heaven reached out and touched me in some miraculous way a hand was on my shoulder. I turned stunned and dazed at first and the sweet touch of a girl was on me.  I turned in the sheeting showers to see a girl a little older than me taking her large coat too big for her and settling it on my shoulders.

     “You’re safe.” were the only words she uttered. I had no reply; I had never even laid eyes on this girl before that moment. The swing was wide, wide enough for our two small bodies anyway. She slid in next to me and fit the jacket around the both of us.

     “Swing high.” She whispered leaning on my arm. We worked in unison to rock back and forth higher and higher in the bulleting downpour. We took that swing to new heights it had never seen that night, and suddenly the swing not only represented escape but also freedom. Even in the freezing rain I felt peace and comfort for the first time in my life.

     We continued for what seemed hours, until she stopped pushing her legs and so did I. We came to an eventual lull and then a stop and I laid my head on hers.

     “I’m Grace.” She said in almost a whisper again. Once again I had no words to reply.

     “I love the rain,” she continued, “The next day everything is clean like you’re going into a world untouched. Like the universe suddenly decided to make everything new again.”

     I sat dumbfounded not knowing how to give an appropriate response to anything she was saying so I continued to lay my head on hers and breathed a sigh of relief through my chattering teeth.

     “You’ll be safe here nothing can hurt you.”

     That whole night she sat with me and the rain died down and we nodded off to sleep, my head on hers. It was nothing big, a usual night for me but with the company of a stranger. She was somehow a compassionate, loving stranger who understood me without me uttering a word. I woke the next morning my head still on Grace’s and I found that she was no longer sitting with me. Her jacket was closely wrapped around my body, but there was no sign of her. My parent’s car was gone from the driveway; they had completely overlooked the fact that I was not home.

     The sun was out and there was no sign of any rain clouds to be seen. The day was new, just like Grace had said it would be.

     There were still six more years before my parents would die by their own hands. There was another sixteen years to go until I met Grace again. My wife was the most understanding creature that ever walked the face of the earth and until she died at the age of seventy-three she was my best friend. I never asked her if she was the girl from the swing, I never even mentioned it to her. I assumed my entire life that it was my Grace on the swing that night. However, I never brought it up. It was best for me to believe it was her, taking care of me that stormy night. Believing it was her encouraging me to stay strong and that the rain does wash all the filth away.

     Even though there were six more years of hell and drunken arguments and impromptu beatings from my parents, I was at peace. Whenever I was starting to get scared or lonely I would look out my window to that swing and remember the words “You’re safe.”

     An old man kneels by his old window, whispering those words to himself, “You’re safe.”

I got off my knees with the aid of the windowsill and my cane and shuffled out the door. I walked through the filth that had once been my parents pride and joy. As I left I tapped my mud-covered shoes on the floor and smiled softly.

     I opened the door and the rain was pouring down harder than I could ever remember it pouring. I shuffled my old body down the crumbling wooden stairs and began my trek toward the swing. I faltered and slipped in the mud once or twice, but it didn’t matter, I was almost at freedom. I half limped half crawled to the tree.

     I pulled myself up into the swing and I sat with a smile on my face. There was no big meaning to my life; I didn’t end up a successful businessman, or anyone wealthy. I lived an average life after my parents were gone with nothing of value to even note in this last summary.

     I thought about Trish and Sammy and the things I left behind for them, hoping that I had been a good father.

I thought about Grace and how much I missed her.

I thought about my drunk parents and wondered what would have happened if they hadn’t died.

I thought about everything that night sitting in my hospital gown.

For the first time in my life I felt completely at peace, and then I heard her voice.

“Swing high.” She said leaning her head onto my shoulder. So once again I obeyed her order and began pumping my legs as fast as they could go.

     The rain continued to pour down, and I pulled the swing to a stop and I sat and thought some more. I placed my head against the frayed rope that was holding the swing on by hopes and dreams and closed my eyes.

     I’m ready now; I’ve lived a full life and can’t complain. I close my eyes as the rain continues to pelt my old skin.

I smile to myself as I close my eyes for the last time and whisper, “You’re safe.”

© 2013 nathanwohosky


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Added on August 28, 2013
Last Updated on August 28, 2013
Tags: swing, tree, grace, fiction, elderly, life, wohosky, safety, hope, retrospect

Author

nathanwohosky
nathanwohosky

San Diego, CA



About
I'm an aspiring writer from San Diego, my goals like many are to make my passion of writing my career. I've written several short stories and a few novels. My interests include, science fiction, the h.. more..

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