1. Speech Therapy
I went to the speech therapist because I needed to talk to someone. The speech therapist said my R’s were soft. I said I just wanted to be able to talk to you again. She said try rolling your tongue toward the roof of your mouth and back. I said I couldn’t stop thinking about you, that I needed to see you. Let’s start with something easy, she said. Look. Like this, she opened her mouth wide: red, red, red, she repeated. I said I knew that you would want to see me too. Red, she said one more time, drawn out and exaggerated, rolling the R in her gaping mouth until it sounded less like a word and more like a color. I never meant to hurt you, I said. Yes that’s it, she said. Never, she echoed, hurt, hurt. There were reasons, I said. Good, she said nodding, very good.
They gave me responsibility. Corner of Central and 11th. Then assigned me a reflective vest and an orange belt. They gave me a small stop sign. They assigned me lunch, recess, and 3 o’clock. After school I held my arms out, surveyed the traffic, potential collisions. I took four steps into the intersection, placed myself between chaos and children. I waved my arm, urged the tiny crowd onward, herded that small crush of weightlessness. I returned to the curb. You tugged on my orange belt. You tugged on my reflective vest. You looked up at my face, squinted and asked, can I hold your sign? Hold it tightly, I said, bending toward you.
The playground was inevitable. Teeter-totter. Jungle gym. Monkey bars. Balance. My lap. Slide. Tunnel. Swings. Legs. Bare legs on plastic, metal, gravel. Bare. Skin. Balance. Merry-go-round. Your legs. Your hands. My lap. More skin. Arms. Talk. Say: isn’t this nice? What a nice time we’re having. Say: what should we do next? See-saw. Fireman’s pole. Swing. Up and back. Hands tight on chains. Higher. Kick at the air. Head back. Hair in the sun. Upside down. Higher. Sweat. Smell. Slide. Slide. Swing. Say: you look so pretty. Is that a new dress? Are those new shoes? Say: what should we do next?
4. Comfort Food
At the pond I watched you dive. Shoulders pressed against your ears, hands overlapped in a lopsided peak, falling forward, just that way you were taught. You broke the shallow surface and were swallowed up to your ankles. A silhouette of mismatched feet hung for a moment, two peppermint buoys on the water, before they disappeared. I folded my hands, waiting for you to resurface, then went back to my house and fixed your favorite snack.
5. Tulip Time
I wore my costume because I was sure you’d like it. Pleated pantaloons, the shirt with too many oversized buttons, little hat, thick socks and wooden shoes. I hadn’t put it on in years; it smelled like the inside of a windmill and fit poorly across my chest. I thought of your laugh, that small, easy chirp. I walked out of my house and into the street like I was part of the parade. I walked the painted centerline past the chapel, followed the echo of my shoes then cut through the park, plucking a tulip from a newly bloomed bed as I went. Inside the chain link fence the elementary school playground was empty, and I felt unexpectedly embarrassed in my costume. I waited, rested my hand on the merry-go-round, felt the mid-day heat through the steel bar. Empty. On my hands and knees I sifted through playground pebbles, until I found your scattered blood. I placed the tulip on the ground, cupped the pebbles in my hands, brought them to my face and breathed.
Patrick Swaney grew up in Michigan. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in the Indiana Review, Conduit, and Redivider among others.