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Drama Sad Teens & Young Adult

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warnings include: grief, implied past abuse.

           The moon was a grin that night, and the wind was the sharp gnashing of its teeth. We stepped willingly into that bite anyway, Milo without a jacket. He would be fine for a while, and then he would fight against shivers for the rest of the night. I had on a long-sleeved shirt underneath my jacket, and that would be plenty for me when I inevitably handed the jacket over to Milo.

           Our steps fell small against the gravel, like we could stretch the time to the edges of the trees if we pulled our feet to half-steps, then halves of those, and halves of those. Milo bumped my shoulder as he walked, then took one of those half-half steps away from me as if I could forget he was there if we did not touch. As if I could forget anything was there if it all would fall just an eighth of a step away from me.

           We reached the park, and it felt like entering a museum exhibit of the park. Everything felt preserved from the last time we had been there, untouchable beneath layers of dust and glass. Milo wrapped undoubtedly cold fingers around a length of even colder chain to drag the swing backward. It released in a shaky arc, dancing on one chain and fighting against the other. When it stilled, Milo sat, wrapping his arms around himself. I shook the dust from the other swing, pulled my jacket off, and sat down, tossing it into Milo’s waiting hands. Milo kicked at the ground, freshly warm, and I let myself settle into the chill so that it would not settle into me.

           “How are things?” Milo asked. He kicked himself into a slow, monotonous swing, the toes of his sneakers dragging through the playground mulch.

           “Things are…” The same. I shrugged. “They just are.”

           “You haven’t sorted out how you feel yet, then?” Milo started to gain a little speed, and it felt like he might leave me behind, so I trudged myself backward a few half-steps. My feet let go of the earth, and I rocked forward, shaky, half dance and half fight.

           “I don’t know if I’m even going to feel anything. Wouldn’t I have done that by now? Maybe when I saw his corpse?” His corpse, I thought, was contradictory somehow. His, as if he owned it, and corpse, a confirmation of the nothing left to own. To be owned. How can he own nothing? How could he own anything?

           “You don’t have to feel bad to feel something. You don’t have to feel what you think you’re supposed to feel.” Milo’s legs swung mindlessly under him, and he started to leave me behind again. I pumped my legs like I might jump off the way Milo and I used to when he was still the only person in town that I knew.

           “How did you feel?” I asked.

           “That’s different.”

           “I want to know the differences.”

           Milo let his feet drag for one pass of the swing, then fell back into rhythm. I thought if I kept an even pace, I might catch up to him.

           “My dad wasn’t a very emotional person. I missed him, after, and I wished I had told him all the stuff I thought he wouldn’t want to hear.” I fell into place next to him and watched him swing. I thought he might keep talking, and when he didn’t, I realized he had only told me the part that he thought would make sense to me.

           “What about the rest?” My legs swung rapidly then, and I turned away from Milo to look into the sky. The stars were like pins piercing through the cloth of the world, poised to pluck me out. Milo sighed, and I could hear in it that he had leaned his head back against the dark.

           “Remember when I won the spelling bee?”

           I hummed a hint of a yes.

           “I sat on the couch that whole afternoon so I could tell him that I won as soon as he got back from work. It was like having something alive in my throat, waiting to introduce it to him.”

           I looked away from the sky, and Milo had leaned back as far as he could go, head tipped toward the ground, like he was seeing what it was like to fall.

           “It’s like that a lot, now. Waiting for him to come home and meet all the bits of life I’m still finding.”

           I watched Milo fall out of the sky over and over, legs carrying him through the back and forth. Nothing moved in half-steps anymore, and everything had fallen away from me except for the plastic of the swing and the rusted tug of its chains.

           I tried to think of what it might feel like to miss my dad that way, like he’d stepped out and carried something away with him. I caught a hint of something that could’ve felt a bit like that, but it was just the same weight his name had always held in my mind. I gathered it all up, like a mouthful of rust, and spoke it into the sky.

           “I thought I would be angry that I never told him how much he… how much it all messed me up.” I pushed forward with force on each swing, closing my eyes against the sharp creak of the chains. “I don’t think it’s that, though. I think he already knew anyway.” There was silence, and I creaked through it.

           “He shouldn’t just get to drop it,” I said. “I’m still carrying it.”

           My eyes opened to the sharp stab of stars, and they looked close enough to prick my fingertips if I only reached out. Milo had somehow laid down even further, momentum pointed toward the earth like he was trying to get closer, somehow, to his father’s grave. I would’ve bled from each hand to climb further from my father’s, and I wondered, again, how a grave could be his when he had no voice to claim it. My eyes closed again, shutting out the everything around us, and I knew Milo’s were open, boring into the same strip of ground again and again.

           “Milo,” I said. He tipped his head forward, still leaning back.

           “I bet I can jump the furthest.”

           Milo sat up straight then, looking like the only familiar face in town.

           “Bet you can’t.” He kicked back and forth, winding up for flight.

           We both let go at once without a countdown or a code word, and in the few seconds before my feet touched the ground, I was untethered from everything, sharp or dead or biting. We lay on the ground where we landed, and I never thought to check who made it further.

           “You don’t have to carry it all, you know.” Milo said. From the ground, the stars looked a little softer. I reached for one.

           “I know.”

           Milo’s hands pressed flat against the earth.

           “You don’t either,” I said.

           “I know.”

           The swings fought and danced and creaked behind us, still carrying the momentum we’d left behind, and we stayed on the ground, looking up. 

April 14, 2024 15:02

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
18:43 Apr 14, 2024

Just a swingin' with a friend but so much more. Not alone is a good place to be.


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