Swingset Chain

Ellie walked through the playground.

It had been years since she had left her old neighborhood. A lot had changed. The tire swing was no longer hanging around. It had been transformed into a planter, near the entrance of the park. The normal swings were still around, but the cement which was underneath, was now covered in wood chips.

She chose to sit at the bench under the big maple tree. Someone had hidden a makeshift bird feeder in its branches. The air was cool, but not bitter. A gentle breeze passed through the leaves of the trees, making them shift and turn in the wind, as if dancing. She was alone.

Something about visiting this old park, stirred up emotions over life and growing older. Ellie thought about the time she fell of the slide. She managed to chip her tooth. It was the second one, to the left of the center front teeth. She would still emit a slight whistle when she spoke certain words.

Ellie touched her cheek, thinking about the first time she got a kiss from her crush. There was only a few weeks left of school when it happened. The kids that noticed broke out into songs. They loudly teased her with pointed fingers and disgusted groans.

She pulled out her notebook, and began to jot down the memories that began flooding back. So much time had passed, and remembering her childhood had been so distant. Life had been filled with work, dating, traveling, and barely sleeping. It was nice to finally have a moment to rest.

When she finally felt it was time to go, Ellie paused. She gave the playground one last look over, before slinging her bag over her shoulder. She left a tiny paper crane on the bench. It was a memento for her time at the park, a place she thought she had left behind. The years had touched her. The gray hairs, like the old maple trees, were her only witnesses.

 

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The Meet

Dinah took a deep breath. She fixed her eyes on a point at the pool, bent down toward her toes with arms outstretched, and dove. The water was brittle and icy, as her body broke through the surface of the pool. She soon shook off the shock of the frigid temperature, as she was focused on the goal. She wanted gold. She wanted to win.

Quickly she moved into her learned rhythm. Right stroke. Left stroke. Right stroke. Her arms worked mechanically, as if they were attached to someone else, or perhaps even something else. She cut through the water like a steel knife. Seamlessly and effortlessly, it seemed like her body moved across the pool.

The nearest competitor was just a few seconds ahead of her. Her arms and legs had yet to start burning. She could press ahead, knowing that anaerobic respiration had not yet tried to get the best of her. Just a little faster, she thought to herself. Right stroke. Left stroke. She was almost at the wall.

Then her finger tips touched the tile. Bells and cheers resounded through the room, ricocheting and echoing off the water and walls. She had arrived victorious. She managed to beat her competitor by a sheer few seconds.

As she emerged out of the pool, a towel was draped around her shoulders. She looked out to the stands. Her eyes pored over the excited crowd, and stopped short at the empty seat where they should have been sitting. The accident had cut their life short, just a few months before the final meet. She didn’t know if she had it in her, until now.

“This is for you.” She whispered quietly, while still maintaining a smile for the onlookers.

 

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Maybe Sunday

Autumn walked through the lonely city streets. Her mustard yellow boots protected her from the pools of water, as she trudged along through the rain. It had been raining for three days, with no end in sight. Tucked tightly under her left arm, her notebook was wrapped carefully in a plastic bag. She could not afford to lose her work. Autumn was a writer.

After making a left turn at Duffy and Lane, she finally arrived at her destination. Autumn enjoyed holing up at Maybe Sunday, a doughnut and coffee shop. It wasn’t a pretentious and expected place for a freelance writer, like those well known designer coffee shops. She was a down-to-earth low-key kinda lady. Plus, those stuffy coffee shops didn’t have a 2-for-1 special on doughnuts after 3pm. The cinnamon and bow-ties were her favorite choices.

“The usual, Autumn?” Andy asked with a smile.

“You bet.” Autumn smiled back, as she put a five-dollar bill in his hand, and plunked a golden dollar into the tip cup. She wasn’t well-off, but after spending years scraping by in the service industry of diners, coffee shops, and retail, she knew tips mattered. Plus, joints like this one had a je ne sais quoi about them, and were a treasure for story incubation. Maybe Sunday was one of the last gems in a city, that had been all too quickly overtaken by gentrification and chasing trends. Autumn vowed she would protest and chain herself to the doors, if the city ever sought to push her “office space” out of business.

Andy would chuckle, when Autumn would say these things. “Well Autumn, you and a few of these other customers still believe certain things are worth preserving.”

Andy was the son of the original owner of Maybe Sunday. His father had come to the city seeking a better life, after escaping the war. He wasn’t much good when it came to door-to-door sales, and didn’t want to handle work at the stockyards or factories. He choose to make doughnuts and brew coffee instead. Turned out, he had a natural knack for powdering fried dough and sourcing great beans. Business thrived, and after the old man died, Andy decided to keep a family tradition going.

“So what you writing about these days, Autumn?” Andy asked with a lighthearted curiosity. He was wiping down the counters with a damp rag, and moving the napkin dispensers and sweeteners around.

Autumn enjoyed watching Andy and the other staff work. Everyone at Maybe Sunday operated with such precision, that the coffee shop ran like a fine-tuned machine. No matter if business was slow, or the number of customers swelled and created a line out the door, everyone got ample attention and quality service.

“Well, I just picked up some work on the changing face of real estate in the area.” Autumn replied. “I’m also juggling some side assignments on pet ownership, and the struggles of dating for 20-somethings in the city.”

“Sounds interesting,” Andy responded. “Hope you put in a good word for us at Maybe Sunday, if you can. Maybe the city will one day make us a landmark. That would be something, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, that would be fantastic.” Autumn then paused before speaking up. “Well, as long as the prices don’t go up too much for one of your favorite customers?”

“You’ll always get something for loyalty.” Andy assured Autumn with a wink.

“And hopefully no terrible food trends or diet police come in, trying to make you offer fat-free or sugar-free doughnuts!” Autumn chuckled while clapping her hands in amusement. She imagined some emaciated health-critic storming through the doors of Maybe Sunday. Their face turned up in disgust, and with slits for eyes, they would vilify Andy and the offerings of Maybe Sunday with a pointed finger.

Andy went to the back to grab some more doughnuts to restock the front. Autumn went back to writing in her notebook. Customers would occasionally file in, shaking off the rain from their umbrellas and coats. Orders for coffee with two sugars – no cream, old-fashioned, jelly-filled, and eclairs were called and filled. Autumn decided to call it a day around 8:20 pm. It was ten minutes to last-call and closing time for Maybe Sunday.

“See you around Andy,” Autumn said, as she gathered up her belongings. She placed her notebook back into its plastic bag, despite the rain finally tapering off to just a drizzle.

“Have one for the road, wordsmith.” Andy replied, placing a paper bag filled with doughnut holes into Autumn’s hand.

“Thanks Andy, you’re the best!” Autumn shouted over her shoulder, as the door closed behind her. The bell in the corner jingled gently, announcing her departure. As she made her way across the street, she turned back to look at Maybe Sunday. The sign at the entrance was flipped to show ‘Closed’ and the lights had been turned out. Only the steady glow of the neon, with its persistent low hum, was the only light left.