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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Marta

Marta woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside her windows. Her view was obstructed by the clippings of newspapers that covered half the window, and a security gate to keep out unwanted intruders. She never had any visitors. Sometimes she thought to do away with the gate, but living in a city, reminded her that was a foolish thought.

Sometimes she would wonder the streets, until she would find refuge at a park bench. She would pull out some bread that she picked up at the local baker. Often, she would set aside just one sweet bread. It was a tribute for the little birds that would be her only company, surrounding her feet. It was a nice diversion, to quiet the deafening loneliness that never paid rent to live with her.

She would forget about how she came into that ramshackle apartment twenty years ago. She didn’t think about the persistent leaky sink, that was a longstanding amenity to the neighboring rats and roaches. All that mattered was those few moments of peace, which she found at the park. Slowly, Marta would dip her hand into a paper sack, pinch off a piece of bread, and throw it to the ground.

The birds would swoop down and land in front of the bench. Sometimes one would be brave enough to land on her shoulder, or eat directly from her hand. Marta liked to think of the birds as little saints, who would fly to heaven, and whisper her prayers to God. She greatly enjoyed the comfort from their songs, their kindness, and how they looked past her shortcomings.

Perhaps, if there was such a thing as reincarnation, she could be reborn as a bird and return the favor. Sometimes, a dark thought came to her, that the birds were simply taking advantage of her having food. Then again, life was about give and take. What was the loss, to simply share a crust of bread with another living soul?

Iris

Iris stared at the broken plate that had shattered into several pieces, now lying at her feet on the floor. It had all happened so quickly. She didn’t think that her hands were so soapy, or that she had been moving too quickly, for the accident to occur. Still, the plate had missed its mark. Instead of landing safely in the dish rack, it was now nothing more than a mess to be swept away.

She rinsed the suds still lingering off of her hands, and turned off the tap. Next, she walked solemnly over to the utility closet, to collect the dustpan and broom. As Iris swept the pieces into the dustpan, she mused over the loss of the plate. It was a collector’s item, or so she thought. She had never spent the time to research the brand and decorations on it. However, she was convinced that it had to be of some finer value, because she picked it up at a thrift store for a very good price.

Iris enjoyed watching TV programs like The Antique Roadshow, and often dreamed of hitting pay dirt for purchasing a rare sought after item. She fancied herself being featured on the show, showing off the now broken plate, which would have been valued at $500 or more. Iris thought of all the things she could have done, if she hadn’t made such a stupid mistake.

She could have flown to Paris or Milan. She could have opened up an antiques shop in a quaint small town. She could have written books or given talks about how to find rare antique gems among the clutter in a thrift store. Now, all these dreams were as jagged and broken, as the pieces of plate being swept up to go into the garbage bin.

It didn’t matter to Iris, that the plate was in fact, simply a copy of an antique plate. She never bothered to do the research. Yet, she enjoyed painfully musing over her fantasies that couldn’t be helped, and would never come to pass.

After the plate was laid to rest in the bin, Iris walked over to the stove to make some tea. She put the tea kettle over a moderate flame, and took a seat at the small end table to wait. “Some day…” Iris thought out loud, as her eyes flitted around the menagerie of kitsch items littering her kitchen.

Doll Baby

Vera peered into the glass of the storefront, eyes wide and focused on the dolls in the display. She had managed to save up a whole forty dollars, after much effort. She wanted to purchase a doll for her two children. There were dolls of all types, some with cloth bodies, and some made of porcelain. They sat together in two neat little rows, with their fixed glass eyes, staring straight forward and unblinking.

The general store had just started stocking items like dolls and coloring books. This was a new addition to the usual general housewares for sale, such as plates, cups, and cleaning agents. There was one doll in particular, that caught Vera’s eyes. It had shoulder-length mossy brown hair, and was dressed in a pink gingham dress with lace edges. On its feet, were two red shiny patent leather shoes.

Vera waited until the store was open, walked in, and purchased the doll with the shiny red shoes. She also picked up a couple of hair bows for the doll. When Vera arrived home, her children looked excited and curious about the brown shopping bag, that their mother was carrying.

“Close your eyes you two. I have a surprise.” Vera said to her twin girls. Molly and Lou obediently closed their eyes, and waited to see what their mother had in store for them. “Open them.” Vera said, as she had the doll presented before the two girls.

“Oh mommy!” Lou exclaimed. “She’s so beautiful.”

“And what lovely hair bows. Thank you mommy.” Molly said. “Can we use the hair bows for ourselves as well?”

“Of course Molly, dear.” Vera said beaming.

The two girls ran up the stairs laughing, while the doll dangled from Lou’s arm, as Molly followed closely.

Later that afternoon, the girls were playing tea upstairs. Molly and Lou were sitting around their small wooden table, surrounded by their stuffed bear, giraffe, penguin, and the new doll. “What shall we name her Lou?” Molly asked her sister.

“I’m not sure yet.” Lou answered, while pouring imaginary tea into their cups from the rose colored teapot.

Suddenly, there was a crash, as the doll’s teacup and saucer somehow fell on the floor.

“Molly, did you do that?” Lou asked.

“No sister. I was nowhere close to –“ Molly didn’t get a chance to finish her words, as a gasp escaped from her lips. The doll had just blinked and made the most sinister smile.

“Sis, sis-ter.” Molly stammered. She was frightened.

Lou looked worriedly at her sister, than followed her eyes straight to the doll. She swore she saw its expression change, for just a split second.

“Molly, let’s go to the kitchen to get some more cookies for our tea.” Lou said, and strode over to her sister. She calmly grabbed her hand, gave it an assuring squeeze, and the two slowly made their way out of the room and shut the door.

After the door was shut, the two startled girls heard the shuffling of tiny feet, and an insidious tiny laugh. They both knew it was the doll.

Lou looked over to her sister, and put her finger to her lips. They quickly made their way down the stair and entered the kitchen.

“Mommy.” Lou looked a bit nervously at her mother. “It happened again.”

“I’m sorry dears, every time I try so hard to find a good toy for you two. Something goes awry.” Vera wrung her hands on her apron, as she was in the middle of preparing a late lunch.

“Girls, I want you to play outside for a minute. Have some cookies.” Vera said, as she handed Molly a plate of cookies. She gave Lou two cups of milk, to wash down their snack.

As the girls were playing outside, Vera made her way upstairs. She made sure before heading up, that she grabbed the pair of black salon shears that she kept in the locked drawer. As she arrived at the door, placing her hand on the handle, Vera took a deep breath.

Opening the door, the doll lunged at Vera. It tried to claw at her eyes, gnash its teeth at her neck, and flailed its legs wildly. Vera gathered her strength and courage, firmly grabbed the doll, and plunged the scissors deep into its chest. The doll stopped moving.

Later that night, while the twins were sleeping, Vera took a sack out toward the back of the house. She went to the shed for the shovel, and began to dig. When the hole was made deep enough, she threw the sack into the hole. She spat on it, poured a whole container of salt over the bag, and piled on the dirt.

Never again, did Vera purchase another doll baby for the girls. It was just too much trouble.

 

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Candy Hunt

Janice quietly slipped out of bed. She crept past her parent’s bedroom, and slowly, stealthily made her way down the stairs. She was on a mission for a late night snack.

She pulled out the step-stool from out of the closet. Carefully she unfolded it, and placed it in front of the cabinets. The best treats were hidden on the very hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way, topmost shelf. With the aid of the step-stool, Janice reached the sugary contraband with ease.

She grabbed marshmallows, chocolate bars, jelly beans, and caramels. She was proud that she was able to do this so well, and so quietly. That’s when Janice let her early success get the best of her. There was a jar of lemon candies, sitting in a fancy etched glass jar. She just had to have some.

Janice thought she had a good grip on the jar, but it managed to slip out of her fingers. She watched mouth agape, as it splintered into pieces after a resounding crash. That is when the hallway light flicked on, putting a spotlight on the stairs. A door opened and closed, and the sound of heavy rushed footsteps hurriedly made their way down the steps.

She was caught. Janice quickly tried to get the broom to hide the mess, but there was no time. She crawled into the cabinet space under the sink, and waited.

“Is it a ghost or burglar Harry?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Well Nancy, I don’t see any signs of a break-in. So, I suspect it’s just a ghost.” Harry answered, while looking around. He swore that the cabinet space under the sink was slightly ajar, if just for a split second. Harry paused to see if anyone or anything would make a sound, and quickly give itself away.

After a few moments of silence, Harry swept up the mess of glass, and put away the other items. He rummaged in the refrigerator to get himself a glass of juice. Harry was thirsty after engaging a moment of heightened adrenaline.

Janice breathed a sigh of relief, as she heard the light switch click off, and footsteps trudging back up the stairs. She wondered who Harry and this woman were. Did her parent’s know that someone had moved into their house? Maybe she should call someone? But who?

Janice made her way into the living room and plunked down onto the sofa. She quietly mulled over what just happened. Digging into her pockets, she began popping some marshmallows into her mouth, which she had managed to hide away.

Eventually, Janice fell asleep on the couch. She kept thinking how strange it was, that some stranger, and not her parents, had come down stairs to investigate. Suddenly, she found herself remembering the accident at the pool, and the flashing lights and siren.

She was the ghost.

 

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A Dream for Autumn

Vera carried the umber watering can over to the faucet. Reaching out to turn on the tap, she paused to look out the window. There were only a few clouds in the western sky, and a flock of geese was flying past. Migration season was coming.

Fall was Vera’s favorite season, perhaps ever since a little kid. The best parts were the changing colors of the leaves, crunching, and jumping in piles of leaves with a laugh. She looked forward to mugs of hot apple cider, hot cocoa with whipped cream, and spiced pumpkin pies. Fall’s arrival would be heralded at the local doughnut shop, with pumpkin and apple cinnamon crumb doughnuts.

Vera was lost and thought, and realized that the watering can was overflowing, as she forgot to turn of the tap. She shook off her daydream, and poured off the excess water. Making her way over to the house plants along the windowsills, she each gave them their portion.

There was an ivy with cascading leaves, a small rubber tree plant, and some delicate African violets. The aloe vera plant was doing quite well, and thankfully she did not have to use any for recent burns in the kitchen. Three stubby cacti sat in a row, soaking up the southern sun. She didn’t water those today.

Soon, it would be time for coffee and reading the morning paper. It was a little after 7 am and the day had just begun. Vera walked over to open the front door, and deeply inhaled the cool morning air. She smiled, as she could feel it in her bones, the changing of the seasons. The arrival of Fall, was definitely a very welcome thing.