Second Swing From The Left
Sylvia heard that swings in other places were affixed with rope, sometimes plastic links, but she was from the Bronx and nothing but metal made any sense as a material.
Rope would never last.
Sylvia's swing was second from the left. Lauren's was second from the right. Rusted bars between them chopped up their view of each other as they swung, making it look like they were watching a badly spliced film. It reminded Sylvia of the home movies her grandma showed of the Woodstock summer home before the bank took it. And the vacations to Wildwood, too. That stuffed dog she won at whack-a-mole she carried around everywhere until she was nine.
"I'll never be too old for bubbles," Lauren said.
"Even when I'm old enough to get my license, I'll still ride my bicycle," Sylvia said.
The girls' Keds squeaked on the rubber mats as they halted their swings and twisted them in circles, the chain links clinking against each other as they wound themselves higher and higher. They released and spun until both motion and belly laughter had them nauseous.
The chain links pinched Sylvia's finger on her last rotation. She sucked on the drop of blood that appeared, tasting something akin to tooth fillings.
"Do you remember what you told me about swings when we were little?" Lauren asked.
"I told you if you went high enough and kicked a star you could travel to space.""I was so gullible."
Sylvia stroked the chain links. "You were just in the wrong swing."
An hour later, Sylvia waved goodbye to Lauren as she saw her father's work truck pulling into a spot in front of the buildings. Her father staggered up the street, grinning. He veered to the side, but managed to regain his balance like he always did. When he hugged her she could smell his signature scent—tar, tobacco and beer, his cheek like animal hide from years of working on roofs. "Hello doll."
They held onto each other and walked through the courtyard toward their building. A waft of eggplant parmesan filled the hallway as she opened the door to their apartment. Five Chihuahuas charged into the living room to greet them. Sylvia sat in the brown recliner with its cigarette burns as the black Chihuahua, Burrito, jumped up and wriggled under her T-shirt.
"Freddie, are you hungry yet?" Sylvia's mother shouted from the kitchen.
"Give me a minute, Carm."
Sylvia watched her father remove his work boots and his socks, groaning as he did. Two of the Chihuahuas licked his toes and excitedly wagged their tails. He lit a Camel unfiltered and inhaled, sighing back into the couch.
Carmen had a large metal spoon in her hand as she walked into the living room.
"Where's your brother?"
"How should I know?"
"No point in letting it get cold. Let's eat," Carmen said.
Freddie turned the TV on and flipped to AMC. A John Wayne film was on. Freddie had never rode a horse, or even been out west, but he was drawn to the Duke. The Searchers was his all time favorite. When Sylvia was five or six, her father would crawl around on all fours so she could ride him like a horse, a game she called daddyup. He even let her play daddyup when she was home sick one day. She threw up on his head, but if he was angry he showed no signs of it. Instead, he cleaned the vomit off and smirked.
Carmen waved the spoon in front of Freddie's face. "Freddie, are you listening to me? Let's eat before it gets cold."
"I just walked in the fuckin' door, Carmen."
"Did you put the money in my account?" Carmen asked, jumping into a financial discussion in the random way she always did.
Freddie stubbed out his cigarette, getting ashes on the rug. "Don't start."
"I have to pay the bills, Freddie."
Sylvia heard this argument before. She went to her bedroom and turned her stereo up, but even Led Zeppelin pumped as loud as it could go, couldn't keep her from falling asleep on her algebra homework.
It was the draw slamming that woke Sylvia up, not the shouting, but she soon heard that too. Fuck was the only discernible word as she ran into the kitchen and found her mother and father in each other's faces. Her mother held a knife to her father's chest while he gripped both of her wrists. Her mother was sobbing. Her father's eyes were wild. "Go ahead, Carm. Do it. Do it!"
"I could. I could do it."
He squeezed her wrists, pulling the knife closer to his chest. "Go ahead, then."
Sylvia wedged between her parents, pushing them apart, and grabbed her mother's wrist and twisted. The knife fell to the floor. Her mother stared at it as if she had no idea what it was. "I can't take this anymore. I want you out. You understand me? I want you out.
"Carmen looked at Freddie, who focused on the peeling linoleum floor. Sylvia felt sorry for her mother, and at the same time disgusted. Her father said his friends had all wanted Carmen. She was beautiful back then, but now Sylvia saw her mother in her T-shirt and faded jeans, her homemade highlights spattering her head. She looked old, and tired. Carmen held the sides of her temples staring back and forth between her husband and daughter, regarding them as strangers, then turned into her bedroom and slammed the door. Sylvia heard the door lock and thought about the day in the car outside the pharmacy when she asked her mother why she hated her father so much. She told Sylvia some women were born to be mothers. That's why she would never forgive Freddie for making her have the two abortions after Sylvia was born. She would go to hell, no matter how many candles she lit in church on Sundays. Freddie too.
Her father sat down at the table and shoveled eggplant parmesan into his mouth. The apartment door was opened and closed quietly. John walked down the hallway and stared at his father, his eyes then meeting Sylvia's. He turned around and walked down the hall and disappeared into his room. Seconds later, Biggie shook the walls. Sylvia picked at pieces of eggplant from the tray, the taste of garlic making her mouth water. Her mother appeared from the bedroom. "And one more thing—
"Sylvia didn't want to hear it. She pushed through her parents and ran down the hallway, slamming the apartment door behind her and setting off the Chihuahuas in a chorus of yips. She ran under the streetlights past cars stuck in traffic, past kids playing manhunt in the street, past the jingle of an ice cream truck, until she saw the handball courts tagged with spray paint, then the basketball courts and at the far end of the park, the swings.
The rubber mats were gritty under her bare feet. She jumped into her swing, the second from the left, and pumped her legs. In the night sky was one of the only constellations she knew: Orion's Belt. It held up the universe's pants. That's what her mother told her when they went camping once Upstate. Sylvia swung until her foot lined up with the center star in Orion's Belt and kicked the air. She swung and tilted her head back until her hair dragged along the rubber mats. On her way forward again, she kicked the air a second time. With each rise forward, she kicked. She kicked and kicked and kicked. Any moment now outer space would be inviting her up.