The swing

And then he saw the swing.

It looked like an ordinary swing. One kids hung from trees. The ropes were the kind of ropes kids would use, and the seat was a simple branch. Quite a wide branch and with a very pleasing bend that looked like it would be comfortable.

Glen’s eyes travelled up the ropes and kept going. The thin blue lines cut right up into the sky.

He’d half hoped, actually more like one hundredth hoped, that something would save him. Maybe an angel would stop him from jumping like in the film A Wonderful Life. Except he wouldn’t want any angel showing him Bristol and explaining what people’s lives would be like if he wasn’t around. Glen was pretty sure they wouldn’t even be notice he was gone.

Then there was that women who jumped from the bridge. Or did she fall? Either way she was lucky that she was wearing big billowing skirts that acted like a parachute so she didn’t die when she hit the mud. Actually that might not have been lucky. It happened in the old days so she probably got arrested for attempting suicide and carted off to some institution where she would have electric shock treatment and her brain lobotomised.

Glen shivered at the thought.

The swing hung motionless next to the side of the bridge. There was nothing holding it back so it should be swinging out over the river. Glen looked up again. There was nothing holding it up either. The ropes kept rising into the sky until they were so distant that they faded from view.

Glen moved slightly so that he could close one eye and line up the rope with one of the bridge’s towers. He wanted to see if the swing was moving. It wasn’t. That ruled out it being attached to a plane.

He couldn’t remember which religion believed in a world tree. Maybe they were right and there really was a gigantic tree growing up out of the planet. A gigantic tree that some kid had climbed and tied ropes to.

He took a tentative step towards the swing. It didn’t move away or disappear. He’d never had hallucinations before. This must be triggered by his heightened senses.

Another step and he was standing next it.

He stretched out and tapped the seat. It was solid enough to hurt his knuckle. He stretched again and pushed. It didn’t move. Not even a tiny bit. He pushed again and increased his pressure until he was pushing as hard as he could.

It still didn’t move.

Glen became aware of how he must look. If the passing cars couldn’t see the swing then it would look like he was pushing on nothing. He checked his clothes to see if he could be mistaken for a mime artist. He didn’t think so.

The swing was waiting.

It scared him.

It wasn’t that easy climbing the suicide prevention barriers, but it also wasn’t that hard. The designers had struck a balance between mortality and aesthetics. The barriers didn’t stop the most determined jumpers but slowed everyone down long enough that they couldn’t help but notice the plaque with the Samaritan’s phone number. Glen had stepped on the plaque as he climbed the wires.

The swing was at the perfect distance from the bridge to make it easy to sit on to it. Glen hesitated. He looked down at the river and found the thought of jumping less frightening than the thought of swinging into the unknown.

But he wanted to know. What would happen? The most likely outcome would be that he’d fall backwards down into the canyon. Imaginary swings were not that great at supporting the weight of real people.

He turned around and slowly lowered his bottom onto the swing. It still felt solid. He took one hand off the barrier and took hold of the rope. It still held.

He let go with the other hand.

Nothing happened. He sat comfortably facing the bridge where an early morning jogger with his dog ran towards him without even noticing. Glen laughed. The dog turned to look at him. The man also gazed in his direction but clearly couldn’t see him or the swing.

The swing swung.

It felt like Glen’s tummy had stayed next to the bridge while his body fell backwards into emptiness. He looked down between his legs at the river flowing along the same direction.

A mist slowly condensed to obscure the view and then dissipated again. What Glen could see had changed. The river was gone. In its place was a stream of Glen’s life.

It was running backwards. From the moment on the bridge back through his breakfast. Yes, he’d eaten breakfast just like any other day. Back through his broken relationships. Not terribly broken but broken enough. Back through his mundane life. Back to his disturbed teenage years and into his chaotic childhood.

The swing reached the moment of his birth and paused at its apogee. Glen was proud of knowing the technical name for the top of the arc. He must have learnt something from school.

He hung motionless for a moment and dreaded what was going to happen next. The swing started on its descent. It was taking him forward through his life returning him to the bridge.

He watched second by second, hour by hour, as days and years flowed steadily by.

He looked down at the three year old Glen and smiled. He was cute.

Five year old Glen starting school, holding on for safety to the apple his mum had given him.

Ten year old Glen tying a blue rope to a branch to make a swing.

Twelve year old Glen. Not so cute.

There were many things Glen regretted in life but this was probably the first. It wasn’t a big thing. Not really. But it still bothered him. Every time he saw a Rubik’s cube he’d remember that day on the bridge.

He shouldn’t have snatched it. And he shouldn’t have thrown it off the bridge. And he certainly shouldn’t have lied to Steve’s mum and put all the blame on Steve.

Glen didn’t want to relive his regrets.

He jumped off the swing. He plummeted down and mist obscured his past life. He was waiting for the river to reappear but instead he saw the bridge below him. He guessed he would find himself next to the suicide barrier falling backwards away from the man and his dog.

There was no suicide barrier. There was no man or dog. There was a boy with a Rubik’s cube and another boy looking jealously at it.

Glen crashed into his twelve-year old self and for a moment retained his forty-two year old perspective. He might be jealous but that didn’t mean he had to throw the cube of the bridge. This time he could do it differently.

But it was too late. He watched his hand snatch the cube and throw it down into the river. Steve was shouting. Steve’s mum was turning. Glen was putting a surprised and hurt expression on his face ready to deny what had happened.

His forty-two years of experience deserted him. He was fully back in his hormone fuelled, sulky teenage self. He was poised, ready to deflect blame and deny everything.

As he started to speak a sliver of his former self hung on for a moment, and instead of shouting angrily about the injustice of being falsely accused, the word sorry slipped out before he could stop it.

Glen had landed back in the tramlines of his life and with that one word had swung onto a new track. A track that meant in thirty years time his future self would never need the swing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.