A wind blows through the property, stirring the grass and the leaves of the tree from which the old rope swing hangs. The rope sways, twisting and turning in the breeze as if seized in the hands of a phantom swinging back and forth. On the grass next to the pond, not far from the rope swing, stands a couple, their arms entwined about each other, eyes riveted to the old rope swing that they had hung for their son so very long ago.
Sunlight reflects off the surface of the pond, blinding Rachel for an instant as she stands barefoot in the lush green grass, watching as Henry climbs higher and higher into the tree, scampering up the trunk as easily as a child, while little David clings to her hand. She can feel his sweaty palm in hers, soft fingers wrapping around hers with love and trust.
Henry crawls out onto a thick branch, and Rachel tightens her grasp on David’s warm palm, despite the knowledge that the branch is large and strong. They watch, mother and son, as Henry knots the rope with his large, steady hands, and tosses it over the side. It falls gracefully through the air, arcing as it makes its way towards the ground, moving rapidly through the heat with a swishing noise and swinging back and forth over the grass beside the pond until it slows and comes to a half stop, twisting idly in the breeze.
“Give it a yank!” Henry calls from his high perch.
Rachel feels David trying to pull his little hand free of her grasp, and finds herself clutching his small hand so tightly that her fingers have left white marks in his soft flesh.
David runs over to the rope on his short, chubby legs and grasps the rope tightly in both small hands, swinging with all his might. His five-year-old body goes flying through the air like a trapeze artist, carried by the rope as it swings wildly from the branch. Rachel gives a cry of horror, but from Henry comes a rousing laugh and she relaxes. The rope holds. Her little boy does not go crashing down to earth in a tumble of arms and legs as she had feared, but rather he flies, his little face alight with joy, split by a wide, beaming grin that causes his round cheeks to dimple.
A laugh forces itself free from her lips, full of relief and gladness at the happy expression on her son’s small face. “Henry, come down before you fall and break your neck!” she calls up to her husband, still anxious as he perches precariously on the branch, high above the ground.
Henry laughs away her fears but begins the descent. Only when his feet touch the green grass does she relax and turn her attention back to David as he swings back and forth.
“It works,” Henry laughs, slipping his arm about her waist and pulling her close.
Rachel nods. “It looks good,” she smiles. She pecks him on the cheek and relaxes against him, content to enjoy the view of her new backyard while the white farmhouse looms behind her.
“Over the pond, David! Use it for what it’s meant for!” Henry bellows, his deep laugh booming out over the lawn. She can feel the vibrations as they make their way through his chest.
David swings out over the lake and lets go with a whoop. He falls into the water with a splash, water spraying over the surface of the pond, dimpling the water as the droplets fall back to rejoin the masses that make up the contents of the peaceful pond.
Rachel tenses, eyes glued to the ripples spreading out across the water, searching for David’s little head and mop of auburn hair. He pops up and draws a deep breath before giving another whoop, and Rachel feels the wind rush from her lungs and her shoulders slump with relief as she sees her son resurface, the mother’s fear of losing her son once again beaten back into submission, lurking in the very darkest corners of her heart.
They laugh and Henry raises his arm, signaling David to swim back to the shore. Rachel smiles and leans her head against Henry’s shoulder, anticipating the joy that the rope swing would bring in the years to come, dreaming of the distant day when she would see her young son become the man she knew he would be. But the day seems distant in the happy sunlight that floods the grass, reflecting off the surface of the pond with a brilliance that blinds her. She watches as David climbs out of the water, droplets glistening on his skin. And she smiles.
Now, years later, they are standing on the lawn again as they had many times before over the years, hair graying and faces wrinkled. Their son hangs from the rope swing again, on the verge of manhood but unwilling to let go of the sweet years of childhood and face a life where innocence is dead. The rope, well worn by hands and time, is knotted about his neck. His feet brush the surface of the pond, just as they had many a time before. But this time there is no joyful whoop—only silence, broken by the occasional creak of the rope or groan of the old tree.
A sob splits the air and Rachel covers her mouth with her pale fingers, hot tears sliding down her cheeks and onto her hand, tasting bitter on her lips.
All those years for nothing. All the worry, sacrifices, and dreams; all for naught. The fruit of her labors, the light of her life; her hope, her love, her future—hangs from the rope swing.