Swing up, Swing down is an extract from the penultimate chapter of the novel written by Alison Little. All events are fiction and not based on real people, events or places.
Jack guides Vera out from her car seat allowing Gemma to bounce along by herself. It was Saturday morning and he thought he’d take the children down to the play park for a few hours, leaving Ala to have a lye in. He has them most of the time when they are out of school, doing most of the pro-active parenting, after all, she worked full-time, he was self-employed and his hours were more flexible.
They were twins but they had not developed at the same rate, Vera had been deprived of space and oxygen in the womb, she had all the air he needed and room too move now, but had never caught up, it had been determined that she would never really develop into a fully functional adult. Her condition had never been fully diagnosed but he was treated in a way similar to those with low functioning autism. For the first few years with Vera had been really tough, in and out of the hospital, major surgery after critical procedures. They had been in the Hospice too, directed that it would be kinder to let Vera die, but they had refused and everything to keep her alive had been done. There had been some progress health-wise, but he would never really be able to speak or respond in ways others could. At one point they had thought that he might be able to learn sign language but his communication skills did not progress to that level. In some ways, they were glad they had given her such a grown-up sounding name, ‘Vera,’ even though things were not promising it gave the impression that he may live well into adulthood.
Gemma skips on ahead, cartwheels on the toe as she dances onto one of the older kids swings. Up and down, higher and higher, reaching for the child’s optimism of the fluff-filled clouds and the future which awaited. Jack takes Vera’ hand and guides her towards the swings which were better for her, high-backed and much safer. He lifts Vera, they after some persuasive talk and jiggling, he slots into the seat, ensuring to wipe the snot from his nose before beginning to gently push him from in front to ensure he doesn’t become agitated. As Roger seems content Jack moves around to gently push him from behind, Gemma disembarks from the swing and quickly manoeuvres herself onto the climbing frame-come hut-like structure directly ahead.
Things were more difficult than a normal domestic set up but Jack loved and treasured being a dad. Caring for a disabled child was never straightforward, additional care for Vera, then mustering enough energy to keep the never-ending quest for excitement from Gemma satisfied. He found himself on most of the school and club runs, he also seemed to do most of the cooking in addition to constant cleaning to try and ensure Ala was happy. She had always been very particular about cleanliness, the grill washed after every time she used it, the fridge seals cleaned daily and even when they had moved into their first tiny flat she had insisted they needed a dishwasher because of the higher temperature the plates were washed at being more hygienic. Jack’s last Birthday present had been a hard wearing navy apron and she had kept on insisting he wore it when he was preparing meals. This appeared to be the result of a new health and safety training directive from her work at Social Services where aprons were to be worn to keep the ‘Food safe from you’, had been projected from a power point presentation. He didn’t mind this too much he had always been more of a doer and Ala had always taken a more strategic role. He loved his family dearly and would do anything to protect them.
Two brothers came in, the elder seemed to be around nine or ten, around the same age as Gemma, and Vera of course. Both were wearing the same version of a Marks and Spencer printed T-Shirt, the older and the younger version combined with red and blue Jackets. Their first move, they jumped onto the swings in the place where Gemma began, one still swaying from her endeavours. Swing up, swing down, Vera lets out a kind of screech recital, the composition being somewhat familiar to those close to him. As Jack comforts her he overhears the younger brother as the elder,
‘Is she a Spack?’
‘Yes, but Shush’
Responds the elder Brother, as they continue to play Jack hides his fury. His head feels like it’s about to explode, how dare they say anything about his family rushes through his mind, spiraling at full speed, the anger intensifying as the helix’ core into the internal workings of the brain.
Gemma descends from the top of the climbing frame in one foul swoop and runs towards the roundabout. She jumps half on the frame then begins to accelerate the centrifugal motion. Round and round, faster and faster she spins into the abyss of the play scape, maxing out the potential speed.
Everyone now engaged, Vera is content again, as the two brothers laugh together the helix’ coring into Jack’s mind instruct his eyes begins to scan around the suburban park. Nothing he can use, nothing at all, wait, what looks to be a broken glass bottle glistening from behind the bin, debris from the teenage revelry of an evening of WKD consumption. Jack edges towards the bottle, looking around, all the children are occupied, he plucks the broken bottle from it’s resting place and slips it into the inside of his jacket. Swing up, swing down the Brother continue, jesting with each other, Jack awaits a distraction. A BMW passes letting off a flash musical horn, one of the local Champagne Charlie’, so commonly embedded in the density of suburban villages. As the boys look in awe of the speeding moving vehicle Jack slips the broken bottle onto the ground then with a few slides of his boot he manoeuvres it directly underneath the swing of the younger brother.
Jack returns to Vera, gleeful and anticipatory, waiting to see how the plan he has engineered pans out. Gemma screams with joy as she revolves on the human-sized spinner, the older boy jumps down and engages the younger:
‘Come on, let’s join in on the round-about.’
The younger one takes the final flight up to the clouds, now darkened and thunderous. In the distance you can hear the traffic from the Motorway, HGV’s transcending across the country, heavily loaded, at full speed cutting through the valley towards the Metropolis. Jack tries to hide his delight as the small boy descends, jumping off the swing and leaping forward onto his hands, pad going directly onto the broken glass structure. Blood lets multiply and rush from the lacerations:
‘Be careful, there’s a broken bottle’
Jack shouts at the boy, deliberately to late to deter the accident he had engineered. As the boy cries out the Older Brother and Gemma rush over, Jack begins to insist that he was just about to warn them, a convincing dialogue which he had being re-telling since his teenage years. The elder takes the bleeding hand and tries to stem the flow of blood with his jacket’.