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O.Henry Ending

Swing to Life

A tired play set oscillates a passerby’s perspective

By Mallory Miranda

I can’t stand the sight of it: The metal and plastic swing set in its sun-faded primary colors. It stands conspicuously in a neighbor’s yard.

I can almost hear its creaking joints.

One word flashes across my mind’s eye as I approach: eyesore.

I bind my dog’s nylon leash around my knuckles, determined to pass it quickly.

It’s the sort of swing set friends had in their yards in the early ’90s. Thirty years ago, these swing sets were more brightly colored, but, displeasingly, they creaked then, too.

I recall two swing sets in particular. One was in the yard of our neighborhood Girl Scout troop leader. Let me just say, I don’t have fond memories of my time in this troop. The other swing set was in a much happier backyard.

Any fond memory of my time as a Girl Scout is tarnished by the unpleasant troop leader. I’ll confess I often misplace her actual face in my memory with that of Miss Agatha Hannigan, the boozy, little-girl-loathing head of the orphanage in Annie. You get the picture.

Did anyone actually play on that swing set? Or was it just for show, a way of proclaiming, halfheartedly, “Our child is beloved. See — we buy her things!”

Shortly after her stint as a Girl Scout troop leader, the woman and her husband dropped their daughters off at a relative’s house for an indefinite visit. Then, they bought a Harley and rode off into the dust together.

Is their old swing set still rusting in their backyard now, wheezing in the wind?

My dog yanks her shortened leash. She hasn’t gone “number one” yet. Judging from the tension on the leash, she’s ready.

I release some slack. As she sniffs for her perfect spot, I wait at the curb of the swing set house, grateful to my oversized sunglasses for concealing my condescension.

I see a motley mix of terra cotta pots and old plastic margarine containers that form a boundary around the yard. All of the pots and containers are overgrown with a vibrant variety of plants. The grass is freshly mowed.

Another yard comes to mind: my grandmother’s.

Particularly, it’s the repurposed plastic containers that remind me of her abrasive voice, scolding me across time, “Aye, Mija! Don’t throw away that perfectly good Tupperware!”

My grandmother was the neighborhood babysitter, her yard always littered with a mix of toys she collected over the years. Many were leftover from former clients whose kids had outgrown them. And, yes, she had a swing set just like the one I’m trying not to stare at. It and all the other toys were faded and dated, but everything sparkled anew when it hit her lawn.

“Waste not, want not.”

My grandmother’s yard of hand-me-down toys, creaking swing sets and messy children is all cleaned up now. She’s too frail to lift a small child, let alone have one or more running wild in her yard.

My dog kicks up grass with her hind legs, signaling she’s done.

A screen door opens and a pair of chubby legs bursts through it. A stout little toddler flings herself onto a hard plastic seat, joyfully propelling it into centripetal motion, while a woman looks on.

With the spark of child’s play, the swing set is magically restored to its vibrant glory.

I smile and wave to my neighbor. She nods in return.

And as my dog and I amble down the street, the swing set creaks loudly, as if it’s laughing.  OH

Mallory Miranda is a resident of Greensboro. She is currently writing a play.