HIGHER • by Stephanie Allen Crist

Bryce pumped his legs, pushing and pulling at the cold metal chains as he dangled between ground and sky. At the height of his climb, with the air lifting his bottom from the swing, he glimpsed the sparkling break in the day. It was just a peek. He saw something there, but not enough to know what it was, whatever it might be. He fell back through the sky, toward the ground, then again backwards up into the air, waiting for his next chance to see.

Darren saw something there, long ago, that delighted him. He would swing for hours and hours while Bryce ran around in circles.  Now that Darren talked like Mama, Daddy and Grandpa he didn’t let himself look at all the wonderful things Bryce loved so much to see. Bryce wanted to see for himself, now that he was big enough to pump so high, before he was so big he couldn’t believe. So, Bryce pushed and pulled, climbing higher into the sky.

Mama called from the ground, “You’re going too high!  Slow down!”

Mama’s voice shook. Once Darren had pumped so high he fell off the swing. He landed with a great thud and Mama rushed him to the doctor. The doctor kept them for hours and hours. Darren came home, tired and bored and so overwhelmed by all the sights and smells and noises of the hospital that he couldn’t do anything but scream and cry and bash his head into the floor.

Bryce didn’t want to upset Mama, but he had to see for himself. He just wasn’t high enough. He pushed and pulled with his arms, pumping his legs, treading air as hard as he could. He saw only sky peeking through the shivering leaves of the big tree. Not even a sparkle to know there was something to see. Sometimes the sun would make the dancing dust particles sparkle. Maybe that’s all he saw. But no, Darren looked long and hard and many, many times. There had to be something special to see.

As he swung back down, weightless for a moment, Bryce saw a sparkling glimpse before thudding back into his seat. His mouth opened, trying to say that he’d almost seen it, but a high pitched squeal came out instead. Bryce fell towards the ground and then swung up into the air on the other side. Mama’s anxiety puckered her brow and pickled her lips. He wanted to look at her, to flash her that smile that told her he was good without any need for words, but he had to keep looking to the sky. If he could only get high enough, he could see through the sparkles to the other side.

Mama called again, “Slow down, you’re swinging too high!”

He wished he could tell her.  He would use his words and she would understand. But words wouldn’t come. They started in his head just fine, but by the time they made it all the way down to his tongue they were a mangled mess. Once in a while, Darren would know, he’d understand. But Darren was getting older, speaking better, being grown up. The space between them was growing and Bryce was left behind. So, he let Mama be Mama. He had to see for himself, even without the words.

Bryce swung so hard the swing set rocked as he swooped past the ground and back up into the sky. Mama made that gasping sound, like she was choking on words that wouldn’t come. Bryce wanted to stop, to let Mama have her words back, but he still hadn’t seen for himself. He just wasn’t high enough. If he swung just right, he would see.

He churned the air to break free of the weight that held him just a little too low. The swing set rocked. Mama tried to stabilize it, holding him to the ground. Mama reached out her hand as if she would pluck him from the air. He gave everything he had to the swing.

Then, as her hand reached for the chain, he got just high enough to peek in through the break in the day. Through the leaf-feathered arms of the tree he saw a sparkling lake. White swans with black faces and dripping orange beaks glided across the lake like magic. He’d seen the swans many times through the metal bars guarding the outcropping that hung over the lake, where they went to feed the ducks little pieces of bread. Only here, when he looked through the sparkles of magic, he saw the lead swan had the face of a princess, just like in the stories. He smiled as he saw for himself what he knew Darren had seen long ago. A quick look. Then, he was too high, then he was too low, and then he fell back down towards the ground, his bottom hitting the seat with a thump. He looked up at the sky with a smile big on his face. Bryce skidded his feet against the ground, sending shivers up his legs until he slowed enough to stand to a stop. He looked over at Mama, flashed a great big grin, and looked up and away. He’d seen for himself. He knew, no matter what happened next, that he could believe just long enough to make it real.

Then, finally, the words came out clear for Mama to hear: “I did it!”

Stephanie Allen Crist is a freelance writer who writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She also provides resume and business writing services through www.PurplePenWritingServices.com. Find more of her published work at www.StephanieAllenCrist.com.

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