There’s a moment when you’re swinging. When the swing is as high as it can go and you’re suspended in midair. If you lean back on your way up to that moment, you’ll find yourself surrounded by sky, suspended in the stars. It’s the closest experience to flying; at least, that’s what Peter said.
I used to meet Peter at the playground behind my house at night. We liked to fly into the sky. Peter said there was a whole other world out there waiting for him. I never really believed him but he seemed pretty sure of it.
“Look for me out there one day,” he said pointing to the sky. “I’ll be the second one on the right.”
During one of these nights Peter told me he was never going to grow up. I laughed at him. “Don’t be silly. Everyone has to grow up.”
Peter just shook his head. “Not me.”
That night I walked home alone. Peter said he wanted to stay. As I was walking away I turned around and saw Peter leaning back on the swings. He moved in and out of the moonlight like a shadow as he swung higher and higher into the sky. I lost sight of him when he reached the top. He must have jumped because when the swing came back down he was gone. Peter was always trying to get closer to the stars. He was daring that way.
Peter never made it home that night. No one ever figured out what happened to him; he just disappeared. He was only eleven. It was big news at first, but once his family moved away there was nothing left to remind people of him. The adults quickly forgot Peter and as the other neighborhood kids got older, they forgot about him too. I never did. I thought about him all the time.
The night before my eighteenth birthday I went back to the playground alone. I hadn’t been back since Peter’s disappearance. It looked smaller than I remembered. Paint peeled from the jungle gym and the swing set was rusting from years of neglect. The swings shifted slightly in the breeze showing small signs of life. I turned away to look up at the sky, filled my vision with the stars and waited.
“Second one to the right.”
I turned around to see Peter sitting on one of the swings. He looked just as I remembered him. I walked over and sat down on the swing next to him. The chains moaned in protest.
“You grew up,” his eyes ran around my face tripping over the changes.
“I didn’t mean to,” I wrapped my arms around myself wanting to appear smaller.
We sat there for a minute letting the silence fill the space between us.
“Can you remind me how to fly?”
Peter didn’t answer me; he just started swinging back and forth. I shadowed him. We kept swinging, higher and higher, leaning back until we reached that familiar point of suspension. We both reached out and jumped. I stretched out my hand but I couldn’t grasp the stars. I fell from the sky.
I knew he was gone when my feet hit the ground. I turned to the empty swing next to me as it swung back down. All those years I believed Peter would come back for me. Standing there alone I realized the truth. Peter never truly taught me how to fly.
He was selfish that way.
Courtney Gagnon is a writer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.