Gretchen smirked, allowing herself the sarcasm afforded should anyone uncover her silliness. She hesitated. Her ears hurt from the strain of listening carefully for anyone who might catch her. No movements … no noticeable sounds anywhere within the house … the world was hers at six o’clock in the morning.
She fixed her gaze to the blinds and padded across the hardwood floor toward the wand that would open them. The golden glow that framed the white and wooden slats told on the weather. The sun was awake, just like it had been that other morning.
Her fingers tingled a bit, no doubt from having slept awkwardly on her right side. She opened and shut her fist rapidly to erase the pinpricks in her palm, then quickly grasped the plastic stick, turning it in a greedy fashion.
“This is so dumb,” she whispered, chewing at her bottom lip; her eyes fixed in the direction of a tree that dominated the front yard. She blinked as the sunlight danced in, and then sighed. The swing on the tree hung as it should … still and empty.
She took care not to whisper out loud this time as the conversation in her head ensued. “I know what I saw. The swing was moving … and there was definitely NO wind.”
It had been the day before yesterday, and Gretchen had enacted almost the same routine as this morning. Waken by a glow which promised early morning sunshine, she had coaxed herself from beneath a flannel blanket. A walk outdoors in a world liberated from the winter gloom that had lingered through the entirety of spring, felt like a desperate need. She had hastened to chase out all the grey and shadows from the winter weary house by opening up the blinds immediately, even though it meant anyone happening by on the sidewalk would awkwardly observe her in pajamas. Peering carefully, it was as it should be … a quiet street. But then she saw it … the swing on the maple next to the sidewalk … rocking to and fro.
In that moment, Gretchen had smiled. It wasn’t unusual for a family with a small child to stop as they walked by and sneak a quick ride on the little rope swing, hung so temptingly just inches from the sidewalk. “But it’s so early in the morning.”
She had stepped back to the window and looked as far up and down the street as her strained neck could see. She could see nothing and only heard a dull rumble of a car or two on the main street one block over. The day progressed, and she found herself drawn to the memory of that empty swing, leisurely swaying as if it were the hands of a clock stuck in a gently rotation between four and eight on the dial. “Who afforded themselves that moment?” she wondered over and over. It amused her to imagine the possible scenarios.
“A businessman!” she pounced on that idea. Imagine a middle-aged man in a tired suit, hurrying off to the bus. Maybe like her, he had been enticed by the tardy sunshine and hurried into his day. With an extra minute or two to spare, a boyish thrill owned him as he started by. “What the heck,” he may have reasoned and sat down to let the boy inside emerge ever so slightly. Then with coincidence, Gretchen looked out only moments after the responsibility-burdened man that he really was took over and pushed him back to the bus stop.
But … Gretchen could never remember seeing anyone in a suit walk by in the two plus years that she lived here. So then, who? Maybe a lonely widow. Desperate for company, yet still chained by the dark side of mourning, she may have left her house in the earliest hours of the day for a hurried walk. Gretchen’s street may have been a new path for her; symbolic of the need to force herself into a new beginning. Then there it was … an empty swing. Years flew back. The woman was a girl again, restless and anxious for the future. A bit moody as she emerged into teen years, she had sat on a such a swing and dreamed of being loved, having adventure. Ever so slowly, widow may have hobbled off the pavement and rested every weary ounce on the smooth, wooden seat, letting the sadness fight with the breeze as the she rocked under the canopy of the tree.
Or maybe a teen. Banging out of his door as quickly as he could struggle into a wrinkled t-shirt and stained jeans in order to avoid the drama of his cranky mother and meddling step-father, he may have come to a dead stop at the sight of the swing. A flash back to safer times, a memory of a laughing boy, he stepped closer, quizzical, tempted. Suddenly, the rage welled up and instead of sitting, he grabbed the seat and thrust it mightily into the sky, then darted to the side as the rope threw it back at him.
“Nahhh…,” Gretchen shook away that idea. The movements were smooth, rhythmic, not herky-jerky. Someone had actually been sitting on it; actually swinging.
A thirty-something woman out jogging? The manager of the neighborhood coffee shop? A bold teenager girl who unabashedly wanted to be a child for a moment? Had a neighbor from across the street, taken out the garbage, and overcome with a fit of temptation, crept across the road only to scurry home when he heard her stir within the house?
Each imagined scenario became a mini-drama in Gretchen’s head. One idea, however, surfaced above them all. Suppose that this was a daily, on-going ritual for someone? Thinking that they had a secret routine going, this person would sneak a “ride” every morning. A lonely soul? Some daredevil, playing his own game of trying to forage a private, unnoticed routine without ever getting caught?
What if … but, of course … no one was there.
“Don’t be an idiot,” she scolded herself for the disappointment she was feeling. Why would someone play such a game? And so what if he or she did? What did it matter? It wasn’t like she wanted to tell the person to stop.
Wriggling down into the pillows of her couch, she stared out into the day. The sun was on a roll … three days going now. She felt as if the cold in her bones might truly be driven out.
A bird trilled from the back of the house. “Father, I need this moment,” she whispered a prayer. Life had grown stale; her heart burdened continually. She used to scoff at the idea of growing old and being burdened with worries. “God is big enough.” She truly had always believed those words. Yet somehow, worry after little worry … disappointments … bad habits …. guilt … all worked together to rub the gloss off of her faith until it gleamed about as much as a tarnished nickel.
I need to pray … or sing … or give thanks … or something. “I’m sad, Father. Even angry … at me … at the world.” Trying to make sense of the disappointment of not finding anyone on the swing, she found that she was mourning a loss of her own. Her child-like abandonment had been slain by worry. She was once the one to jump on a vacant swing at six in the morning. What a thrill to play a secret game just for the joy of it.
Gretchen closed her eyes. A melody formed as did prayers of release. You are Lord in EVERY season.
Engrossed in her thoughts and the peace that gently settled into her heart, she missed a slight movement. A shadow bulging from behind the neighbor’s long, wooden fence had frozen on the sidewalk at the first twist of the blinds. How still it stood as Gretchen had peered out. Now, after waiting, and waiting some more, it so very cautiously inched further and further down the sidewalk, away from the tree. Whether the shadow wore a smile or frown would never be known … only that it would leave the swing for another day.