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They are my joy. Everyday they race to me and fling themselves onto my smile, peals of laughter lifting it higher, higher, higher. I let them touch the sky and then I bring them gently back to Earth.
The little boy is one that comes everyday. I do not feel his weight, but rather his presence; incessant giggles become my favorite song, gap teeth my favorite sight to behold. I lift him the highest. He goes swooping through the air in a parabola until his toes touch the clouds, and then he comes rushing down safely like a man strapped to a parachute. I am his parachute, and I will never let him fall.
But everyday, he leaves. There is a loud mechanical beep that always comes too soon, and he digs his feet into the chips beneath me to find the traction that I will not give him. Everyday I wonder if he will come back, this little boy that is all smiles in my presence. He does. Everyday, he does.
Today, I see the little boy running over to me just as I saw yesterday. I hear quick feet crunching chips of wood and rapid breaths rushing in and out of chapped lips. But, before he can reach me, two small girls arrive and force me to lift them up, up, up. I want to tug on their tight blonde braids like I see the other kids do to each other, to let them know that it’s the little boy’s turn, not theirs. It’s always his turn.
When he reaches me his smile falls and I want to push the girls off, but I am not supposed to hurt them. He lifts his thumb to his mouth and wrinkles his eyebrows as he gazes up at the girls.
“‘Scuse me,” he lisps around his finger. The one with a pale pink dress and frilly socks to match looks down at him when he speaks. She’s bigger than him and gives off an air of maturity; She makes it seem as if age difference is power on this playground.
“Uhm… Can I have a turn on the swing when you’re done please?” the little boy mumbles this time. It’s a wonder that the girl managed to hear him, with his shy face cast towards to ground and thumb tucked firmly between his lips.
“Sure!” the girl yells down to him through a smile.
He sits down and leans against my leg, digging his fingers into the chips of wood and dirt, extra large earthworms wriggling about. Time passes and his hands remain in the dirt, all the way until the obnoxious beep comes. The girls launch themselves away from me in mid air, landing skillfully on their feet. I am angry. He asked for a turn, but he didn’t get one and that isn’t fair. I wish that I could tell him to stay, grab his hand and tug until he understood.
His mouth falls open slightly and tears fill his eyes. He knows that it’s not fair, too. Hands are extracted from dirt, bony knees are brushed off, and small feet turn toward the big building from which they always come. His shoulders are hunched as he walks away from me, and I am still angry.
The girls come to me before him again. This time he clings to one of my legs, seeking the protection that someone so small might find from behind a parent’s same appendage. Why are they mean to him? Why won’t they let him have fun too?
I am reminded of yesterday, of his crestfallen face and hunched back. I do not want him to walk away like that again, and so I make a decision. It’s a horrible, awful thing, but I will do it anyways because these are horrible, awful girls.
When they reach the apex of their climb, I concentrate very hard. I want them off, I want them gone, I want them to launch away from me like they did yesterday. They each begin to slip off, small bodies edging closer and closer to the precipice. They managed to land on their feet before, so they will this time, too. I think about the little boy, tears heavy in his eyes and voice trembling. I lash out and the girls go soaring, no parachute to catch them this time. One manages to land on her feet, but the girl who wore the frilly socks catches herself on her hands and goes tumbling through the chips. She lets out a small sniffle as her friend helps her up, brushing small bits of wood off her raw palm. I should feel worse.
The boy takes his opportunity and runs to me with a small smile, hoisting himself up before I lift him into the air. There is space for one more next to him, but neither of the girls return to claim it.
The girls are walking away with sniffles trailing behind them as I help him soar, his fingers holding onto me tight. Even though he saw what I did to those other girls, he knows that I would never hurt him.
When the beep comes and he must go, I do not feel as sad as all of the other times. I know that when he comes back, the little girls won’t reach me before him and that if they do, I will steal their parachute again and let them fall so that he can fly.