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Fragmented Pieces: Rose and the Playground
As I approached the gray playground, it was as if no time had passed at all. I hadn’t been there since elementary school, which was ten years ago—I’m in college now. Nevertheless, the playground was the same, with its silver-steel slides, wooden swings, dirty sandboxes and metal jungle-gym. Even when I was little, this playground never had any sense of playfulness or freedom. It was never a pleasant or uplifting place to be. There always seemed to be a constant cloud above, because for some reason this part of the park never gets any sunlight. Even on my way there, I felt a sense of gloom and apprehension.
But I knew I was there for a reason, so I tried to push away my fear by telling myself I had no choice. I walked to the vacant playground, and with each step I whispered, “This is for my sister. This is for Rose.” I ran my hand along the cold, hard slide and I saw her, just sitting on the swing she has been sitting on since that day in 1st grade.
Mother never attempted to lure Rose off the swing again after her first month there. She simply puts food on Rose’s lap, tells her she loves her, and walks away three times a day. Sometimes she’ll say, “Rose, you are crazy.” But Rose never budges. Father brings Rose a new dress once a month, and a coat when its cold, but no body has tried to pull her off the swing since the last time. This is Rose’s swing. This is Rose’s playground in a park that nobody visits anymore.
This was my first try and last chance to get Rose off the swing. The next day I was transferring to a school in England. I hadn’t seen Rose since I was in 5th grade, and she in 1st. That day Rose first got on the swing scared me away from her for a pretty shameful reason. I thought she was crazy (which I’m pretty sure she is), and I didn’t want to be associated with anyone mentally insane out of fear my friends would think I was insane, too. Everyone at school stopped going to the park because of Rose. They thought she was going to eat them or some other nonsense. I’m much older than my fifth grade self, and Rose is my only sister. I have come to make peace.
As I peered over the slide, I barely made Rose out. I could see her brown, never-been-cut-since-1st-grade hair, her big puffy winter coat and her sad, lonely eyes looking down at the sand. She was singing to herself, but I couldn’t hear the words, only a slow, melancholy tune. Rose is sixteen now, and her body has obviously very much changed since I last saw her when she was six. She did not look very tall—I’m sure sitting 24/7 on a swing does not make for the best growing conditions. She looked very pale, almost a perfect snow white, from not getting any sun on this part of the park.
I must go, I told myself. I must get my 16-year-old sister out of her miserable state that I helped put her in.
That day Rose sat down and never got back up, a bunch of other 1st graders were teasing her about her having only one leg. They told her she could never use a swing, play a sport, drive a car, and so on. I was at the park with my mom that day, because Mom said it was good for Rose to try and do some ‘normal’ child activities even though it was difficult for her. It wasn’t fun for me to wait in that dreary, dirty park, so I sat next to Mom on a bench, reading a book. But when I heard Rose being tormented, I went to help my little sister. I wasn’t close with Rose then either. She was always sort of inward and shy. Whenever I tried to reach out to her, she ignored me.
Rose was sitting on the swing near tears, and I came up behind her and said, “Don’t worry, Rose. I can push you. I’ll always be here to take care of you.” Rose just stayed very quiet. The bullying 1st graders left because they were scared of me, the big 5th grader. After one or two pushes on the swing, I asked Rose if she wanted to go higher. As usual, she didn’t say anything, so I walked away. Even when the swing stopped moving, she just sat there looking down.
I came over to her about an hour later, and told her Mom said we were leaving. She said she wasn’t leaving. Not now, not ever. Mom and I waited for her all night into the next day, begging her to get off. Mom tried pulling her off, but Rose just hopped right back on. It was bringing Mom to tears when she saw Rose struggling to walk back and forth to the swing, so she let her stay. My father came to the park when my mom and I eventually had to leave. We switched off like this for a week. There was no use. Rose was there for good.
Right now it’s a cold December morning, and as I lean on the icy pillar of the swing-set, I try to make eye contact with Rose. I noticed that she definitely knew of my presence, because she stopped singing. Her lips were purple and shivering. I took out some Vaseline from my purse and offered it, but she didn’t say anything as usual.
“I know you’re mad, Rose. But you can’t waste your entire life trying to swing.”
Rose just furrowed her brow, and simultaneously the empty swing next to Rose swung my way, knocking me down onto the cold grass. Perplexed, I got up and sat on the swing that had attacked me. It must have been the wind. I started again.
“Don’t say anything.”
“I can’t just leave the country knowing you’re still here—I’m leaving tomorrow for my new school in England. I can’t leave with you here, like this. What’s the point of this, Rose?”
That last question must have angered Rose. She turned her head toward me. Here, I got a glimpse of her face. The skin was as white as snow, without a mark or line. Her small blue eyes looked so tired and worn. I could tell she definitely couldn’t survive here another 10 years, maybe not even another couple of months. She gave me a long, hard stare and then the swing I was on jolted forward, sending me off into the air. I smashed onto the slide, and then the slide seemed to make some sort of motion that propelled me down to the sand.
Rose still looked angry. I peered at her over my hands that were over my bloody, probably broken nose. She snapped her fingers and a tidal wave of sand splashed over me. My eyes burned, my mouth wretched, my bloody nose was the perfect place for sand to stick. I slowly stood up. I told myself that I was clumsy, that the playground couldn’t possibly be playing tricks on me, and walked back to Rose’s swing, spitting sand out of my mouth.
“I just wanted to make peace with you, Rose. It’s been way too long. It’s been 10 years since I last saw you, and when I look at you I want to cry! Stay on your swing! Die on your swing then! Just tell me you forgive me.”
Rose just sat there with a satisfied grin. She twisted her one leg up and to the side, while pushing her opposite arm back and forth. There she was—swinging. She didn’t swing very high, but she was in motion nonetheless.
“Wow, Rose! You did it. You swung!”
Rose observed me, silently before she spoke. “I learned how to do that after the first week here, after Mom, Dad and you stopped begging me to come off.”
“You did? Why did you stay on then? You proved everyone who ever doubted you wrong and never got a chance to show them.”
“I did. After that week those kids who teased me came back to the park—for the last time. I showed them what I could do. But know what they said? They said, ‘So what? You could swing and so can we. Big whoop.’ That’s when I realized you can never please people. People are mean and heartless and they don’t care. So I’d rather be here, alone, with only my park.”
“Rose, you can’t abandon your life because of a group of obnoxious kids. I’m going to get those kids here. They are 16 now—like you, hard to believe---and I’m sure they will apologize.”
“You won’t find them.”
“Why not? I’m sure they go to the high school you’re supposed to be at.”
“They’re a part of the park now.”
I took a step back. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I always knew there was something different about Rose. Something off, but uniquely powerful. She showed me once when she was in kindergarten that she could balance a pencil on its point on her nose. It looked impossible. I couldn’t explain it.
“Rose, what does that mean?”
Rose started softly giggling while still looking at the ground, moving her one foot around in the sand. “This is my park. I’m in control of every element.”
Right then, I heard a car pull up. It was Mom, bringing Rose her lunch and a new pair of gloves. She knew I was there, even though she told me it was hopeless.
“Hello, Rose. I brought grilled cheese today. Here’s some better gloves—I thought it was getting pretty chilly.” She laid the sandwich in a brown bag on Rose’s lap, along with new leather gloves.
I felt awful for my mother. She had to suffer because of Rose’s insanity, too. She couldn’t live a normal life, coming here three times a day. She couldn’t keep enabling Rose.
“Mom, you need to stop this. Stop bringing food. Let Rose come to us.”
My mom stared at me distantly. She spoke in a phony, over-exaggerated voice, “Why would I do that, Amy?”
I told Mom Rose would leave the swing without food and clothes. My Mom tried not to look at Rose for some reason. She seemed to try and send me a message with her eyes to stop talking. But I moved away from her glare, and looked at Rose. She was standing on the swing holding the chains with her hands. She was singing again in that creepy, melancholy tune.
“Amy, look what you made her do!” said Mom, looking utterly frightened.
“She’s just singing. I heard her doing that when I first got here.”
“Do you even know what she is capable of? I should have warned you, but I didn’t think Rose would pull this on her own sister. Do you know why I enable her like I do? I thought of what you suggested, to not enable her anymore. But when I warned her she wasn’t getting food from me any longer, she turned me into sand. I was a part of the sand for those two days you couldn’t reach me—those two days I told you I was helping Aunt Marie. I was here, part of this ground.”
Rose was still singing, and Mom was staring at me, and I couldn’t take it anymore. This was ridiculous—Mom, part of the ground because of Rose. But before I could even think about the absurdness of it all, I tried to make it better by telling Rose I was kidding, that I would never think Mom shouldn’t bring her food. But it was too late.
“Rose, don’t do this to your sister. She’s only trying to help. Just let her go. She’s going away to England, and you’ll never have to see her again.”
Rose didn’t stop singing. The wind got stronger, and then it suddenly started snowing sideways. My mom buried her face in her hands. The wind and snow seemed to push the sand into a spirally tornado around me, and when everything stopped, I couldn’t feel my feet standing on the ground.