The Swing [Extract]

An old apple tree stood in the lawn, close to the hedge, its branches rough and grey with age. Velvet-green moss grew around its base, and Leonie stooped to touch it — she would have liked a jacket made of moss. Ellie had had a child’s swing fitted in the tree, with wooden slats and a bright striped back. She helped Leonie into the chair, and pushed it gently, from the front — she might have been rocking a cradle. Leonie could swing by herself now, but she preferred it this way, though it was hard work for Ellie.

They smiled together, conspirators in the afternoon, coming closer, and apart again.

Then, at a certain time, unpredictable and teasing, Ellie held the chair quite still suddenly at its highest point, close to her. Leonie never knew when the special moment might come, nor how long it might last. It was the best joke, the best game that they played; she loved the uncertainty, the suspense, before the moment was over, and the swing fell back.

She looked at her grandmother intently, her head to one side, alert as a little dog waiting for its master to throw the stick, her smile wide, stretching her mouth, her jaw, like an elastic band. She laughed in anticipation, excited, dark hair tossed back, a wild gypsy child.

She saw Gran’s face wrinkled and uneven as a leaf, the lines deepened and lengthened as she smiled too, her face almost breaking apart, her hair silvery, wispy and wild, escaping. Then she could hardly see Gran at all against the brightness.

Ellie’s fingers on the wooden slats were trembling. She touched the child’s hand, searched her face; then she kissed her, and let the swing fall back.

From November Wedding