[I belong to an online writing group, and each month we write a story with a theme and a word count. This time, we were asked to write about ‘Going Home‘ in exactly 500 words.]
“Higher!” she squeals, ” High-errrr!” and I push the swing harder so it arcs up into the spilled blue of the sky, even though I know what’s going to happen next. And on cue Izzy swings back down and kicks her legs and shouts, “Tooooo hiiiigh!” and I catch her as she jumps, like I always do. She lets me hold her tight and breathe her in: her dimpled skin, her hot little hands, her smell of sugared strawberries, until she struggles and wriggles and tears away to run free, blonde curls bobbing, across the grass.
We are back at the park again. There are others here today, of course – it’s a perfect summer’s day, unclouded, not too hot. I sit on the warm slats of my usual bench and watch Izzy scrambling up the slide, past the older boys kicking a football, indifferent, and wonder how many years I have left before they see her, they really see her, and I lose my little girl. But right here in this park, under the buttery sun, there’s nobody with eyes for her but me.
I jolt awake: the air has cooled and there’s a low hum of traffic along the main road. The playground is deserted. I know where she’ll be, but my heart is thumping an unsteady bass.
“Izzy!” I call, and my voice is rusty. An old woman walking her dog looks at me, and frowns; and then I see a flash of gold in the apple tree.
“Izzy!” I know I have to tell her something, but I don’t want to say it. There’s a light breeze whispering through the leaves.
“Time to go home now,” I call up, at last, and my heart sighs.
“Not yet!” she says, as she always does. “Five more minutes!”
Sometimes I give her five more minutes. Sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t make any difference: it always ends the same.
“Hold my hand,” I tell her, gently, but she jumps down and takes off towards the road.
“Hold my – ” I call, as she looks both ways and runs out. I yell and she turns, from the other side, where she looks back at me, eyes wide.
“Come back!” I shout, heart in my throat, “Izzy, come back!” and she is coming back, straight back –
There’s a hand on my arm. It’s the old woman, her little dog watching, ears pricked. I’m crumpled in a heap on the path. I scrabble up, and look for Izzy, but I can’t see her.
“You know,” says the old woman, quietly, “I’ve seen you. Every day. You can’t keep reliving this.”
“She’s coming back,” I tell her, watching the road.
The old woman squeezes my arm, and says, “She isn’t coming back.”
I can’t see Izzy anywhere. I can only see an unbroken line of cars, indifferent.
The woman asks, “Do you think it’s time to go home?”
I think about it, for a while.
I think about it.
© Joanna Rubery 2017