by E. R. Murray

I can still remember the last time he was pushing me. Those big, soft hands on the small of my back giving me just a little more momentum each time. Not too much, not too little.

“Hey, dad. Dad!” I would call. “Push me higher!” My hands squeezed the chains as I swooped down to the bottom and glided back up to the top. I loved the motion and I loved watching everything move. Everything flew around me, the trees, the buildings, the people. Down, down toward the ground and then the quick takeoff toward the sky. There was that moment when everything stopped, and then I fell backwards, back to earth, back to him, back to us.

I guess it was boring for him, standing there in the late afternoon sun, pushing and waiting, pushing and waiting. I’d hear him mumbling behind me sometimes. “Ridiculous”, he would say. “Grown man with better things to do.” Or sometimes he would walk away and let the swing slow almost to a stop, then without a word start pushing again.

Sometimes at home he just seemed to be asleep. Mom would talk to him and he would just say ‘yeah’, or ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know’, or sometimes not even answer. Other times when he would talk, non-stop. He would tell me everything he saw, everything that happened to him that day, everything that went through his mind. “This guy called and said he wanted to place and order and I said ‘wait ’til I get my form’ and he said ‘don’t you think you should have them ready when people call?” and I said do you want to place an order or do you want to tell me my business. Some people always think they can tell you how to live your life. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to live your life.”

I tried hard to be interested, too. “Really?” I would say. Or, “How about that.”

But I always wanted to go to the swings. “Hey, dad. Dad!” I would call. “Push me higher!”

So he pushed. He lay his hands gently on my back and at the absolute peak of my momentum in one direction he started me off in another. I hung, absolutely still for a moment, and when that moment bled into another, I moved again. The swing made a perfect arc, like a big pendulum ticking off minutes.

“They’re just mood swings,” my mother would tell when he wasn’t around. “Just something he goes through.” She had a funny, sad look on her face, and she started to keep her back to me a lot. “He really loves us a lot….”

I thought that learning to pump might help. It would give him a rest, and maybe make him proud of me. So, when he wasn’t with me, I’d climb on, kick my legs and eventually get a little movement going. Feet out, head back, hold on tight going forward. Head up, knees in on the return. Kick those feet going back up again. Soon I was moving smoothly and independently. I wanted to show him, but I waited for a bad day, a mumbling day, thinking it might make him feel better.

That muggy afternoon in the park I could feel his anger. The morning had been a talker, and the afternoon was becoming a mumbler.

“Just too stupid,” I heard him say behind me as he gave the first push. I felt nothing on the next two passes, but then the reassuring and gentle hands resumed and I was soaring. ‘Now is the time’, I thought. After the next push I kicked my legs out and threw my head back. On the way back down I felt him move out of the way. Again and again I thrust myself forward and kicked backwards. I was really pumping now. Higher and higher, faster and faster, in control of my flight.

“Hey, dad. Dad!” I called. “Look! I can pump.” At the top of the arc I managed to turn just enough to see behind me.

But he was gone.

And now I push. Not too much, not too little. He looks a little like me, but more like him. I think maybe the nose skipped a generation.

“Daddy!” he shrieks in delight. “Push me higher!” And I do. I check to see that he’s holding on tight and that he’s not slipping off the seat, and watch his little rear end coming toward me. I step back a bit so his feet don’t kick me, and just at the top of the arc, when all forces of nature are balanced for an instant, I push. Not too much, not too little.

“Daddy,” he calls again. “Push me higher!”