Fiction, Short fiction, Short story


Oindrila Gupta, December 7, 2022

I can’t remember if the bench was wooden or metal or painted or plastic-coated or anything. Nor how it was structured—slatted throughout? A latticed back? A solid seat? No matter. Such facts are mere paraphernalia now, as needless as the width of the street we crossed to get there. It was for sitting on and so we did, to rest and talk some more after strolling under the lamp posts and old campus trees with unswaying branches held delicately in the late summer air, past buildings with names we didn’t know but would learn, some of them, that year. It was partway up a gentle hill, enough to offer a slight vista to gaze on: a tableaux of cool, black grass etched with paths and indeterminate, fellow travelers. I don’t remember what was spoken, only that words were assembled, then uttered, spilled out into the night like unfledged owls jumping too soon. And I couldn’t imagine there being another place in the world.

Hardly anyone had a porch swing, let alone a front porch to hang it from, where I lived. But your house did: a faded, chipped green affair with weather-beaten newspapers, three-days-old and more, lying underneath, scattered like dead birds. Your house was a long, powder blue bungalow perched at the top of a long, steady hill, coming as I did from the lowlands in my whirring little sedan, an ‘84 Honda Civic, common and serviceable as myself. Sometimes we sat on the swing and considered, watching the tall pine trees, waiting for the bats to farewell the day with their sinuous darting. Or we looked west, past the eaves across the street, at silent lightning near the mountains, distant as a dream. On clear dusks pinprick stars would pierce through, as if to inform us that more would come when the night deepened upon our return. For now, the boards creaked beneath our feet as we swung lightly and surveyed the prospects for the evening, deciding where to go, what to do: a movie, a coffee shop, a bowling alley; sit on the roof, meet others downtown, circle the lake nearby; a game of tennis, a stroll through the public golf course, a stealthy swim in the gated pool up north; go inside to play games with your family, perhaps a drink or two. Or maybe, just maybe, we could stay here forever on this old porch swing, canting lazily forward and back, fore and aft, lilted by the soft spectral sea of the summer night.

The swing set propped up next to the school is still there, but now painted a fresh, vibrant yellow. It shows itself brightly, I imagine, under the dull drone of the light pole at two o’clock in the morning. The abrupt slope at the end of the grass field is still there, still falling off into a tangle of cottonwoods and ash and peachleaf willows and, beyond that, the ponds and the creek, and then the highway, where cars passed by singly, perforating the cool summer air, reminding us that life existed and went on carelessly beyond the bounds of our conversation, with its earnestness, and gentle ribbing, and musings, and many, many silences. It felt like the earth ended there beneath our feet, at the edge of the city, where we opened ourselves, shoes dangling, scraping the gravel, legs pumping absently, my stomach always a little nauseous from the motion. I never told you about that for fear we’d stop coming to this magical place. I passed by it the other day returning from a trip with my wife and children: a beacon recognizable only to me, standing unaware just off the highway, still in use, it seemed, indelible as these memories that bear me back, flashing briefly through the trees before the angle closed and we sped along back home, my eyes returned to the road.



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