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AT THE END of the garden, a boy sits on the swing. His eyes close and he unpicks each sound from the summer afternoon: insects; birds; a neighbour’s children; paddling pool splashes; a hand-pushed lawnmower. His sister’s stereo plays David Bowie. The boy opens his eyes and the sounds dissolve. He presses against the ground with his feet. The swing creaks and flakes of rust fall on the back of his neck. He brushes them away, shades his eyes and looks up into the sun.

What used to be a vegetable patch has been given over to weeds and grasses as high as his shoulders. Sometimes mice scurry from the grass, disappearing under the shed. In bare patches the earth is baked hard and cracked like a ginger biscuit.

At the beginning of summer, mum’s friend Hazel came with her children, a boy with a scabby elbow who was ten and his sister, a girl in a blue dress who was seven. The girl had wandered, finding a bamboo garden cane behind the shed. At first she whipped it through the air, then slashed through the long grass and weeds, sending dandelion seeds and broken stems flying. It looked a good game. Then she stopped. “There’s a paper bag in the grass,” she said. The boys looked up. She prodded gently at the paper bag. Nothing much happened. She gave it a sharp poke. The paper bag tore. From the tear came a wasp. Other wasps poured from the bag. She stood rooted, not connecting the torn bag, the cane in her hand and the wasps fizzing around her ears. She was stung on the cheek. She screamed and ran into the house.

Mum apologised to Hazel for the wasps. It wasn't his fault. The next day the Council came and got rid of the nest and after a couple of days the boy was allowed back in the garden. Dad cut down the long grass and weeds. Now they have grown back and tickle his bare legs as he passes.

The lawnmower noise stops. The sun has disappeared behind thick cloud. The sky looks like it might burst at any moment. From the swing the boy sees the cane, halfway down the garden where the girl in the blue dress threw it away. The boy begins to swing forwards, slowly at first. He looks down, watching the ground pass beneath his feet. He swings higher, barely gripping the chains, trusting his balance; a dare. Suddenly he takes hold, kicks hard and swings higher still. Soon he is swinging as far as he can. The rusty chains complain. The wind rushes through his ears. Each of the swing’s four feet with its bolts deep in the dry ground, strains at the earth, shuddering at the highpoints of every arc. He swings high and fast until he feels dizzy and sick. He closes his eyes and throws himself forwards.

He lets go.

The ground will hit him, rip the wind from him, break him, bruise him, make him bleed. But it doesn’t. He opens his eyes, spreads his arms to control the glide as he makes it easily over the apple trees, the chairs on the lawn, the roof of his house. He is above the street, flying over rows of terraces, the flats, the shops, the empty school. He banks left over the high-street where Louise still lives. He looks down and sees the world waiting for rain.

NT 2011


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