Abby stared at the playground from her post on the sidewalk, her notebooks crushed in nimble arms.
The new girl with a pink ribbon tied at the end of each pigtail sat on the swing, head bowed. Her shoulders shook from time to time, her sagging body’s sole movement. The chains squeaked, as the autumn wind bellowed, giving the dangling girl a soft push with an invisible hand.
Chewing at her lower lip, Abby scanned the road. Down the tree-lined street other cars had come and gone, the sunny buses departed. She counted to ten but no sign of her mom’s van appeared.
Back in the playground, the other girl hadn’t budged.
Hefting her books and lunchbox, Abby trundled across the lawn, her footsteps scraping as grass changed to gravel.
“Can I use this one?” she asked.
The girl looked up, brown eyes wide as she grabbed the swing’s chains with tight fingers. Tear streaks ran down her face, curving over plump cheeks and staining the collar of her honey-dew sweater. She glanced at the curved plastic seat hanging beside her and sniffed.
“I guess so,” she said, rubbing her nose on her sleeve and smearing the salted lines.
Abby set down her lunchbox alongside the swing’s route and carefully balanced her books on top. She squirmed onto the seat and gave the ground a kick.
Pebbles sprayed and the chains groaned, the crisp air tussling her hair like the changing leaves.
“Come on,” she said to the other girl. “It’s fun.”
Her gaze, rimmed in red and enlarging into dinner plates, followed the pendulum swing as Abby pumped herself higher.
Abby closed her eyes and tilted her face into the fading sun. The wind swooped by as she drifted back and forth and rushed in her ears. She tightened her grasp on the paperclip-thin chain as she began rising out of the seat at the top of the arc.
The other swing began creaking and Abby glanced over. The little girl’s tear swollen face had softened, her ribbons fluttered as she gained height. A pearl perfect smile bloomed on her lips and she leaned into the momentum like a bird about to take flight.
A honk blared from the street.
Abby winced and dragged the heels of her sneakers in the gravel, creating two ruts in the dirt. The little girl did the same until they both dangled like ripe fruit. Abby hopped off the swing, gathering her books.
“That’s my mom,” she said, plucking her lunchbox in one hand.
“Oh,” said the little girl. A shadow covered her face and she gazed down to the lap of her dungarees.
“Is your mom coming?”
The little girl nodded. “She’s going to be mad about the test. Maybe even call my teacher or the principal.”
Abby frowned. “Why would she do that? Did you fail it or cheat or something?”
“No, but I got some answers wrong.” Slumping against a chain, she toyed with one pigtail.
“That’s ok,” said Abby. “We all get answer’s wrong sometimes. Everyone knows that.”
The little girl looked up, tearing eyes brimming with hope. “Really?”
Abby smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.” Her mom honked again and Abby jumped. “See you tomorrow, ok?”
The little girl rubbed her nose again, and then waved. “Ok.”
Abby trotted to the street and hauled in the back of the gaping van. She hopped into her chair and buckled her seat belt as the automatic door slid closed.
“How was your day?” asked her mom, as they pulled away from the sidewalk.
“Fine,” said Abby.
“Who was that you were swinging with?”
“The new girl. She’s waiting for her mom, too.” Abby let out a yawn and sank into the bucket seat.
Her mom turned up the radio and Abby stared out the window, where the little girl was pumping her legs and regaining her swing’s full height.