In Time’s Swing

In Time’s Swing

I don’t have much to say about this week’s Random Picture Prompt. I used it to try something new – which is really the point of these prompts anyway. It is, in a word, random.

The title comes from an old poem I discovered in Grade School – In Time’s Swing by Lucy Larcom, which was published in McGuffey’s Fourth Eclectic Reader, and which I once memorized for a school project. The content of the poem, however, is unrelated to the content of the prompt.
. . .

“Are you ready to go back?”

She ignores the question, tightens her fingers around the cool metal chains and folds her legs beneath her. Momentum builds slowly, starting from the rocking motion of her slight hips. They’re smaller than she remembers, and her legs are shorter. But her muscles are still strong enough to make her move.

Clouds swirl beneath her, kissing her skin with gentle moisture as the motion of her legs parts them. Sunlight, pink and soft caresses her forehead and cheeks. Where the light meets the cloud matter, it parts, revealing streaks of green and gray beneath.

These, too, she ignores, focusing on the motion, the speed she hopes to build as she guides the swing back and forth.

Twelve times she taps her heels…

The words slip into her mind. Song lyrics, she thinks. But she can’t be sure, can’t remember where they came from or what comes after. But she remembers a tall, slender woman in a glimmering white leotard poised on the toes of one foot while the other taps gently against the wooden floor. Twelve times she taps. Then she lifts her leg and extends it, the fingers of one hand gripping her ankle as she flexes her body, sinuous and agile.

She tries to grasp hold of the image, to remember what it means. There is significance in the number twelve, but she cannot unravel it. It slips through her fingers, leaving only the cool metal of the swing’s chains; metal that never seems to warm beneath her flesh.

She pumps her feet harder, folding at the knees and extending rapidly, pulling herself through the fog, cutting it to tiny pieces.

Landscape spreads beneath her now, indigo shaded beneath the odd light of the sun. It reminds her of sunrise and another image flashes through her head.

Pink and orange tendrils grip the horizon, the sun a bright dot near their center. Crisp, cool air bites her nose and cheeks as she inhales the scent of fresh rain, earth and moss. She knows that it rained the night before, though the earth beneath her feet is so hardpacked there’s no hint of moisture lingering beneath her boots.

She lifts both arms, unfolding her hands from her pockets, and spreads them out beside her, as if to embrace the morning chill. She wonders why the sun always looks like the center of the sky no matter where you are in the world, and if everyone looking up at the same moment felt the same way she did, as if they were standing at the very heart of the universe, moving toward some great achievement.

Again, she latches onto the thought, tries to trace it back to its origins. When that fails, she tries to remember what came next. But the mountains and trees in the sunrise vision are gone, replaced with the sepia tones of the city spread beneath her. Silent steel sentinels rake the sky, like giant fingers that can’t seem to close. Each is its own shade of grey. Their windows are empty of light or movement.

Unlike the trees and grass from her memory which seemed verdant and alive, the cityscape looks dull, faded and devoid of all life. Not quite dead, but certainly not welcoming.

Twelve times she knocks…

She taps her fingers against the chains she grips. Six times with the right hand. Six times with the left.

“Adeline? Are you listening?”

“Of course,” she replies, an automatic response. She isn’t listening. Not really. Not enough to absorb whatever the voice is trying to say. It’s so far away, anyway. Beyond the city. Perhaps even beyond the sun. It has no bearing on what she’s trying to remember.

Why is she here? Why this place instead of the mountains?

Adeline leans backward, pushing her feet in front of her, using her whole body to move the swing. In the midst of the motion the word – the name – Adeline echoes in the vaults of her mind and she realizes that it belongs to her. It is her name. And she has always known this. She merely forgot, like she forgot the dancer and her purpose and the poem.

Twelve stairs she climbs…

The swing whips above the city now. Adeline’s long hair would dance in the wind, if it weren’t bound tightly in a bun atop her head. Cool air streams along her cheeks, chin and neck, caressing her head and shoulders even as its tendrils dig icy nails into her flesh.

The fog is gone, granting her a clear view of the city in all its faded glory. In the distance, she catches a hint of a lake, its still water just barely catching the light of the sun.

The swing tilts and she leans into it, whirling in a mad circle, faster and faster, while the ground speeds below. The fog is in her head now, clinging to her thoughts, making each memory a struggle to unwind from the ether.

A woman sets a cake in front of her. There are twelve candles on it. She can’t see the woman’s face, but she sees the cake. It’s decorated in shades of pastel pink, blue and orange, as brilliant and vivid as the sunset from her last memory.

Twelve words she speaks…

She’s in the city now, but it’s not the same city. This city teems with life. People surge up and down the sidewalks while cars zoom across the streets nearby. Sound fills her ears, an incessant buzz from which she cannot distinguish individual words. The air is coarse with mingled smells, some pleasant, others putrid. She ignores them, ignores it all.

She’s standing on a street corner marked with a dark emerald sign and bold white letters. Lansdowne and Twelfth.

She has forgotten something critical and it lies on the other side of one of these streets. She can almost feel it reaching for her, almost hear it calling her name.

Adeline…

But the voice she hears is the distant one, the one that speaks over all of her memories, jolting her back to the present, refusing to leave her in peace.

“Then are you ready to return?” it asks again, insistent this time, demanding she respond.

“I don’t yet understand what it means,” Adeline growls in frustration. The street corner is gone again and she senses she will have to begin her search over again from the beginning. Already the swing has slowed and the heavy clouds have begun to reform.

“Then stay a while longer,” the distant voice soothes. “Stay as long as you like. But don’t stay too long.” The voice bears a warning tone now, one that demands Adeline take heed. “The longer you stay, the harder it will be to go back.”

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