Imagine that your neighbor has a creaking swingset. Creak, creak, creak. A wooden ensemble, built for a child. Don’t you dare picture a front porch swing: elderly, middle aged; adult, at least. A child’s swing. Rhythmic. Steady. It’s easy to hear if you listen for it.
Now imagine that you can’t see it from the majority of the back yard. Traipsing through the ivy to the adjoining fence will afford a small view, but someone stepping out of the house (say, for an evening or late night smoke), through the back door, on to the aging wooden porch, will not see it at all. Darkness and obscurity in all its words and laws.
Stepping out, late at night, you might hear (on that back porch) that rhythmic creak as the incongruent two-tone drone irresponsibly set as a random nighttime soundtrack stretches out, spreading what seems some kind of nefariously paranoid wings. Unseen.
Ten, full dark; Eleven p.m.; midnight: creak, creak, creak.
Imagine it’s your yard. Imagine that for a year (fifty-two weeks; three hundred, sixty four and 1/4 days; eight thousand, seven hundred and 66+ hours) this has been a macabrely pleasant constant. Imagine your curiosity at that sound. Imagine further that you’re so polite that late-night peering over your own fence from your own yard attached to your own house seems somehow rude. (Who creeps on ten p.m. swinging children?) Imagine that you’re a middle aged sub-culture fan watching the world speed up around you as you slow down and simultaneously realize the profound impact and ridiculously insignificant blip that your death will be.
Take a moment. There’s no rush.
Know, as well, in that dark, that the ground is difficult to traverse. In good shoes (and a flashlight) it might be alright. House slippers have no place in that area of the yard. Creak or no, that side of the yard simply doesn’t beckon. Hills roll, irregularities in the land flow liquidly, light flits between the leaves of trees. Still, irritatingly, that creak, creak, creak, is enticing, no?
You joke to friends: did the neighbors have two children or three? Surely no child swings so eerily serene at midnight:thirty on a Thursday when all good people are asleep and dreaming…
Stepping out front, out of the garage, in the driveway, slightly northwest of that sound, offers even less of a view, but the sound carries just as strong, if not stronger. Can you hear it? Imagine a ghost story to make the Violent Femmes blush in its simplicity and incongruence. Creak, creak, creak, man: in the dark. Child’s swing, well past moonlight.
This bullshit piece is reliant on you catching that, hearing that. Again, rope groaning against wood methodically. Creak, creak, creak. Are you with me so far? Are you playing along?
That creak is quite comforting, in its own specific way. It’s a lovely horror story in itself, like the best old stories, without violence or gore; all shadows and mood. You know them; I know you do. They wake you up at the witching hour (when that creak, creak, creak is a creeping memory and, enticing though it might be, it’s just too late to listen through the sigh of the wind). Those stories comfort some of you, reminding you that there are more things in heaven and earth, oh dear reader, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. They frighten others for entirely the same reason.
Tonight the swing had an angry, aggressive sweep; requiring oil as chains groaned against metal constraints, growling. The sound pushed against that familiar wall of dark and warped the air around it, hacking rather than slicing through the stillness. A noise insistent, course, rasping, climbing inside the ears as opposed to falling into them, daring you to ignore it. It pushed and pushed and pushed. And then it stopped.
Imagine yourself petting your less than ten pound dog under a nearly starlit night (as moonlight strains through the clouds). Imagine that you’re playing an adult who knows what’s real, what’s important, either tangible or ethereal, what’s really going on. Imagine you’ve seen the big fears: human atrocities, loss, addictions, even miseries and failings that carry on to children. Imagine further that all your failings and foibles are so much more forefront now that you love a family and that they love you. Imagine that they’re all okay with that because their failings and foibles are a part of you now, too. Imagine the universe expanding and the world contracting as middle age redefines normalcy and mystery.
Then imagine that you just heard the neighbor’s ghost cease their constant creaking.