What Comes Before the Parking Lot

The swing set sits, empty and isolated under a dreary, gray sky. The sounds of traffic have grown distant in this corner, muffled by the surrounding buildings and looming trees. It's old, red paint is badly chipped in places and the seats mismatched. When in motion, the chains squeak loudly in protest. Now, though, they rest in silence.

Laurel runs her fingers over a greasy chain. She smiles, reminded of an old man; a million stories to tell, a multitude of adventures, but with no audience to listen. Forgotten with age. But Laurel is listening now.

"Hey, you!" a voice interrupts. Laurel startles and turns to see the intruder, a tall man with muscled arms exposed by his too-big tank. His messy hair hides beneath a hard hat, and he wrings dirt-blackened hands casually through a heavily stained rag. "What are you doing here?" he asks when Laurel doesn't make a move to speak. "We're tearing this all down today, you know. You shouldn't be here."

"I know." Laurel takes a step back, almost protectively, toward the swing set.

"You shouldn't be here," he says again.

"I…um…"

"Came to pay your last respects?" he asks, shoving the rag into his back pocket. His hands are still dirty.

"Something like that," Laurel says at last. "What are they building here?"

"Parking lot. For that apartment building over there."

"Oh." Laurel gazes at her feet momentarily then looks back into his amused eyes. "So I guess that song got it right. 'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.' Joni Mitchell, I think."

He looks at her for a long time before recognition finally registers across his features. "Oh, yeah!" he exclaims, snapping his fingers in personal congratulations. "I remember that one! But this ain't no paradise, girl. This is just an old playground."

It's paradise to the kids, Laurel frowns. Still, she says nothing. There's nothing she wants to say to this man with the dirty hands.

"Look. I'll give you a few minutes. That's the best I can do." He walks away, finally. Laurel doesn't thank him. It isn't the best he can do; it's the least he can do. But she'll take it.

Laurel sits, then, on that haggard seat for the last time and removes her flip flops. She feels the breeze on her face and she's compelled to take one last adventure. Suddenly, she's flying. She's fighting against gravity, and with every whoosh of wind through her hair and every pump of her legs that have become as good as wings she learns the stories of this solitary swing set. Once loved, then forgotten, and now loved just one more time. She runs bare feet through the sand as the swing finally loses momentum and begins to slow. Dusting herself off, Laurel pulls on her flip flops and walks back to the apartment building with but one promise to that old swing set: she will never use that parking lot. Not ever. She hates parking lots.