I squealed in delight as I rose higher and higher into the warm, summer air and before I knew it, I was again falling to the earth.
"Up we go!" my dad yelled as he pushed me again.
The swing again went up, this time higher than before, but still dropped back down.
I came down again, but for some reason there were no hands there waiting for me, waiting to push me back up into the great blue beyond. The swing slowed and I looked around to see my dad just standing there, smiling at me.
"What is it, daddy?" I asked him.
He smiled even more and I was afraid his face will split if he gets any happier. He seemed to wipe his eyes of tears and quickly said "Nothing, honey. Nothing at all. Come on, let's go inside."
I jumped off the swing and followed him back into our small home. Why would he be crying? He was not hurt. I don't understand. How can someone be happy one minute and sad the next? It doesn't make sense. Oh well.
The last few days had been great. Just me and dad, all alone, while my mum went to work. I don't know why daddy has stayed home so much this week, but I have had the greatest time playing with him. He and I played in the yard on the swings and the slide. We played hide and seek the other day and before that, we went out for ice cream. It was grand having him always by my side. I wished it would never end.
My mummy came home, placed the groceries on the table, and kissed daddy. They were always kissing or hugging. Why are they doing that all the time? I wish they would stop, it always made me nervous. Last week when they kissed and hugged, they were always smiling when they did it, but not now. Now when they hug, they seemed sad. When they kissed, it had no happiness in it. I don't know why, but they both seemed unhappy.
As I played with daddy on the family room floor, mummy was busy in the kitchen making dinner and watching the TV. She was always watching the TV. And it was never anything fun. She was always watching the stupid news. Why watch the boring old news when you could watch fun cartoons? She doesn't seem to have fun watching it, so she must not like the news. She always stands in front of the screen with a sad look on her face. Sometimes she calls daddy into the kitchen to see something but I never see anything important: just some boring old guy talking. What was so interesting about that? I don't know. Grown-ups have a weird way of having fun.
Before I know it, dinner is served. We all sit at the table and silently eat our food. For some reason, we never talk at the table now. Before daddy started staying home, we would all have funny conversations, but not now. Only silence now. I hate it.
After dinner, daddy put me to bed. I liked him doing that. He would lay beside me on the bed and read me stories, complete with the different voices for the different people. He read stories better than anyone I know, even mummy. I would giggle whenever he would make a strange voice along with a grotesque face and try to scare me.
Sooner than I wanted, the story was over and it was time to go to sleep. Daddy left the room for a minute before turning out the lights and quickly returned with something in his hand.
"What is that, daddy?" I asked him, curious.
He smiled another one of his huge smiles and sat down on the bed.
"Listen." he said, placing a finger on my ear.
He set a small wooden box on my bed side table and slowly opened it. Out of it came the most beautiful music I had ever heard. The soft dingle ran into my ears and through my brain, dancing all the way. Images of graceful ballerinas came to mind and wonderful swans fluttered behind my eyes.
"It's wonderful, daddy!" I squealed, "Is it for me?"
"Yes. It is all yours. Something to remember me by. Do you like it?"
I nodded vigorously. "I Love it! Thank you, thank you, thank you, daddy!"
I jumped up and gave him a huge hug. He hugged me back and we stayed like that for a long time before he finally broke away and laid me down on the bed.
He tucked me in and said, "Now go to sleep, honey. I love you, always remember that."
I nodded. "I will, daddy. I love you too."
This time he smiled a sad smile and kissed my forehead. Before he left the room, he wound the box up and turned off the lights, so the only illumination was coming from the hallway lights outside my door.
I drifted to sleep to the soft melody of the music box. The sounds of a muffled conversation coming from the family room only barely reached my ears as I fell into the dark void of sleep.
The next day, I awoke bright and early. Mummy was already up and she fixed me some breakfast.
Before too long, daddy came in and gave my mummy and me a kiss each. I wondered though, why was he up this early?
After breakfast I watched some cartoons until mummy called me to the front door. I walked into the small foyer to see daddy dressed in a uniform with a large bag over his shoulder.
"Where are you going, daddy?" I asked him.
He blinked back tears and grinned. "I'm going away for a bit, hun."
I jumped up and down and clapped my hands together. "Will you bring me back something?"
He chuckled and stroked my hair. "Maybe. But only if you're good for your mother."
"Ok! I will be!"
Mummy put his hat on his head and they kissed for a long time. When they finally stopped, they were both crying and looked so sad, I almost cried myself.
"Why are you crying?"
Daddy looked at me. "Because your mother doesn't want me to go and you know I don't like to upset her."
I nodded and a car horn bellowed from outside.
Mummy opened the door and followed daddy outside. Parked in our drive was a big ugly car with the flag painted on it's door. A man stepped out of the car and opened the door for daddy.
Mummy and daddy kissed again and then daddy got into the car.
Mummy came back to the doorway where I was standing and put her arms around me. As the car backed out of the driveway, we both waved to daddy until we couldn't see him anymore.
When he had disappeared, we went back inside. Mummy collapsed on the sofa, crying and I went into my room. I sat on my bed wondering what magical things daddy might bring me back from his trip.
I turned to look at the music box and lifted the lid. The delicate twinkling whirled through my skull, but I did not feel like dancing. The song sounded different than the one last night. This song sounded sad. It sounded lonely. I looked at the box to see if it was the same one daddy had given me the night before. Sure enough, it was, but as I turned it over in my hands, I saw a small gold plaque on it's side.
"Don't forget me." it said in small brown letters.
That day was the last day I ever saw my father, but sure enough, I have never forgotten him. Not for an instant.