Alastair just came home wearing a moo-trix shirt. The cow is wearing trendy sunglasses.

Somehow he skipped the holidays this year. No sleigh-rides up the mountain, no reindeer, no red suits or plum pudding, just silence. He’s sitting out front the house, dark shaggy hair with a green t-shirt and stained blue jeans, one hand idly picking at the blue paint peeling off the wooden steps. The rest of the building is white, an old two-bedroom house put up sometime in the seventies in that brief period when striped awnings were chic. To the side is an old swing-set, rusty and disused. He looks at it, remembering how the metal would scream when children tried to pump their legs to the sky. That was years ago. It was a horrible sound, like rabbits crying. He stands, scanning the empty street. There’s no-one to see him pick his way through the uncut grass to the angular bars, the neighborhood seeming to collectively decide that this is the hour for turkey dinner in front of the T.V. He feels taken out of time as he walks in silence. He can hear the grass fold like paper under his feet and on the wind is a snatch of bluegrass from one street over, something he knows but cannot place.

When he reaches the swings, he merely stands, remembering a girl. She had flaxen hair then, an old word, but accurate. It was midnight when he met her. He was eleven, brave with scraped knees and beginning to believe he was tall. His family had just moved from another city, halfway across the world to this strange neighborhood with foreign flowers lining the walks. His father had built the set from a box brought home from Canadian Tire, the place where they were to get him a bicycle, dad said. It was a hot day, with lemonade and the famous toolkit creating the swing-set like magic from scattered bolts and bars. He had gone to bed sweaty and happy in new Star Wars pyjamas, imagining the kids he would meet.

A sound woke him, it was dark, a blue dark, heavy lit by the moon though the unfamiliar window. The sound came again, blurring oddly from his dreams of being an astronaut into reality. He sat up, kicking his covers off to crouch on his bed under the window. He put his fingers on the sill and peered out between his dirty hands to the yard below. She was there, riding the wind like the purest form of american ghost. A ribbon in her golden hair, amphetamine white kneesocks under a chequered dress, she flew, legs swinging bent then straight to the stars. It was long minutes before he could move again, before he could breath.

He’s out front that house right now, if he looked up he would see the window he watched her from. He hurts inside, thinking how he watched her until she saw him, how she climbed the trestle under his window to whisper to him, “Never tell”, before running away into the perfumed night. His mother is upstairs now, dying. Her skin has grown thin and sickness eats at her from inside. He didn’t have the heart to tell her it was christmas.

He came back for the holidays both for her and because there was nowhere else to be. Here he could be a little bit of a hero, withstand some pain for his mother, at home there was nothing. An empty house with too many bedrooms and a shoddily stocked liquor cabinet to keep him company. Deborah left him the house and some bitter conversation on the answering machine, taking the daughter and the car and most of the furniture. He hated himself for the cliche, but it was almost a relief to find out Charlotte wasn’t his by blood. It made his awkwardness easier. Six years of feeling inadequate brushed away with the simplest of angry blurted truths. Deborah had smashed her wine glass throwing it at him. She was drunk, sticky flushed with hatred, “What makes you think she’s even yours? You gave me the best orgasms of my fucking life, but you sure as fuck never got me pregnant.” He buried his love in the back yard that week, a treasure chest of photograph memories and what was left of that glass, next to the rose bushes. He sat next to the hole, drinking honey sweetened ice-tea and trying to cry over the kodak moments. He tried to tie himself to these things, tried to regret, but he just felt sore from digging.

The swing-set looks unsafe, rusty blue tubes supporting two swings and a see-saw with once-white plastic seats. He reaches a hand out, stroking the gritty metal of the A frame on the end.

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