The Playground Wraith

Posted by jdg | Thursday, November 11, 2010

When I got home after a couple days away and saw the kids in the afternoon we headed straight out to the playground. We built a "haunted forest" by jamming fallen sticks into the sand, using a ghost my daughter made at her friend's house (a patch of white fabric tied around some pinto beans) for the spooking. The playground usually fills with lengthening shadows of other kids from the neighborhood, but late afternoons have been lonelier lately (especially since the end of daylight savings time). It was just the two of them, and me, and we were fine with it. I was excited to see them in a way that a parent who suffers the blessings and burdens of near-constant childherding can only experience after an absence.

We stayed out late in that December-seeming dark. The game became one where we threw the beanbag-ghost as high as we could, hoping it would land on the sidewalk with a satisfying plop. One time it even landed with an impressive smack on the smooth surface of our ancient slide. The kids were clearly awed by my ability to toss the ghost so high it seemed to disappear against the dimming sky. I gloated in their new-found respect. Then I tossed the ghost as hard as I could. . . and it caught on the tip of a tree branch forty feet above us.

Every previous toss led to delighted laughter. This one led to relentless screaming. "We'll never get it down!" both children sobbed. I can tell my son is getting older: his irrational fears are now thoroughly aligned with those of his sister. Not that long ago he would have been too young to act like such a baby. They react this way when they let go of balloons. But balloons usually disappear after a few seconds, while this ghost just sat there, taunting us. I attempted to comfort them while making sure they were far enough away while I threw sticks and whatever else was handy to try to knock it down and shut them the hell up. Neighbors were turning on their lights and appearing at windows to see what all the commotion was about. The tree seemed committed to exasperating my predicament. Not only did it refuse to surrender the ghost, it further seized everything I tossed in the effort to free it: the dog's rubber Kong, a frisbee, a soccer ball, an umbrella, a rake, three books, a birthday cake, and that know-it-all talking goldfish in his goddamn bowl. Every new missile that got stuck in the branches produced new tears. I managed to free a few things, but the ghost wasn't coming down. I was imagining myself on top of a step-ladder with a grappling hook when my wife finally showed up to fully appreciate my misery. She looked up at the menagerie in the tree, looked at me, looked back up into the tree, and just shook her head.

* * * * *

The ghost is still up there. I can see him from my window. Until he comes down, there's no going back to that playground. It's haunted, and I don't want to deal with any more histrionics. He'll just sit up there, staring down at his empty playground, until he decides to come down on his own.