I am sitting on a bench swing in the courtyard of an apartment complex. There is a playground with a few swings, a plastic slide and an empty sandbox. A pool with a twelve-foot deep end is surrounded by chain link fence. A young girl being walked to the school bus stop by her mother points to the pool. The mother ushers her on. An elderly woman pushes her walker to the bench nearby, eyeing me curiously.
She cannot say for sure whether or not I belong. My smile says that I once had a yard and a swing that creaked like this one does. My daughter would sit beside me and we would sing. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. I make mention about the coming cold front to the old woman. I tell her I can feel the changing weather in my joints, like my grandmother used to say. You make me happy when skies are gray. She says I’m too young to be arthritic and rubs her large knuckles.
I stay until the school bus comes at a quarter past the hour. The girl asks if she can swim when she gets home. The mother kisses her daughter on the forehead and sees her onto the bus. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.
I walk to the corner store on A1A for a cup of coffee. A stubby man in a black windbreaker is at the counter buying a pie in a box. The clerk opens the box, glances at the inside of the lid and chirps, “You are a winner!”
“What did you say to me?” the stubby man asks.
I stir hazelnut cream into my coffee, snap a lid down tight over the cup and get in line.
“You are a winner!” the clerk repeats. “Take with you as much pie as you want. You’ve won unlimited pie,” he says with genuine enthusiasm.
“I won what?” The back of the man’s balding head turns red and he flattens his crumpled dollar bills on the counter.
“Congratulations,” the woman in front of me mutters, sipping her coffee and clearly wanting to get on with it.
The clerk pulls pies from a shelf behind him, piling them onto the counter and then stacking them neatly into a paper bag. “Take this pie, and this one, and you can have these too. Come back and I will give you more pies!”
“I’ve been coming here all this time and now you give me pie?” the man squints fiercely at the clerk.
The clerk pushes the bag across the counter and smiles, “Yes sir! All the pie you want.”
“All the pie I want,” the man parrots. “Well, what if I want more than pie!”
“The prize is only for pie only,” the clerk says, sounding a little baffled.
The man turns his attention to the lit display case where the donuts and bagels shimmer under heat lamps. He grabs a handful of donuts and shakes his fist at the clerk as jelly runs down his forearm.
“I want more than pie! After all these years, I deserve more than pie!” the man screams, throwing the donuts over the counter. One donut hits him dead on the chest, sticking for a moment before falling to the floor with a soft thud. It left an “O” on the blue polo shirt with the store name embroidered on the pocket.
“I want these . . . and these!” The man stuffs a Bavarian crème into his mouth. “And this one too,” he mumbles as he downs a chocolate-sprinkled donut.
The man staggers forward and slaps the counter with his hands as he lurches forward. His knees bend and his hands slide off the counter. He pulls a basket of individually wrapped cookies down with him as he falls to the floor. Icing oozes from his mouth as he clenches the basket to his chest.
“Is he choking?” someone asks.
The clerk stammers, “Someone, call 911.”
No one moves as the man stops writhing.
I step out into the bright morning light and sip my coffee. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. I realize sitting on the bench swing will no longer be enough. I return to the apartment complex and notice the mother’s car is missing from the parking stall. I pick up the spare key from underneath a ceramic frog. Inside, I think about the credenza I had near my front door. I think about how the house opened up and you could see right through to the pool in the back yard. My own pool. You make me happy, when skies are gray. I shake off the thought of the uncut grass and the sticker still on the door.
In the bedroom, I find a swimsuit in one of the bottom drawers. I put it on and admire my thinner self in the vanity mirror. Not too bad for a middle-aged mother. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. I pull my hair back and walk out into the courtyard.
I dive in the deep end. From below I can see the ripples of light dancing above. Please don’t take my sunshine away. The elderly woman eyes me differently now. Now she knows I belong. She sees that no matter how deep I dive, I always surface.
STACY STEPANOVICH is an activist and a writer who lives in Florida. She has a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh. Her fiction has appeared recently in The Molotov Cocktail, Coffee House Press and Long Story Short.