The porch swing arced forward and back; once, twice. Back again.
The boards over the porch, aged and termite-infested, creaked and yelled out mad warnings of disaster. But the boards held the swinging chains well, as they have been doing for forty-five years and would, Howard was sure, hold out for forty-five more. Maybe a hundred more.
And he rocked slowly, because Alice liked it that way. Alice was his heartthrob, and she was very close to him, swaying with the motion of the swing and living the life she shared with him for seventy years. And she loved it, Howard was sure. She always seemed happy, and when Alice was happy Howard was happy.
The boards creaked some more, but the swing held true.
The couple sat in silence, looking out over the green lawn and breathing in the fresh summertime air. It was invigorating, and birds sang high in the cloudless sky to spread a warm cheer over the small property.
Howard smiled. "Today is nice out, no?"
The porch swing arced forward and back. Once, twice.
And back again.
He reached up a wrinkled hand and wiped sparse wisps of gray hair from his eyes. He was sweating, because like all beautiful days this one had grown rather hot. But that was okay. Alice didn't seem to mind.
A child had come out to play, trailing a toy on a yellow plastic leash.
Howard lifted his arm to wave. The boy waved back.
"Must be the Nance's boy," Howard said, squinting through the afternoon haze. "He's grown quite a bit, hasn't he?"
Alice said that he had.
"Do you remember when Gregory was that age? He was a bit taller…"
She was listening.
"Would you mind if I speeded it up a bit?"
Alice was hesitant, and Howard was just thinking-just deciding-that if she was worried he wouldn't.
But Alice at last seemed calm, and she agreed that maybe it would be alright…but not too fast.
He brought his dock-sider shoes underneath him in a heavy push, and the white swing plodded on in a wider arc. The soprano from the overhead boards sang out in higher and more frantic chords, but the metal links didn't budge.
Alice was worried…just for a second. Then she calmed and even smiled at him.
The boy across the yard had the yellow plastic lariat in hand and was choo-chooing the toy across the Nance's driveway. A gust of summer air slunk into the covered porch, washing the perspiration from Howard's forehead.
It made him feel good. It made them both feel good.
Again his feet dragged on the wooden slat porch, and the swing rocked faster.
Alice was excited-but not in a bad way, as he knew she could get at times. Instead Howard felt her smile like a warm tug somewhere at his center, slowly consuming him from the inside out. And he smiled back.
And a word came to both their minds simultaneously, crashing out of the warm and lighting their spirits like flashbulbs. And that word was: youth.
"I feel young, Alice," Howard said. His voice even sounded new, brash and bold as it had once been, a deep resonate bass that commanded a listener's ear.
Alice was proud of him, and her excitement grew. The danger had passed, the risk taken. They were both on the ride of their lives.
The sounds of creaking erupted into minute splintering, a harsh wheeze that seemed like a shuddering gasp from timber lungs.
And now the Nance's boy looked up, and his expression was one of surprise and awe. But hidden away in the corners of his face was the unmistakable trace of intimidation. The old man looked crazy, rocking as if to end the world.
Howard laughed, following the boy with his swinging eyes. He lifted his arm to wave again.
And that was when the timbers above the swing gave a last, rending sigh, and tore free.
Howard and Alice went down with a crashing boom, the snaking trail of links falling over them like metal rain.
Howard looked up at the boy.
Alice was frightened. Too frightened. Oh, much too-
A thick pain slammed into Howard's chest, spreading out like waves that spread to his arms in sharp ripples.
The boy looked back at the old man, whose face was quickly giving in to the rotten hue of ash-gray. The yellow leash fell from the boy's small hands, and he ran to get his parents.
Howard's eyes rolled to whites, his breath now coming in spasms. But he knew what was happening. He knew too well. And what he had to do now was necessary, because Alice-his heartthrob-was scared.
He forced his eyes back onto his chest, away from the black infinity that crowded in like nightfall. And with his dying breath, he bid his loving heart goodbye.