There was a time, when she was quite smaller, that she could remember sitting atop Vito’s bicycle handlebars as he would ride her to the park a couple blocks away. She had asked him once, “Granpa, how do you spell soda?”
“S-O-D-A,” he said, “It’s really easy.”
"Why do some people say “pop” instead of “soda?”
“Well, you say po-tay-toe, and I say po-tot-toe,” he sang.
“But my friends at school say it’s pop, even though pop is a sound.”
“To each his own. Both are correct.”
“I like soda best. Can we get some Root Beer?” She felt the bar beneath her shift as he turned left towards the park.
Now, being nine, she was old enough to ride on her own bike to the park. She would often go with Rainey and Bree, but today she was only with Rainey. They would swing on the swings, slide down the rolling-slide, and make up obstacle courses they had to perfect crossing, else fall into the wood chip lava.
Today, Rainey wanted a push on the tire swing.
Bree was usually the one to do the pushing when it came to the giant tire. She could do it the best. She had a way of running it in a circle, then grabbing onto one of the three attached chains, yanking it into a fierce spin as she jumped back out of the way.
Vanessa thought she could spin the tire the same way.
Rainey climbed onto the tire as Vanessa placed her palms along the rubber treads. She pushed around in a circle, running faster as she went. She wanted to make it just as exciting as when Bree was around…she could do just as good.
She grasped one of the tire chains, getting ready to jump free of Rainey’s spinning legs after the pull. She was eager to hear her scream with how fun this would be.
She prepared to yank-spin when suddenly it swung away from her hands. The momentum, and chain still gripped in her hand, jerked her forward, spilling her into the wooden shavings face-first. Something heavy hit dead-center of her back.
There was screaming of a type she didn’t expect, shrill and all around, from other children not Rainey. She suddenly became aware of the cutting wood on her bare arms - she was on the ground. Expecting, instinctively, that the tire with Rainey would be spinning overhead, she rolled out of the way…but Rainey wasn’t there, and neither was the entire swing.
She was disoriented, not understanding why she didn’t know where Rainey was. Then, she saw her.
She stumbled up despite the pain in her back. Rainey was still in the tire, but the tire had flown several feet away, the chains draped all around her. The object that had hit her in the back lied just next to her. A massive bolt apparatus that held up the tire swing had loosened, apparently spun too far in the correct direction.
Vanessa ran to Rainey’s side, but Rainey didn’t say a word, only grimaced in pain with tears streaming along her pudgy face.
Several of the children in the park had run over to see what had happened, but no parents were around. Vanessa tried to comfort her friend who was simply non-responsive. “It’ll be ok, you’ll be ok! I’ll go get help!” Taking the initiative, she ran over to her bike.
A younger boy she didn’t know called after her, “Hey! Where’re you going!?”
“I need to get her parents! Go across the street and ring the bells on the houses. Find somebody to call 9-11!”
The boy seemed to obey, grabbing his own bike and heading across the street from the park. She winced as she climbed atop her own. It was going to be a long four blocks.
She pumped her legs as hard as she could, until they burned, her feet almost leaping off the pedals at times, as if the bike itself couldn’t keep up. Finally she reached her friend’s house across the street from her own. She ran to the door and in a flurry of words explained what had happened.
Rainey’s parents left in a hurry, and she likewise went back on her bike. She followed but soon lost their car from view. Her back was aching, and her legs were spent. When finally she returned to the park she saw an ambulance, many more people huddled around, and paramedics tending to her friend while trying to get her to answer questions.
She got off her bike and rushed over to her, but was stopped by her friend’s father, held back like the other kids. In the background she heard some unknown boy ask, “Why did you come back here? You sure have some nerve!”
She looked his way, confused, and he persisted.
“You’re the one that did this! And now you came back?”
She looked around her at a lot of staring eyes. At some point a paramedic asked her what happened, and although she told them, and pointed to the huge chunk of metal that had struck her, it was all as if she was being accused, and they didn’t hear what she explained.
“I didn’t do it on purpose…she’s my friend,” she stammered. “I just pushed her on the swing.”
“How did you push her, exactly?” one of the uniformed adults asked.
“Like we always push…we push and we spin the chain…and…”
The loud kid spoke up again. “She did it on purpose!”
“No, I didn’t!” Her fear was turning to anger. “I wouldn’t hurt my friend! I got hurt too!”
“You ran away because of what you did!”
“I ran to get help!”
“Help came and you weren’t here!”
The tears made pools in her eyes. Her friend was taken to the hospital while she rode home alone, vision clouded with rolling water, the sounds of that condemning kid re-playing in her ears. The paramedics didn’t so much as ask to see her back. She thought it would have proved that she didn’t do it on purpose. How could they all think that?
Even so, when her friend had gotten home, she wouldn’t speak to her. It was a very long time before she’d get to play with her again.