© Joanna Parypinski
Underneath the snow, the playground sleeps, iced over. The wind sighs; the skies grow gray; a deathly chill sweeps the trees, that sway and quickly still. But the hibernating playground takes no notice of the season. Time freezes here.
Rusty metal chains, thick and sharply cold, hang motionless from a green frame, dangling black plastic diapers in the air. Within them sit the white corpses of babies long grown old—or maybe just the snow. Across from these lie the big kid swings, nothing but a curved strap between the chains. They hang uneven, some high, some low: the chains are wrapped once, twice around the horizontal pole. Only by a forceful push can they be righted, but the breeze is feather-soft, and the swings remain inert.
Angling toward the ground in a sharp incline, the see-saw stands unbalanced. It watches the world with wayward equilibrium, its left stretching high, saluting the clouds—its right buried in the snow. The slanted structure tips the playground on edge.
The plastic slide glistens with a stripe of powdered sugar running down its concave surface. From its underside hang glossy fangs of ice. The slide lies dormant, too deep in its coma to feel the jaws of winter clamp down around it. On the other side of the black plastic platform, poked through with holes to drain the rain and snow, stretch the deep green monkey bars. The skeletal structure cuts darkly against the sky.
A flurry of flakes has fallen into the rectangular pit that once contained sand. It is now buried. Austere winter swathes the sandbox with a blanket of frost. It sleeps.
There are plastic horses and cars balanced on oversized metal coils, which creak faintly when the wind picks up; there is a short tunnel beneath a platform; there is a plastic circle with a pole in the middle that spins and spins when given a push. Now it is stuck stationary with snow-glue drifting up around its base.
It is not the season for playgrounds. Summer has ended, winter descended. The playground idles, unused, and the colors of the world have rinsed away like washable marker, leaving behind the monochrome palette of ashy grays and whites.
On one side of the park is a block of houses ending in a cul-de-sac. On the other side is a field. Beyond the field lies a cluster of ponds: in summer, they have muddy, green water; trees line the gravel paths that weave around the ponds; all about are sunflowers and tall grass and dragonflies and fishing poles and geese droppings. Spiders spin great gleaming webs while crickets hum in the thicket of trees. Not now, of course—now the ponds are a sheet of ice, the flowers dead, the insects hushed. The crooked “No Swimming” signs are dusted with snow instead of green moss.
But between the block of houses and the bevy of ponds is the playground. Underneath the glow of a gold summer sun, it breathes in life. The pond is green, the grass is green, the monkey bars are green; and the sand is warm, the sand is built into castles, the sand is scattered outside its box. On fire, the world burns bright sun-orange, and the fire sweeps the orange sunflowers in the bright burning air as the dragonflies buzz and flutter. The swings sweep back and forth, the chains rattle, the horses and cars bounce and jiggle, the slides squeak with skin on plastic, the monkey bars are hot and wet from sweaty palms, the circular base attached to the pole spins and spins, and everything is in motion, and children are everywhere: laughing, running, shouting, swinging, digging, sliding, bouncing, spinning, spinning, spinning! Like ballerinas they spin, catching ephemeral glimpses of the playground—a blur of colors.
But there are no children here.
A lone pair of footprints trails across the snow. Someone was here. Who was it, wandering the dead land—cold, lost, and out of place?
It is not the season for playgrounds. Where once the world was a bright rainbow, it now has bled out the greens and blues and left a pale, gray canvas. The sun must be hiding beyond the clouds. But even if time moved backward—back to the warm, green, crowded summer—the sun could not be plucked from the sky and carried into the cold, vacant winter.
This is it. Alone, humans tread the boundless, pathless world, and sometimes they find themselves by a garden in spring, or a beach in the summer, or a crackling fire in fall; but sometimes they wind up in an empty playground in the dead of winter, echoes of the past whispering with every glacial breeze, a solitary trail of footprints marring the fresh snow.
The bitter breeze bleeds into the cold plastic of the frozen playground. It sleeps.