The pool used to be there. She could see the outline of where the pool and the hot tub used to be, both above-ground. The large fence was rusty and unlocked. There was no reason to lock it anymore. There was no pool there for young children to drown themselves in.
The swing set was still there. It wasn’t as strong as the park swing sets, but it was sturdier than Angela’s set in her back yard. Angela had all the cool stuff. This year, her family went to Disneyland. There was no camping at third-rate campsites for her.
She had stopped swinging and started slowly twirling. She twisted the chain while sitting in the seat until it was as tight and high as she could go. When she released her feet, the seat would swing around quickly, ending in a dizzy swirl. When the spinning stopped, she would slowly start the twisting again.
“I’ve never seen anyone pout using a swing set before.” She looked up. Jaime was old. Angela had an older brother, but he was only two years older, so he understood everything. Jaime was more like Dad than a brother. “What do you want, Jaime.” He shook his head. “You’re too young to be a teenager. I didn’t start pouting like this until I was 15.” He sat in the other swing next to her.
She stopped mid-twirl to look at him. “Angela went to Disneyland this year.” Jaime scoffed, “So?” She just closed her eyes and started twirling again. “So, she got to go to Disneyland and I’m stuck here.” Jaime sighed, “Oh…” It was like he finally understood her. He just sat there, silent, while she twirled, dragging her feet in the dusty earth. Her sandals were full of the dust. They felt dry and scratchy.
Jaime stayed silent and she stopped twirling. “Why do you think they take us camping instead of something fun like Disneyland? We’re not poor.” Jaime started swinging. His large body shook the swing set and she giggled at the thought of him making the entire thing crash down around them. “What makes you think Disneyland is so great?”
The hope that she felt at Jaime understanding her fell into the pit of her stomach. She felt it being eaten alive by the stomach acid. She stood up and started walking toward the trail. The camp host had told them that the trail led to a lake. Maybe there was something interesting to look at there. Jaime jumped out of the swing, leaving the ancient playground vibrating from the jump.
He was playing the Silent Game. He asked a question and it was his turn to be silent until she answered. “Jaime, I’m not going to talk about this with you. You don’t even understand.” He laughed to himself and shook his head, “You know, when I was your age, we were poor. We didn’t go to Disneyland because we didn’t have the money.” She shook her head, “Yeah, yeah, yeah and the minute you graduated from high school, you traveled the world and you came back home because that was the best place on earth to be. I’ve heard the story, Jaime.” He stopped walking on the trail. “You heard the story, huh? When did I tell you the story about Disneyland? I don’t remember telling you.”
She stopped. “You went to Disneyland?” He nodded. “Yeah. I went with some friends from college one weekend. We all drove down in a car. I didn’t tell them that I had never been there. I about crapped my pants when I saw how much the ticket was to get in.” Jaime turned around and walked back toward the decaying play ground. His sister followed him, eager to hear the rest of the story. “Angela says it’s like stepping into a movie. She showed me pictures. She got Mickey Mouse’s autograph.”
“Remember the time we camped in Southern Utah? They had all those red rocks and it was hot?” She nodded. “Disneyland has a fake version of that. It’s a roller coaster and the rocks look like they’re made of plastic.” Jaime walked over and sat on the cracked and aging shuffleboard. “Remember two years ago when we went to that house in San Jose?” Her eyes crinkled, “Yeah, they were trying to convince us it was haunted. It was kinda scary…” Jaime nodded, “Disneyland has a fake version of that one too, but you can’t just investigate the rooms like they let us at that house. I had to sit in a little car while the fake ghosts popped up at me. It wasn’t even scary.”
The two of them sat on the warm cement and she started picking at the edges of the shuffleboard. It was firmly stuck to the ground. Jaime indicated that she should be quiet. He was always good at spotting wildlife, so if Jaime said to be quiet, she always became perfectly still, like a cat, waiting to pounce. He pointed past the swing set at a family of quail. A momma bird and a whole line of baby birds emerged from the bushes and scurried across the playground right past them. She smiled happily at them, staying still as stone. They disappeared past the trail and when they were gone the two of them gushed to each other about the animals.
They quieted and she questioned him again, “Wasn’t there anything good about Disneyland?” Jaime shrugged. “It’s not like it was bad. It’s just that after I had seen all the real stuff, the fake stuff wasn’t that interesting to me. Mom and Dad may have been poor when I was little, but they took me to see all the most important stuff.”
She picked at the shuffleboard again and he continued, “Want to know what the best part of Disneyland was?” She looked at him and nodded. “There is this Jungle Cruise ride with all these fake animals and then there’s this other show thing with a bunch of fake talking birds. Between them is a park bench with a garbage can next to it.” He paused and she watched him, waiting to know what the best part of Disneyland was. “Under the garbage can, lives a little family of mice. I must have sat there an hour trying to get them to take bread from my hands.” She smiled, “Did they?”
His face lit up and his eyes went far away. “Before you were born, Mom and Dad took me to Yellowstone Park. There were these chipmunks that were so friendly. They would just take Cheese Nips out of my hands and eat them right there beside me. I liked that better than anything else we did on that trip.” He looked down at his little sister. “No, the mice at Disneyland didn’t take the bread out of my hands. They were too scared of me. I was barely able to get them to take the bread after I had thrown it right by the garbage can, but they were the best part of that day.”
They were both quiet for a moment and Jaime pointed at a Monarch butterfly flitting around the weeds by the rusting fence. “You asked me why Mom and Dad would take us here instead of Disneyland. I think they want you to see all the real stuff that Disneyland is trying to copy. I think they want you to experience real life before you step into Fantasyland.” She rolled her eyes and Jaime continued, “Do you think your friend has ever seen a real haunted house? Do you think she’s ever seen the real red rocks? Do you think she’s ever fed chipmunks Cheese Nips out of her hand?”
Jaime stood up. “Didn’t the camp host say something about a lake?” She pointed down the trail, “It’s supposed to be down that trail.” Jaime smiled. “Let’s go get Mom and Dad and all go swimming in the lake.” She smiled, “Yeah!” The two of them walked across the stained cement where the swimming pool used to be.