The Empty Schoolyard by Abby Coutinho

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She wears a fur coat when the thermostat reads ninety, yet she can’t seem to stop herself from running through the dandelion littered grass. She runs through the field with the carefree indifference of the children who trotted here months prior, causing the white globes of seedlings to explode and scatter in the stagnant air. We shimmied through a gap in the wire fence that was almost asking us to come on through. 
            I lean against the dilapidated brick wall and enjoy the five inches of cool shade allowed by the small awning. I study a crack in the glimmering concrete and wonder how many kids skipped over it in a desperate attempt to save their mothers back. The crack leads to an abandoned ant hill, now just a sad collection of sand and dirt. I imagine kids sneaking magnified glasses outside, tucked snuggly in their back pockets, only to use what they learned in science class to set some mindless insects ablaze. Kids can be cruel. I wonder if this cruelty will follow them, or if they’ll outgrow it like the sweater their grandmother knits them for their tenth birthday. 
            They grow so incredibly fast; they’re growing as we currently speak. When they find their way back to this school in the fall, lugging a backpack filled to the brim with brand new supplies, they will be an entirely different person. They think that just because school has ended their learning has stopped, but unbeknownst to them each scrape on their knee and every extra hour awake past their bedtime is a lesson. The freedom they experience from the wind in their hair and the cool lake water drying on their skin will soon be felt every time they open a book. That feeling of falling headfirst into a story, leaning in and holding your breath as you turn the page, will mimic the thrill of catching a firefly in the palm of your hand and feel the warmth travel through you.
            My eyes trail up to see her sauntering back towards me. The heat is catching up to her as I notice her pace is more relaxed than usual. I raise my water bottle to acknowledge her fatigue and offer up some refreshing relief. Her tongue hangs out salivating at the sight, and as I place a bowl of water on the pavement I watch her lightly wag her tail in appreciation, barely able to find the energy for such a movement. Though she isn’t able to resist for long as her playful instincts take over, causing her to nudge the fluorescent ball towards my feet with her snout. 
            Before I can bend down to grasp the frayed tennis ball, she’s halfway across the field, already past the furthest soccer net. She sits patiently, body close to the ground like a shortstop in extra innings, eyes trained on my occupied hand. I ponder how she sees the world. To have a singular focus, a solitary thought that does not extend beyond our present moment. Her existence begins and ends with the goal of chasing a four dollar toy across an empty schoolyard. The rays of heat baking into her black coat cannot distract from her objective. This moment of pure anticipation, of raw excitement shaking through her bones, is contagious. I wish to feel things the way she does, and as I gaze across the overgrown grass, I almost do. 
            The ball whizzes through the air, forming an arch reminiscent of the parabolas that stressed me out in high school. She follows the ball as gravity tugs it back to the ground, gracefully launching herself to intercept her very own miniature comet falling to earth. For a brief moment, no longer than half a second in our world but no doubt a lifetime in hers, she floats through the humid air. She’s weightless amid the heavy summer heat, gliding above the ground as the grass tickles the bottom of her paws. The ball lands between her teeth with a satisfying thwack that reverberates across the deserted schoolyard, and before I can blink away a drop of sweat that falls from my brow she crash lands back into reality. Just like that, the cycle continues; saunter back, lap the water, nudge the ball, assume the position. Within this comfortable rhythm she finds her peace and discovers a liberating freedom amid the confines of her routine. 
            I know the heat has conquered her when she tries to find solace in the same sliver of shade I have been sequestered in the whole time. I begin to gather our belongings, beckoning her over with a double tap to my leg. Turning the corner on our way back to the road, I glance back at the empty schoolyard, faintly hearing the echoes of youthful glee while recognizing the blurred figures of children playing and canines soaring morphing together. Joy lives within the whispers of the blades of grass in an empty schoolyard. Content and exhausted, we walk towards home, ensuring to avoid all the cracks in the sidewalk.

Abby Coutinho is an English Literature student at the University of Windsor. She is a writer and editor who has worked for Black Moss Press with Dr. Marty Gervais and Dr. Bruce Meyer. She currently lives in Windsor, Ontario with her family and dog, Luna.

2 responses to “The Empty Schoolyard by Abby Coutinho”

  1. I love this story. So vividly written. I had to double tap on my thigh as you called your furry friend back to you. My favorite line was, “Joy lives within the whispers of the blades of grass in an empty schoolyard.” Made me realize what a shame it is to have those schoolyards go so empty during this pandemic … and how much they and the grass missed!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience reading this piece and taking the time to share it with others. 😊


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