Tube Slides

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It's a normal day. An early day. Sun's still just rising over the horizon. I got started early, really early, so that I could be done around this time. Started building a slide. Big, metal slide. Perfect for getting static shocks; just what a playground needs, I think. Big, nice slide. For the kids.

I'm just finishing attaching the actual slide part to the stairs. It's been a long morning, and my arms are starting to hurt. I'm rearing to take a break, so I'm really grateful I'm about to be done putting this slide up. My drill zzzhhts the screws into place, and at that point, I'm done. Really done.

Some hours of work, and I'd assembled a whole slide. Some parts were pretty heavy. I'm proud of myself. It's just in time, too.

I stand back, and admire it. When I was a kid, I used to be so scared of slides.

So scared. Those tube slides, specifically. I was kind of a big kid, and I was afraid of getting stuck in them. Stupid fear, yeah. But that's why I didn't make this one a tube slide. It's just a half-pipe, just a typical slide. For the kids to play on. Just to slide down, mostly. I think that's what you did with slides. I never really messed with them.

So I take a deep breath, and I pick up my waterbottle, and I swig. Cold water, trickling down my throat, like kids down a tube slide.

It's break time.

The park is big and open, this playground is just one small section of it. I mosey down a path, past some nice trees, past some nice grass, to a nice little bench, and I sit down. Far enough away from the playground to not look creepy. Guys like me look creepy when we watch kids, but I'm not like them, I swear. I just want to watch them go down my slide. Admire my work. It was a whole morning, so I want to see my effort paid off.

I sit down, and wait.

It's still early, so it takes a bit for kids to arrive. Far off enough that I can't see what they look like, but they're… there. I see some parents walking around. Talking with each other. Dutifully keeping their eyes on their kids. Like good parents, I think.

I take another sip of water, but I don't stop watching the kids.

It doesn't take long for one of them to be attracted to the slide. They walk up the steps, get to the top, sit down, and…

They slide. They make it down, to the bottom, and stand up, like how slides work. It's only after they've stood that I realize I'm holding my breath. I release the air from my lungs, and take a couple large gulps of air.

I take another sip of water. I don't stop watching.

The kid, the one who got to the bottom, he goes to the swings. Done so soon? I feel a twinge of sadness. My slide only captivated them for one go of it. I think kids are supposed to do it a couple times.

As I watch, several pass by it, and I watch. New slide, new slide. They want to go on the new slide.

One finally does. My heartrate quickens. They start climbing the steps, and I stop blinking. I don't want to miss it. Kids using my new slide.

They get to the top, sit down, and…

They slide. They make it down, they actually fly off the bottom they went so fast, land on their butt in the woodchips. I can't hear them very well, but I think the laughter swells. A parent goes up to them, asks if they're okay I think, and the kid is gone before they can even give an answer.

They go to the monkey bars. No more slide for them.

I look away for a second. It's hard. But, I take a sip of my water.

And I keep watching.

More kids go up and down the slide. It's a hit. I feel some relief I didn't know I was waiting for. They love it. It was worth my morning to put up.

Eventually, it starts to look like the playground is clearing up. The group of parents starts collecting their kids, but it's slow. Not everyone wants to go right away. Some take a couple more trips around the monkey bars. Some swing for a minute or two more. Some are just running around. The parents are patient. They planned for this delay, I bet.

But when almost all the kids are collected, there's only two moms and a kid left. The moms are talking, and the kid is pulling their skirt. They say something. Looks like the kid is begging.

I take another sip of my water.

They trot away, and I see they're going for my slide. My new slide, I installed just today. They're going for it. I was just about to stand up, just about to take my leave as well, but I stay seated. I keep watching.

Last ride of the day. It's an event.

I grab the arm of the bench tightly, sweat accumulating in my palm, running off of my knuckles. It's been so hard to watch. So, so hard. But there's just one more.

It's like I can feel every step he takes up the slide. I feel like I twitch each time. I'm starting to crunch my bottled water.

They make it to the top. But they don't sit down. They get on their stomach, and they're going to go head first. It's like it's in slow motion, it feels like it takes forever. I glance over to the parents. They aren't watching, they're just talking. My gaze returns to the kid, as he pushes off.

First, it's a steep dive. A long, endless dive. I can only imagine how many little static shocks he's getting. It's such a thing with slides. Down, down, down, and then, as it slowly curves, more outward, like a plane about to take off, he's going to go straight into the woodchips.

My knuckles turn white. My jaw is clenched so hard my flat teeth hurt. It's so hard to watch. It's so hard to watch.

He's about to make it, about to take off, his head makes it past the ending of the slide, I can see that he's about to extend his arms, just about to try and break his fall, and then —

It was so hard to watch. I take my eyes away. I try to make a scene in my head:

He made it to the bottom. He stood up. He ran over to his parents. They laughed, and they left.

I take a swig of my water, and finish the thing. I stand up, I throw it in the trash next to the bench, and I start to walk away. The kids love my slide. I think I can live with that. On normal days like these, I think that's the best kind of thing you can expect.

As I'm walking away, I start to hear a calling. A mom calling.

I lower my head. I only have one regret, one regret about today. It's this terrible thing, and I really tried not to do it.

I can hear her now, even as my feet take me further away from her. She's calling: "Donnie? Donnie?" Like she's trying to get him to come back, so they can leave.

And I wish they could. But I think Donnie's stuck.

The tone of her voice changes. It's louder, it's not just getting him to come back. It's trying to find him at all.

"Donnie? Donnie? Donnie?"

I just shake my head. I really tried not to, I really thought I wasn't going to, but I guess, on normal days, I'm just not that careful.

I still made a tube slide.

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