One rope dangles from the old oak tree where Will once hung a swing for Julia. The other rope has been gone so long she's no longer sure if it broke or just came undone. He never could understand why she wanted a swing; she was past forty. It always hung crooked, just a little, so that if she pumped herself high enough the ropes buckled and twisted. He didn't do it on purpose. He thought he had the best of ropes already in the garage. They were skinny, she thought, but he said they were actually stronger than the large hemp ropes that filled your fist when you held them. The seat looked dangerously thin, but he said it was made from an old skateboard and there was nothing stronger. So she had her swing.
It made him smile to watch her when she didn't know. She pumped like a child and flung her head back so that her hair trailed in the breeze she made. Sometimes she would sing. "Summertime" was her favorite and he felt a thrill every time she hit that very first note, so high, right out of the blue.
She, for her part, let him disappear the moment the swing took her up. The tree, almost at the top of the hill, gave her the impression that the land beneath her fell away as she floated over it. She could see the whole valley below her. She could see the gigantic ponderosa pine down the hill and felt herself equal to it in altitude. Often it was height that made her start to sing.
That was before he went back. Years ago, in fact. Today, coming up the hill from the mailbox she stands looking at that one rope. The seat dangled from the end of that rope for a few years. He was going to fix it, but then his eyes stopped seeing it. That happens. It's how a house gets run down, or a life. Then she noticed that the seat had disappeared. It turned out that he'd bumped into it one day coming up from the shed, had hacked it off the rope and put it in the burn pile.
Sometimes the rope sways in the afternoon winds that come through the coastal mountain passes. She gets nostalgic then and could swear she smells the ocean. Maybe she should go back, too, but she feels unworthy. Right now she is too torn to consider going back because Will just left that morning. She sat cross-legged on the bed listening to the garage door opening, listening to the tires on the gravel, hearing the sound disappear down the hill, hearing the great horned owl's cry against the dawn of this November day.
He's been raptured, she thought, even though she'd found that notion exceedingly strange and way too literal-minded. But maybe, after all, this is what it meant. God had plucked him out of her life. All his clothes still hung in the closet. His pajamas were folded and lying on the chest of drawers. His wedding ring lay on top of the rosewood box she'd given him when they were married. He'd chosen rapture over love. He was on his way back to the life he'd left almost thirty years before.
And Julia had been left behind.