Jungle Gym

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I am sitting at my desk in the open spaced classroom. None of us can concentrate on the current task. We watch the minute hand tick-tock. The room fills with the chorus of bouncing pencil erasers, the tap-tap-tapping of feet against the linoleum floor and fingers drumming against polished wooden desk tops.

Once the minute hand reaches the three, we all hop out of our seats, our chairs squeaking against the floor, and bolt for the door. β€œSingle file,” our teacher, Mr. Burn, laughs as we pour out of the classroom and stampede through the hallways. It’s recess. My shoulders are pressed against my friends’. We smile at each other silently communicating, this is it, get ready.

At first glance recess is just dozens of children playing on the jungle gym, swinging as if they could reach the stars; but a closer look would unveil wild animals prowling the jungle. Chimpanzees swing from vine to vine, chirping to one another. Toucans simultaneously take flight beyond the canopy where parrots are squawking.

I crouch, watching river dolphins dive down waterfalls, from a distance. I dig my paws into the ground, feeling the soft loose soil shift between my toes. A stuffy heat covers us like a wool blanket, carrying a musky smell of sweat and dirt. Anticipation tingles on my tongue like venomous spit.

I wait.

When the familiar roar of a panther calls my name, I get ready. β€œIt’s time,” one of my pack members growls. She comes up next to me, her shoulder blades moving up and down with each step. Her black fur looks as smooth as skin and shines beneath the sun, plum purple. Together we stalk a lone red tail catfish swimming down the whispering stream of clear water. Its black scales sparkle under the ray of sun peaking in behind the Brazilin Nut trees. We lower ourselves into the tall leafy forest green grass to stay hidden. My nose in the dirt, I listen to the thump-thump of its heart. Then I spring from my hind legs, air rushing past me and flowing through the fur on my face, warm and cool all at once.

A siren blares over all sounds, everyone ceases what they are doing to gaze up at the rust colored school building. The ringing dulls into a lulled hum in our eardrums.

Recess is over.

The spell is broken as Tyler and I fall over into the patch of spongy woodchips in a fit of laughter. As we stand up from our hands and knees, we brush off the lingering chips that leave little rectangular imprints where our skin is bare.

Around us, the jungle begins to melt like a mirage. The toucans descend from the clouds leaving the black empty seats swinging back n’ forth in their wake. The silver metal chains squeak with loneliness.

The river dolphins flip their fins propelling themselves down the rivers, their feet smacking against the ground as they transform into two blond twins: Kathy and Cassie.

Once again we are a group of kindergarteners dragging our feet back to class. My friends and I exchange glances, holding back a smirk as we pass the grown-ups. To the average on-looker, it was just a jungle gym with bright mustard yellow and ketchup red slides. Triangular monkey bars and tall fireman poles… But we knew it was much more than that…

__________________________________________________________

A short story I wrote for my writing class. The assignment was to describe a place from our childhood. I’m bad at remembering things, but what I remember most about my childhood was how convinced I was that I was a lion and going out onto the jungle gym with my friends pretending it was a real jungle. And thus this article was born.

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