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Swing

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He should have known. He really should have. Frank and Howard were being very nice to him. They had said they wanted to do something nice for him, to make him a swing. He should have known.

Now he was hanging, tied upside down by his ankles from a tree in the back garden. The artificial wind causing him to swing slightly.

Frank and Howard had run off, of course, howling with laughter at the joke they had played on their younger brother. Going off to meet their friends, probably, and relate the story of how they had made their little brother a swing. And 7-year-old Arnold Rimmer wondered if there would be a day when he would be able to join in on the joke, rather than being the butt of it.

It had been nearly an hour and he was starting to get light headed. He was hoping someone would come by and help him. Dungo, maybe. The old gardener was nice to him.

But, for some reason, Arnold didn’t trust the elderly gardener. No one was nice to him. He kept his distance from the unusually nice man who tended that beautiful garden under the dome of their homestead on Io, to keep from finding out that the nice old man was not so nice after all. Maybe Dennis the Gardener had been feigning friendship all along in order to laugh at him behind his back, or to ridicule him at some unfortunate moment.

It wasn’t unheard of. His teachers did it sometimes. Ridicule him in a way that made it seem like they were being sympathetic. It hurt him more, that way. His class mates would tease him, call him names.

Recently, he had taken to laughing at “Dungo” the gardener. It seemed to be the only time that his brothers really seemed to approve of him, or to be more accurate; of what he was doing. It somehow made them genuinely happy. Shouting “Dungo!” at the hard-working old man caused John, Frank and Howard no end of enjoyment and they encouraged it. Throwing overripe fruit at the man made them squirm with laughter. “Smelly Dungo,” Arnold would shout at the old man, who had been doing nothing more than pulling weeds, or fertilizing the succulents. His work clothes dingy and discolored with soil and manure. His hands were calloused, his fingernails were dirty. “Dirty Dungo!” Young Arnold had thought of that one on his own, and cast his eyes to his brother Frank, to gauge his reaction.

Suddenly, Frank whispered in his ear, and he understood. “Your children probably smell like horse shit!” he shouted, elated as Frank laughed with delight and feeling a rush of adrenaline for using a naughty word, one that would never have been approved of in Mothers presence. And his brothers squealed with delight, and Arnold joined in, which caused his brothers to laugh even more heartily.

Arnold smiled up at them, looking for their approval. This wasn't their approval, but smiles and laughter, and he had brought it to them.

He coveted this. More than anything in his young life. He wanted to feel included in the family. He wanted Father to stop hating him. And he knew the man hated him, though he had no idea why. He wanted Mother to stop ignoring him. Not only that but to be affectionate towards him. To love him, as naturally as other mothers loved their children. He wanted his brothers to include him in, the way they included each other.

But 7-year-old Arnold both knew and understood that Father was proud of his three sons. Only, he had FOUR sons. Mother doted on her three sons. Only, she had FOUR sons. Even his brothers seemed to support one another. The three Musketeers: chasing girls, going on adventures, having fun with their many friends and admirers…as he played on his own. The Queen of Spain. Playing in his sand pit, waiting for the Musketeers to return, victorious.

“Arnold,” he heard the shrill voice of Mother call from the edge of the lush garden, as he hung upside down by his ankles from a tree. He hoped his Mother would be concerned that her young son was hanging upside down from a tree, find out that Frank and Howard had done this too him. Take him down. Sooth him. Comfort him. Scold Frank and Howard for being cruel to their much younger brother.

That was what he was hoping. “I’m here, Mother,” 7-year-old Arnold Rimmer answered, dutifully.

Instead of being soothed and comforted, his mother spoke to him about grades, oblivious to his discomfort and need to be rescued. It was as if such a sight was not unusual for her. It wasn’t. She was used to it. And so was he.

Mother rambled on about school and grades and headmasters and being held back a year, and Arnold was finding that he was having a difficult time concentrating on her words. The blood was rushing to Arnold’s head. He was feeling faint. Maybe, he thought as she opened the letter, after Mother had gone back into the house, he could call out for Dungo. Maybe the old man would cut him down. Maybe he would help. He seemed like a nice man.