Candace pushed the paint roller up and down the sanded surface that was previously covered in faded paisley wallpaper. Her matte-blue trail stretched from the living room entrance toward the picture window that overlooked the back of the property. It was in front of that same window her mother would sprawl out on a chaise lounge and read novels about war-torn lovers, using the end of each chapter an opportunity to check in on young Candace as she played on the swing her father built her before answering his call of duty.
Candace used to spend hours watching ants march beneath her feet, the rest of her body draped over the wooden plank like a dress hung out to dry. She would make up stories for each the six-legged soldiers, imagining where they were going, what they were doing, and how many children they left behind. She was comforted by the thought of a larger being looking out for her father in the same way she was watching over the platoon of insects.
Candace stopped painting and placed the roller in the pan, resting the handle against one of the cloudy panes of glass. She searched for a place to take a break from her duties, but with all of the furniture either in storage or sold, she had nowhere to sit but the untreated floorboards that were speckled with carpet fragments.
She knelt down until her hands reached the tacky surface beneath her, using her arms as kickstands for her upper body while she extended her legs toward the window. She tapped the platinum ring on her right hand against a stray carpet staple while assessing her progress. The pings of her jewelry were as uniform as the lines of paint along the wall.
After estimating how long it would take her to finish the room, she shifted her weight to her right arm and checked the watch on her left wrist. The beams of light coming through the window bounced off the diamond-accented hands, filling her pupils with explosions of color that were snuffed out once she rolled her eyes.
She stood up and trudged toward the window, each step echoing through the empty room like her shoes were lined with packaging tape. As she reached for the roller, she caught a softened glimpse of the swing dangling on the other side of the glass. The subtle swaying of the unoccupied seat taunted her from across the yard. She disregarded the time on her outstretched wrist and headed for the back door. She pushed opened the creaky screen and tiptoed down the steps, being careful not to disturb any creatures that may be lurking in the shadows beneath the concrete slabs.
Her silence was broken once her right foot crunched the brittle weeds surrounding the base of the steps. The decaying lawn reminded Candace of her mother’s current state of health, reaffirming her decision to move her into a retirement community and sell her childhood home.
Candace crunched across the prickly turf until she was reunited with her Rosebud. She placed her right hand on the plank of wood and pushed down to test its durability, taking the familiar squeak of the screws as permission to climb aboard. She grabbed one of the weathered ropes with each hand and walked forward until the wood rested flush across her flat stomach.
She gave the fraying cords a final tug and hopped upward, letting the forces of gravity take hold. The swing’s true age became apparent once the wood stripped from the nails, sending Candace face first into the trail of barren dirt that was formed by the repetitive dragging of tiny feet.
Candace laid still for a moment, waiting for pain to identify any injuries she sustained in the fall. The only sting she felt was coming from the circular indentation around her left ring finger. She lifted her hand to find a crimson insect crushed in the trench of flesh, its jaws clinging to her skin.
She picked up a twig with her right hand and made a tiny groove in the dirt. She then plucked the lifeless ant from her finger and placed it in the hole, covering it with the displaced earth. She patted down the mound with her thumb as a tear fell from her nose, strengthening the bond of the soil.
“You fought bravely, your family will be proud,” she said to the grave.
She sat on her knees, clapped the dirt off her hands, and reached for her phone. There were no signs of damage, but there were three voicemails.
“Hi, Ms. Shruggs. It’s Zach. I feel dumb calling you about this, and I know you have enough to worry about right now, but I’m having a hard time with the Garrison report. If you could give me a call I’d re …”
She deleted the first message.
“Hi again. Just wanted to see if you got my call. I’ve made a little headway on the report, but I could still use a som …”
She deleted the second message.
“Okay, disregard everything I’ve said up until now. I figured it out. The report is almost complete, and I will have it to you first thing tomorrow. Sorry again for disturbing you. Please don’t fire me.”
Candace laughed and saved the third message. Then she composed a text.
See what you’re capable of when you’re left to your own devices? P.S - you’re not fired … yet.
She hit send, put her phone back in her pocket, and got to her feet. She wiped the moisture from her eyes with the back of her sleeve and blinked until the house came into focus. She saw her reflection in the window, standing in the same spot where she waited for her father to return from the war, where she waved for her mother to come give her a push, where she learned what she was capable of when left to her own devices.