There is a sense of uneasiness that comes with standing in an open space in the middle of the night. I feel exposed, as though someone could easily be watching us from an unlit park bench, or from a house across the road. Sitting in a circle with my friends I check over my shoulder every now and then; if not for a dark figure emerging from the tree line, then for police on the lookout for people holding beer bottles in public spaces.
My vulnerability is intertwined with a sense of elation. There are a set number of years in your life where sitting in a park at 2am can be considered an appropriate social activity. I do not know what will happen within the next ten years of my life, whether I will have much money or if I will be planning a wedding or if I will be trying to get a baby to sleep or if I will be watching The Vicar of Dibley in my knickers eating curry puffs. In any case, the chance to sit in a dimly lit playground with my bum on a wet metal seat, one hand on a see-saw handle and the other holding a can of premixed captain and cola is thinner than a very thin potato chip, so I feel like I should get amongst it.
My friends call me to join them on top of the monkey bars. I am not a good climber as I have very poor upper body strength. I also have very poor lower body strength. In primary school I was unable operate the monkey bars, simply clinging on the one bar with both hands with a Mufasa-esque ferocity instead. I would fall and get a mouth full of dust and sand. The grit would remain in between my teeth for the next five meals, no matter how many times I would rinse. My friends climb other things too; trees and cricket nets and football posts. They ask me to join them. I get one leg up, and try to grip my hand to something. This is not an activity that I can participate in. I turn to the merry go round. I run around it, pulling it with me. I do not run well in sand, I do not run well anywhere. I jump on, out of breath and red in the face. The spinning sky looks like a whirlpool, and I look foolish.
My lack of ability in being able to tackle playground equipment is not purely at the fault of my body (I liken my limbs to damp, cold noodles dropped onto a dirty floor, picking up bits of dust, dog hair and dead ants), but at the sense of unease. My favourite thing to play on when I frequented playgrounds was the swings, feeling myself go further every time I swayed my legs back and forth. But then I would think of what would happen if I flew off and smashed my teeth into the bitumen, or if I swung a complete 180 without enough momentum to carry me over and I dropped upside down mid air and cracked my head open on the bar. If I couldn’t grab the next monkey bar properly in my hand then I could land on my arm and snap it in half. If the merry go round went too fast I could spew. The more fun you have the more likely you are to be maimed.
Words by Hannah Cockroft, art by Marney Anderson
Hannah is Pelican’s 2017 creative writer in residence.
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 2 STOP.