Graceful, poised, entwined. Their movements choreographed. Telegraphed.
The pond is theirs. Their canvas to paint. Their stage to perform. Their own private world to sculpt and finesse. The water is cold but there is hope. A glimpse, the merest glimmer, of spring has edged its way into the weather in recent days. Defying the cold, signalling an end in sight to the tortuous, prolonged winter. Even the trees surrounding the pond, branches serrated and bare, drip gently with the dew of an earlier frost.
Suddenly both swans burst forward, their wings raised, their feathers flustered, as they dart towards a discarded piece of pastry thrown into the far side of the pond.
‘Don’t do that for god’s sake!?’ Julie turns to her partner Andrew sitting on the opposite end of the wooden bench. ‘Swans are vicious things! They’ll come looking for more now! Just wait and see!’
Andrew looked at her, his half-eaten sausage roll peeking out of the baker’s bag currently hovering mere millimetres from his mouth. He shrugs. Turns away. A familiar spark of fury blazes in Julie’s eyes.
‘And wipe your beard you bloody tink, there’s pastry in it! Bloody disgusting!’ Julie, too, now turns away. She reaches down to her own baker’s bag and pulls out her sandwich, carefully biting into the ham and cheese concoction only inches above the strategically lain napkins placed on her lap.
Andrew discreetly swipes at his beard in an effort to remove the offending segments of his lunch, careful all the while not to let Julie see this and, in turn, giving her the satisfaction that she craves. He sighs and looks at the pair of swans before him. Tussling, bartering over the diminishing piece of pastry thrown seconds earlier. Their grace, their beauty, their kinship, momentarily gone as their individual desires conflict. He flashes a look across to Julie. She stares straight ahead, giving him no quarter. Chewing. Her eyes look glazed, fixed on nothing in particular. He turns back.
An anger invades him. Well, no not anger, he decides, but a confusion certainly. This bench. There was a reason they were sitting on this bench. This particular bench. He’d taken Julie here on one of their first dates. Mind you, to put it like that it sounds planned. But it wasn’t. They were walking together, hand in hand (despite only having known each other for a matter of days), and came upon the bench. They had sat down, his arm around her. And it had felt right. Natural. Like so much did in those early days. There was never any question in his mind that she was the girl, the woman, for him. And he was certain she felt the same. It was easy, it was right, it was true. And they had returned to this place, to this bench, time after time throughout their relationship. Always hand in hand. Always entwined. But now, he thought, to look at them you would think they were strangers. Her at one end of the bench, him at the other. Both squashed against the ornate steel armrests. Now nothing but twelve years of animosity and shit left between them. Unspoken words, threats left hanging.
Andrew takes the final bite of his sausage roll and crumples up the paper bag as he chews. The crumpling process is loud, cutting into the otherwise idyllic scene. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Julie twist her head towards him, disdain no doubt clouding her eyes. She twists back. He feels resentment start to crackle on the tip of his tongue. Words, insults, beginning to form. He looks toward her, ready to verbally strike, when his attention is caught by the swans.
Slowly. Gracefully. Beautifully. Their movements mirrored. Seemingly of one mind. They glide in circles; in small half-circles, in grand sweeping circles. Their soft white plumage immaculate, unsullied, glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. Andrew is transfixed, his mouth hanging open slightly. The majesty of the moment paralysing him. His eyes rise and fall with every swoop and glide, every twist and turn. He feels Julie’s eyes on him but still, he’s unable to wrest his gaze from the glorious creatures before him. In unison the swans seem to turn towards him. Inching forward. They crane their necks. Their orange beaks part. And then it happens. A sound. So gorgeous, so translucent even that it seems unreal. Within the world and, yet, not of the world. The swans’ voices harmonise, rising and falling, rising and falling. Each note, each twist, flooding Andrew’s ears with beauty and warmth. A song, he realises. A beautiful, gorgeous swan song.
‘Do you hear that…?’ he whispers.
‘Hear what?’ asks Julie.
‘The swans…the swans…’
‘Don’t be bloody silly, these are mute swans! They barely make any sound at all!’
He cares not for her dismissive words. Nor for her admonishment. His body exhales, relaxes. All the anger, the resentment, the annoyance spilling out of him. Replaced by comfort. By calm. By acceptance. The swans turn and glide to the far end of the pond. The song, the sound, fades into the ether as they do so. Andrew collects himself. He rubs his eyes slightly. He continues to stare at the swans as they glide alongside each other. Then they part. One suddenly taking flight, fumbling from the water and into the air. The other notices, halting briefly, before continuing its regimented laps of the pond.
Andrew glances up at Julie, all trace of anger or resentment gone. He see’s the image of the girl he once loved in her brief hint of a smile. He see’s the face of the woman forever lost to him in the look of indifference that quickly replaces it.
‘Julie…’ he says, ‘I think we need to talk…’
‘Yeah Andrew,’ she turns to look at him. A sadness in her eyes. ‘I really think we do…’