Swan Song

Two swans.


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…’


Valentine’s Day

(Written Feb 2016)

What do you write in a Valentine’s Day card after all these years together? I mean, honestly. What can you write? I’ve personally always been of the opinion that, if there’s love there, you shouldn’t need a cheap Hallmark Holiday card to say it or know it. It’s perhaps the emptiest gesture of all, isn’t it? A long-term couple exchanging a Valentine’s Day card complete with a banal, beige poem or ditty likely written by a low-paid worker who has to churn out dozens of similar messages a day, with only a line or two plucked from your own imagination scrawled below it. And if you don’t quite feel the full weight of regimented, manufactured display of love then here’s a small raggedy teddy bear clutching a love heart, lovingly purchased at the last minute from the local supermarket. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, in fact I know I am, but I just don’t get the whole telling-your-loved-one-you-love-them routine on a particular day of the year just because some card company has decided it should be so. Much like Mother’s Day. Or Father’s Day. I’ll tell my parents I love them or appreciate them when I like, thank you very much. In the same way that I’ll tell the man I love that I love him when I choose to. I don’t need Valentine’s Day to do that. But then, of course I do it. We all do it. Every single one of us in a relationship participates in this hollow charade. Simply because not doing so would hurt your loved one. It would come across as uncaring for the sake of being stubborn. At least you think it would.

In the early days, when we first met, we used to do it differently. We weren’t going to be like all the other couples. You always tell yourself that don’t you. Me and my man, we’re different. That’s what you say at the beginning. We won’t play by the standard romance rules. You’re convinced that no-one has felt love as strong, as blinding as this before. Look at the other couples, look at their expressions. Boredom, frustration, exasperation. That won’t be us. That won’t ever be us baby, you say. Of course it is. It always is. We all settle into the standard routine, all us long-termers. The lavish romantic, love and lust-filled gestures of the early weeks, months or even years slowly erode into a functional, ‘comfortable’ routine. So the horse and carriage rides, or the expensive meals, or nights in five star hotels become a card and a box of chocolates. The same chocolates you eat throughout the year, yes, but which extracts of strawberry wedged in them to give them Valentine’s Day relevance. But anyway, yes, we did it differently. For those first few Valentine’s Days Luke and I would dress up as 1920’s Chicago bootleggers, or gangsters, in homage to that other reason to remember the 14th of February. Al Capone and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Pin stripe suits, hats; the works. We would go to a restaurant, politely eat our meals and, with only a handful of food left, we would descend into a loud, riotous food fight with one another, the more ketchup the better, right there in front of an array of stunned on looking diners. The result would always be chaos, a hideous mess of stains and food strewn around our table, our faces, our clothes. Often we would be chased out by outraged waiters, occasionally we could walk out calmly simply due to their onset of bewildered paralysis. It certainly limited out restaurant options for future date nights anyway. But that was us. We were different. And of course one year, with both of us crazily busy at work, we couldn’t do it. And that was it. Never again. A simple card, chocolates and maybe a movie became the standard template for the night thereafter.

To be fair, for the next few years, we did try our best to be different with the cards aswell. Often we would have a competition to find the worst Valentine’s Day card we could for one another. Sometimes the funniest. Occasionally ones in different languages. The messages we wrote each other would be different. Always laced with in-jokes, private sex jokes, or silly facts about Valentine’s Day we would find on the internet. At first he would always sign off my card with the note ‘P.S. You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright, and that’s alright with me’ as a joke. That line from Thunder Road, the Bruce Springsteen song, OUR song. And then I would sign his with ‘Tramps like us, baby we were born to run’ or some other Springsteen lyric. And then one year, because life is like this of course, we weren’t exactly feeling all loved up towards one another, arguing about something so trivial that I forget now, and the messages disappeared from the cards. Replaced by the ‘To blah blah…Love from blah blah’ standard. And that became the way it was. The way it is. The way it always is for almost every couple on the planet once you ‘settle’. And then one day even the cards stop. It’s nothing malicious, or unkind. Once again, it is just the way things are. The way it is.

So, once again, I’ll ask; just what do you write in a Valentine’s Day card after all these years together? He knows all my quirks, every piece of my humour. An Al Capone reference maybe? A Springsteen line? No, we’ve done that to death. It’s a sad thing to say but after so long together most couples run out of ways to surprise one another. The element of surprise, of ‘new’ becomes lost in familiarity. In fact, no, it doesn’t have to be a sad thing but it just is what it is. It’s a fact. There’s nothing wrong with familiarity though, with comfort, with partnership. So, in all truth, and as corny as this may sound, all you are left with, all I am left with, is the truth. With honesty. Honesty stripped of quirkiness, stripped of anxiety, stripped of all the calculated bullshit. Just love.

With that in mind I gently rip the plastic off of the generic couple of doe-eyed cuddly bears hugging one another card, pick a pen out of my handbag and write carefully;


My husband, my best friend, my life, my everything.

I still love you, I always have loved you and always will love you.

You loving wife.

I place the pen back in my handbag along with the unused envelope. I pull myself up off the bench and walk across the gravel path before stepping onto the sodden grass. I lean down and delicately wedge the card in between the vase of withered flowers and the marble, placing it alongside a handful of faded cards. I gently kiss my gloved fingertips before pressing them against the top of his gravestone. Light raindrops begin to fall.

‘I love you darling,’ I whisper, ‘I always will.’

I pull myself back up, edging along the grass before stepping back onto the path. I button my coat up, shooting him one last lingering look, before turning and walking away through the February rain.

New Moon

Deep within the darkest shadows’ dance
lies unseen, the bright new moon,
and so my unanswered questions fall
and leave me in this empty room.

But enduring loss the night sky shines
and blazes with a different wonder,
while my deepest questions are left to probe
past lightning and past thunder.

So standing here, under this new night,
my darkest questions should leave,
but in shadows cast by a different light
they all remain and grieve.

Daily Post Word Prompt: Suspicious

Lost Myself

Where is he?

That man

You know the one.

The one that travelled, trailed, lived and sung


Just who was he?

That man

That prodigal son?

Who thought nothing of friends, foes, fears or fun


Was he lost

That man

Throughout the years?

Beneath the poisoned stabs, relentless jeers?


Or has he grown

That man?

A man unknown

Shedding the skin of all he’s ever known


Can it be

That man

Was a man reborn?

Drowning, gasping in a font of scorn


Stepping forth

That man

Into the light

The man he was, lost to the eternal night


But no.

That man.

I see him still

He’s weary, fractured but there’s a strength, a will


So here he is

This man

You know the one

I’m here, still here, not quite ready yet to be done…


Just Things


Just things

That’s all they are, just things


Little things

Big things

Mediocre things, just things


Date-marked things

Heart-shaped things

Well-worn things, just things


Electric things

Fabric things

Dormant things, just things


Living things

Loving things

Eternal things, just things



Black bags

Full of things, things, things, things!


So, things

Yes, things

That’s all they are, just things


But pieces

Shattered pieces

Fractured pieces, are they more than just things?


Soiled pieces

Bitter pieces

Forgotten pieces, mere things?


Pieces to be gathered

Pieces to be salvaged

Will these ever be more than just things?


And we

We two

Are we more than just things?


Things that laugh

Things that cry

Things that crave more than just things


So leave me broken

Leave me brittle

But, please, leave me more than just