Volume 5 Number 4


Autumn 2007

The Bonny Swan

by Erin Page

Pardon me; my throat is waterlogged.

I cannot figure what to do for it. I imagine that having a drink would not help the situation.

Every word I utter escapes from the choking bile inside me, like a dragonfly coming up and out of a pond. Tainted, though. Stories are often tainted by the context in which they are told.

No matter. The fiddle speaks where I cannot, and the words are mine. Even as you hear them now, a soggy whisper beneath the dancing tune of the fiddle, they are all mine, all I ever wanted.

Not to say that I always dreamed of bilious noise and tainted speech. No one dreams of doing what I do. Few have ever witnessed what I do for you now.

Do not count yourself lucky, being in this select audience to my whispers. I think you are about to watch me send my own sister to Hell.

Ah. My fiddle has changed tempo. Back to the beginning.

I am a child: of three years, of two sisters. One, Lydie; two, me (Maire). This would be a shame to my father, were it not for my young brother Padraig, who is strong and tall. Padraig will inherit the whole of my father's farm. Lydie and I must inherit someone else's whole.

Ah. That too long waver you hear on the strings—that is the river that threaded through the farm. The little pluck on the downbeat—that is our feet clad in finest cowhide, beating the bank grass.

This is how we were when I was three, and never again. Here the tune changes, it goes faster. Love makes everything go faster.

I meet a man of twenty. He is a powerful Celt. I can tell because his mustache is long and thick, and he wears a fine gold torc around his neck. I am still only three, so I want to see it up close. I raise my hand to him.

He knows. He smiles. He takes off his torc and puts it round my own neck.

It is big enough to nearly encircle my shoulders. I like the woven gold. I can feel his warmth on it. I like that, too. I smile back at him.

"You can wear it all the time when you are my queen," he says. And that is how my engagement came to be.

Ah, then. The intertwining notes come into play in our tune. You see, we can share the tune. The words are all mine, but we share the tune. That, then, is what this bar is about.

I am a woman, of sixteen years, and two sisters. We are only two, now. Padraig is at war. He may not come home. My father rages and sometimes weeps over this. Padraig may come home soon with fifty cattle behind him. The king may be indebted to him.

I am sorry now to say I think little on it. I can be queen, my brother can be first man, and I do not care. Lydie and I are river princesses.

Ah, the tune picks up. The strings are hot.

Lydie and I race faster than we ever have along the bank one night. She is nineteen, and I am sixteen. We are wild royalty. Our black hair is long enough to cover our faces. We crouch sometimes at the water. Our long legs are folded beneath us. Our hair veils our faces.

Only our king could have picked me out, walking along the bank as he did. I am suddenly in his arms, but he waits. I kiss him through hair, then lift my black veil. He lays me on the soft beaten riverbank, but all I see is my sister. She is running, though not toward our home.

I am racing after Lydie. It is the next morning, and I run far. I find her at a bend in the river, and she joins me.

The fiddle stills because our feet made no sound.

We are sitting, and Lydie is crying. I reach to push back her hair, our black hair, but I am in the water. Suddenly, I am, I was, in the water.

"We are supposed to share," she says. "You are younger," she says. "Give him to me, and I will help you out."

I could have said something. My words were not like they are now.

Ah, here we go again. We are nearing the final bar, and this song is full of things you could never imagine. Death is the third chord, always present in our lives.

Here, I can add no more of my own words. I am choked up, as the saying goes. But the story plays out before you.

This minstrel found me on the bank. You see the pegs on his fiddle, so strangely white? Those are my fingers, the second joint. My fingers were always stubby.

The black strings on his fiddle are not my black hairs. That is always ours, Lydie. Now it is my black body, my black feathers, my black feet.

I cannot tell you how it happened, Lydie. I simply must tell you the story we shared. I see now I will not fly above this court, and you will not go to Hell. I do not recognize the sea of courtiers, but I know Padraig, your first man, and your husband the king. The story is mostly ours, though.

May I swim in your moat, Lydie? I am a swan now, but I can still race you, if you run beside me. I will always wait until you are ready to race again.

That is all. No more words. What I have said, though, is for me to have, alone.