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Fiction Funny

My name is Swan-Swan. Before you say anything, yes, I know, it might be a little too on the nose, with me being a swan and all, but I was given that name by some human children several years ago and it sort of stuck, so what can you do? My life partner is called Luk-Luk. In case you were wondering, he was named by the same children just a couple of seconds before I was. I suppose we are lucky that way. Most swans go through their whole lives without any kind of a name at all. You can imagine that there are a lot of Hey-Yous in the swan community.

Swans mate for life, did you know that? It's actually true. Maybe you find that romantic or maybe that's your idea of a Hitchcockian hell, but I'm here to tell you that it's neither. It's not like we exchange some mushy vows, form a heart shape with our necks – which seems to be a big crowd-pleaser amongst humans – and swim off into the sunset. Nor do we bottle up our feelings as years go by, end up loathing each other, and stick it out for the kids. No. It's more like one of those “Hey, wanna swim to the other side of this lake with me?” kind of things where, before you know it, not only have you swum to the other side of that lake, but to the other side of all the lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams, and you just keep swimming together, not because of some grandiose promise you once made, but because you want to.

I take it back – that does sound pretty romantic, doesn't it?

As long as I can remember, Luk-Luk and I have spent summers together in this lake. For winters, we migrate to California. You'd think we'd want to switch it up every once in a while, especially since we are birds, held back by no borders, walls or other man-made obstacles. But no, we always go to Cali. We love it, what can I say? Cowabunga, dude? The downside of the trip is that that's thousands of miles on our wings. Let me repeat that: thousands of miles! Don't you think that's pretty impressive? To put it into human terms, let's just say that that's quite the calorie burn, and then some. But this winter we won't have to worry about the trip because this year – are you ready for this? – Luk-Luk and I are both going to die.

PLOT TWIST!

Yes, you got that right. We are goners. How do you like them apples, huh?

What, you think I should maybe have led with that? You invested time and energy into this fable you thought was going to be about eternal love, soulmates or some crap like that and now suddenly you find out it's – excuse the pun – bye-bye Birdie?

My bad.

Allow me to explain: Luk-Luk turns thirty winters this year. That's considered pretty old for a swan. Really old in fact. In swan years he's an old fart, an oldie locks, a tomb raider, a fossil. Remember those thousands of miles that it takes to migrate to California? No swan that's seen thirty winters would ever be stupid enough to even attempt such a feat, and my partner is no exception. Luk-Luk wants to go out with dignity, to stay home, in the lake. The lake that will eventually turn on him like an evil friend, freeze over, gluing his feet to the ice so that he can no longer fly away even if he wanted to. That's kind of like the bird equivalent of chaining yourself to the bulldozer that is going to crush your home except that in this analogy the bulldozer – winter – is no doubt going to roll over the poor birdbrain – Luk-Luk – chained to it. And, as I said before, swans mate for life, which means that if he's the one chaining himself to the bulldozer called winter, then I have no choice but to be his idiot sidekick who says, "Hey, make room for me, too!" And before you know it, poof, we are both dead as dodos (a despicable bird, by the way). Mating for life still sound romantic to you?

I look at the lake around me now. I've never been here long enough into the Fall to see it like this, grim and lifeless, like a vortex sucking in any lifeform that's left on the surface. It's October and most swans have already had enough sense to take off and head to Cali. Only one young swan – Hey-You – remains, and, by the looks of it, not for long. He's swimming in circles, stretching his wings. I desperately wish he'd stay just for a little longer, so that I wouldn't have to see Luk-Luk let go of whatever life is left in him. For someone who wants to die with dignity, he looks anything but – defeated, succumbing to his destiny. The adventurous spark he used to have in his eyes has faded, and every time another swan leaves, the less of it I see. 

Hey-You spreads his beautiful white wings open wide. His body upright, he flaps his wings vigorously until finally he's running on the water, and then he is airborne, granting us a final look that seems to say, "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!" 

Yeah, he's kind of a dick.

I crane my neck until Hey-You is but a dot in the sky, then dart my eyes back to Luk-Luk, who averts my gaze.

And then there were two.

An ominous gust of freezing wind whistles in my ears, getting under my feathers, chilling me to my bone, like a preview of what's to come. My poor webbed feet feel so cold that any movement is beginning to hurt. Luk-Luk next to me trembles. I watch his eyes close and, like so many times before, wonder if this is the moment he leaves me for good.

But he doesn't. Instead he does something else, something unexpected. He opens his beak and lets out a familiar sound that's so full of zest and happiness that in this moment it feels unforgivably out of place.

If I could, I would gasp.

It's a common misconception that swans only sing when they're about to die. In fact, we sing all the time, and whoever came up with this myth of a "swan song" makes it sound so poetic that I bet they never saw – let alone heard – a swan in their life. A real swan song doesn't sound like harps and angels, I can tell you that. And yet, the sound Luk-Luk just made is so much better than harps and angels. I swear I was ready to leave well enough alone, to stick by his side, be glued to the ice like an idiot, but not anymore. That song changes everything.

And now I need to hustle.

I cast an urgent gaze at the bent-up tree next to the lake that is shedding its golden leaves like an hourglass, and I know I have no time to waste. Ignoring the pain in my feet, I start paddling faster and faster, and just like a frozen engine coming back to life, I can feel myself getting unstuck from my spot.

I swim right next to Luk-Luk. “Lukie? Lukie?” I poke at him urgently.

At first he doesn't react, and I fear for the worst. Is it too late? But then he moves and acknowledges me, and I let out a proverbial sigh of relief. He's not gone yet.

“Mm, yes?” he manages.

“We have to go!”

He cranes his neck towards me, looking like he's been asleep for hundreds of winters. “What are you on about, Swan-Swan?”

“California awaits.”

And there it is. That spark in his eyes. It comes back only for a moment until it fades away again, but I don't care. It's there. I saw it.

“I can't make it, Swan-Swan. You know that.” He lets his head hang.

“Who says?” I insist.

“I'm no spring chicken.”

“Hey, how dare you call my partner a chicken?”

“I'm thirty winters old.”

“So? Thirty is the new twenty, haven't you heard?”

He mumbles something dismissive, then turns his head away from me and tucks his beak under his wing. I swim closer to him and poke at him again. He looks at me indignantly. “What now?”

“I already told you. We have to go.”

If he could sigh, he would. “Where is this coming from, Swan-Swan? Huh? All of a sudden.”

“Nowhere.”

“Tell me. You want me to just leave my home and swan off, you need to give me a reason.”

“Fine. But you have to promise not to laugh.”

“I'm making no such promise.”

“You sang.”

He doesn't laugh. There's a small silence between us.

“So? I sing all the time.”

“No, you don't. Not recently.”

“Can't a swan sing if he feels like it?”

“But that song, Lukie?”

I look at him and I know he knows what I mean. There's only one time he sings that song, when we're flying through the skies, beginning our journey to California. That song is more than a song, it's the sound of freedom. For a moment, that spark returns to Luk-Luk's eyes and it's almost like he's been plugged into a source of youth. And then, just like that, without any warning, the spark is gone and he looks old again.

“So what? I sang some stupid song,” he says, “That doesn't change a thing. I'm an old bird. My wings won't carry me. End of story.” He puts his webbed foot down.

I know that I'm losing him, but I don't want to accept it. “How do you know if you don't try?”

“I want to stay, Swan-Swan. I want to die with pride.”

“Die like a crippled old bird is what you'll do, stuck to the ice.”

“Then so be it.”

And just like that, it's over. He won't budge, that much I know. We'll stay in the lake, die here. As that reality sets in, I feel my chest getting tighter and tighter, and I have a sense of what's about to happen next. Did you know that when a swan dies, their mate usually dies soon after of – get this – heartache? I promise I'm not making that up to create some sappy sad-violin moment. Look it up, it's an actual scientific fact. What, you think that sounds romantic? Well, then you're a fool. Or do you think that that's incredibly co-dependent and sets the bird-kind back hundreds of years? In that case, you're right on the money and I would agree with you if I wasn't too busy fulfilling the miserable fate that nature has doomed me to. Here I sit, my little bird-heart literally breaking for some swan who won't even try. I tell you, this mating for life crap ain't what it's cracked up to be.

But just as I think that my heart is about to flee my chest or die trying like a canary stuck in a cage, it returns to its normal rhythm again. I'm not dead yet. And neither is Luk-Luk.

“Fine,” I say, breaking the silence.

Luk-Luk looks up at me. He'd thought I was already done ruffling his feathers. Well, he was wrong. “What's that?” he says.

“Fine,” I repeat. “I'll fly solo, then.”

Luk-Luk stares at me surprised, then lets out the swan equivalent of a chuckle. “Fly to California without me? Yeah, right.”

If I could give a shrug, I would. “Who's gonna stop me, huh? You said your wings won't carry you anyway.”

He stares at me again. He knows me better than any swan, but now he seems unsure about how to interpret my expression. “Swans mate for life, everybody knows that.”

“Mate for life, schmate for life,” I say. “I'm a modern swan.”

There's a short silence.

“You are crazy as a loon! The whole swan community would disown you if you left me.”

I scoff. “Yes, and I promise to cry you a river in California while enjoying my fresh fish sunset dinner.”

“Swans can't cry.”

“So not the point. Anyway, come with me or don't. I'm outie.”

He looks at me flabbergasted, as I make a tentative effort to spread my wings. Sadly, it's not quite the graceful Phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes moment that I had been hoping for as my wings are horribly out of practice, but stubbornly, I keep at it until that familiar feeling of intoxicating thirst for life fills me. I change the angle of my wings to bring myself up from the lake, but fail. For a terrible couple of seconds, I think it's too late. What was I thinking? I'm not that much younger than Luk-Luk, and I haven't been stretching my wings enough lately, maybe I cannot do this. But I won't give up. I give my wings three more emphatic flaps, and then I'm running on water. This is the critical point. From here it's either take-off or swan dive, but I don't care, I keep running, Luk-Luk's eyes on my back until I feel my wings starting to carry me. I tuck in my feet, still dripping water, and soar, higher and higher and, as my heart almost breaks for the second time today, watch as Luk-Luk gets smaller and smaller.

The sun hits my eyes, and I feel the cold brisk air beneath my feathers, the sweet sensation of starting a journey. I force myself to keep my eyes fixed forward, not looking back nor down. I swear that if swans could cry, I would be bawling right now, but I can't cave, just keep my course, one flap of wings after another. For a terrible moment, I think that this is really it, Luk-Luk is not coming, all of this effort for nothing, but then I hear it – the most beautiful sound in the world. Feet running on the water.

The lake.

Come on, honey, come on, I think. The sound intensifies little by little, as I hold my breath, still not looking down, and even though I start to feel desperation set in, the sound is steady and sure, just like he is, until all I hear is the flapping of wings, and I know he's airborne. Now I can no longer help myself. I turn back and fly as fast as I can towards my partner, my soulmate, my everything, who's flying up towards me at full speed like the young swan he once was – and still is. We meet each other half-way and laugh, only like swans can laugh, out of relief and exhilaration, and I know that he's back. Not only is that spark back in his eyes, but he looks invincible, and I swear he could glow in the dark.

Swans mate for life, we can't help it. I would never have left my partner and I think he knows that. But I'm glad he didn't call my bluff. I'm so glad he didn't. Luk-Luk lets out that song again, the sound of freedom. And whether or not that is our last swan song – literally or figuratively –, I don't know, and I don't care, because right now, there's nothing in this world but my partner and I, young, adventurous and free, soaring through the sky that is our playground.

October 17, 2020 01:52

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10 comments

00:06 Oct 18, 2020

“Mate for life, schmate for life,” I say. “I'm a modern swan.” I laughed. 😂

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Katariina Ruuska
03:19 Oct 18, 2020

Thanks so much for the comment! I'm happy I could entertain :)

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Hope Reynolds
06:01 Dec 03, 2020

This is great!!!

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Katariina Ruuska
01:21 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you so much, Hope :)!!

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K. Antonio
11:09 Oct 20, 2020

I enjoyed the humor and side comments in the story. I like how it has this very spontaneous and almost effortless writing style (it's difficult to pull this off, with it looking natural). The story has it's uniqueness and a very unconventional quality, it reads almost like a satire or comic book. I liked it. I enjoyed the jokes and funny moments and I think they were well placed, not overcrowding the other parts of the story, but they lightened the mood and captivated the reader, making him/her more invested on the piece. Interes...

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Katariina Ruuska
16:57 Oct 20, 2020

Aaww, thank you so much for your super nice comment!! And yes, of course, I will check out your stories as well :)

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13:12 Oct 18, 2020

Neat story. ;) I like the brutal honesty and humor present throughout. You really did a good job of making us care for the characters--despite them being birds. ;) Keep on writing!

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Katariina Ruuska
18:51 Oct 18, 2020

Thanks so much, Caden! I'm really glad you liked my story :)

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19:01 Oct 18, 2020

No probs. ;)

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19:01 Oct 18, 2020

I felt it needed some more readers.

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