“Why do you have to leave?” said the swan to his mate, who was by all accounts perfectly white.
“It’s just my way,” she said. “I have to go. I have to see other things. I have to see where the river leads to and what the world has in store.”
“But can’t you stay? Even just a little longer? Won’t you sit with me and watch the people walk by? Won’t you stay with me?
She looked down, thinking that the most difficult thing would be to see the color in his eyes dull and the hopefulness in his face fade. She knew his stare would cut her like a chainsaw cuts a rotted stump.
“No. I can’t”
He searched for her as she sat there in front of him, trying to find where her heart was and what direction her soul was pointing. But he couldn’t see. He looked her up and down, from her small, webbed feet to the smooth crown of her head. She was right there but lost behind an otherworldly fog composed of inconsideration and irrationality.
“What about all we’ve done? The things we’ve seen? What about the places we can go? What about what we hold in store?”
She couldn’t resist a glance up. She saw his eyes, and they were leaking life, bleeding the spirit he had left. They were like worn pillows stained brown from the oil of too many heads, stuffing ripped from the sides by desperate mice. He didn’t look like a swan, but an old, crippled crow, battered from rain storms and stray bullets.
“I can’t,” was all she could say. “I just can’t.”
He turned his face down, looking at his chest. It wasn’t full anymore. The heart that inflated it seemed to have suffocated, gummed by the smoke and tar inhaled from this moment.
“Will you remember me at least?” he muttered.
“You know I will.”
They listened to the river crawl, hearing the sound they had shared so many times. It was slow, sliding against the mud and grass. He’d always thought it was beautiful. The calm churn of a friendly current making its way to more spacious destinations. He’d always liked it here, and he liked how it made him feel.
Now, it was ugly. The gargling sludge, the silt being pushed away constantly, bedding down and ripped from its home. A cycle that was brutal and unfair. And it never stopped. A violent regurgitation. Not even the dirt could find its place.
“Then go,” he said.
The words stung her like a hot needle piercing her heel. She expected him to fight and need. But he didn’t. She expected him to beg and plead. But he didn’t.
She expected him to be broken.
But he wasn’t.
“Will you wait for me?” she asked.
“No. I won’t,” he said.
It seemed that the old crow suddenly grew young. His chest grew and his eyes, now painted with red, were fixated on her face. “No. I won’t.”
She looked up at him, defeated, and turned her head to look down the river. She looked at where she was going and thought about what might happen tomorrow. She thought about the nights and what the temperature might be like and if she would be warm enough by herself.
She thought not.
“Goodbye then,” she said
He decided to look at her one last time to remember. He wanted to burn her picture in his brain, to remember this moment and everything that came with it. And as he looked, he noticed one tiny, black fleck in a feather just above her eye. “She’s not perfect after all,” he thought.
Sitting, watching her fly away, he pondered this disillusionment. She wasn’t perfect. She never had been. But neither was he. And neither was life.
That was a fact that he just had to accept.