My rounded weight presses down on the skin of the water, the gentle resistance as I settle into my displaced shape. I feel the ripples shudder beneath me as I move in her wake, her powerful webbed feet scoop her forward. In my awe I am a faint replica of her graceful, delicate mass: I am the fading echo that will eternally follow. Our wings rest huge and light on our backs, arched in protection of the bubble of air we carry; secretive; safe. The immensity of our strength is veiled by our brittle-rooted, wavering feathers, as insubstantial as clouds seen up close.
I push myself faster, throbbing with the booming double-beat of the heart as it demands physicality; she is tugging me closer. I am propelled alongside and spin halfway round to slow-paddle. She subtly turns in response, knowing she has drawn me to her and she curves her neck in shyness and encouragement. Her heated presence glows stronger and I am captured: she is glad I am closer as our pace slows and we drift from our own momentum. Black rivulets swirl around us; the chilled green liquid laps against our oily bodies, slapping, splashing indecisively as we dance, flirting, but with that magnetic certainty that keeps us together. We bow our heads beautifully and hold each others’ gaze; her glinting black orbs wink and flutter before we simultaneously twist away, only to return side by side, continuing our journey upstream.
I am following her again, and in triumph and flattery she snaps her beak high in the air, a sound like shells thrown against shells. The orange of the setting sun is reflected in the droplets of water that rain from her laughing mouth; she is drenched in beauty. The darkened lines of twisted branches that reach above us across the river frame her and cast shadows on the interrupted surface; drapery trails down to reach sunken rocks. I become aware of the darkness that grows in the overhanging banks to either side of us where the ripples of water are absorbed almost noiselessly.
I remember our cygnets, grey flecks in the green shadows, calling, calling us home. I yearn to make her happy once more, to make her complete in her purpose of raising our children, the embodiment of our love. I had shined with my true essence of fatherhood. Protective and proud I would lift my wings, outstretched and awesome, in defence of my family. That was my purpose, my fulfilment.
Now, as I try to communicate my desire to quench her longing, she keeps herself from me, she denies me. Beneath the curved bulb of her eyes I see her unhappiness, and yet she masks her heart by teasing me, by leading me forward to where she wants me to be. Her glances towards the land are as frequent as mine but I sense she searches for something different. Her iridescence glimmers in the fading light, and seeing her bowed head glancing tentatively at the rustling undergrowth, I feel her sadness that throbs around her and I am saddened. I know she will continue to swim onward even if I stop.