We See Swans Today
By Elizabeth SmithI tuck a pocket-sized notebook in the side of my baby carrier before driving with my daughter to the park. I have read that successful novelists carry notebooks on days they need inspiration for their stories. Today is Monday, December 14, 2020, and I need inspiration.
My mother-in-law, Audrey, greets us in the parking lot, and we stroll together to the playground. A father, son, and pug play near the slide. Although my little one shows interest in the strangers, especially their pet, I convince her to sit on the safety-approved teeter-totter first, in hopes they will leave soon. As we jiggle, Audrey and I chat about the recent resurgence of social distancing restrictions in our area and how it will affect my husband’s new employment; once the company’s headquarters reopens, he and I will need to move one thousand miles southeast, a future event so vague it does not seem real. I sense ambivalence about the change, perhaps hers or perhaps my own. I assure Audrey we won’t leave until the world is “more normal.”
My toddler tires of the teeter-totter and gestures toward the swing. Audrey pushes, and I mention my efforts to dejunk the house, and I say she is welcome to what I abandon. After the strangers leave, my daughter happily slips down a wet slide a few times. I place her in the carrier, and Audrey leads me through a maze of damp gravel paths as we brainstorm how to endure a separated Christmas.
Our dialogue resembles nothing like the dialogue in exhilarating fiction. I feel no conflict or opposition between us today, and the only expressed tension comes from my duty as the gatekeeper to my baby’s mouth while we visit the park during a pandemic.
We stop at the pond. A ballet of trumpeter swans swims on the calm, dark water.
The aspiring writer in me will write this image down, hoping to someday use it in a scene containing the conflict, opposition, and tension I’m told make great stories. My make-believe people may one day walk along this same gravel path on an equally overcast morning, and when they reach the water, their underlying motives will fly open with a clash and a bang that frighten the swans away. It could be an ironic metaphor for something beautiful yet frail, like a pleasant relationship between a mother-in-law and her son’s wife.
Thankfully, there are no clashes or bangs this day we see swans. The huge birds float clockwise on the small lake, their serious black bills pointing the way. As they stretch their elegant white wings for take-off, they clap the murky water and peal. Audrey and I marvel at their grace. I let my daughter out of her pack and try to point to the birds for her, but she does not understand the rarity of swans at the park pond in comparison to the sticks and pebbles on the path.
Before I bid Audrey farewell in the parking lot, before I strap my child into her car seat, and certainly before I scratch this moment in my little notebook for safe-keeping, I silently thank the birds for visiting our quiet neighborhood park during my real-life story now pictured in prose.