#31 A Swan Among The Reeds By Moonlight
Story Press 31, and our last of 2022! I hope you all have restful Christmas breaks and I’ll be seeing you on the other side. Let’s hope it’s a better year than this ol’ fella predicted.
Man of many talents, Carl Gustav Carus, doesn’t have the talent to save his daughter. As she lies on her deathbed, and her birthday approaches, he wants to give her a gift to keep with her forever.
#31 A Swan Among The Reeds By Moonlight
He took to walking at night, when the noises of the earth were quiet and people were not bothersome. It had been many nights without sleep now while Clara, his daughter, lay in bed, sick as anything. Her skin was red raw from scratching the rash. She was feverish, her hair greasy, face sweaty, and she talked of violent throbbing in her brain.
Carus had no choice but to walk at night, or he would never leave her side, and her illness would kill him too. He needed the air. He needed the time to reflect, to consider, to understand what was happening to his daughter.
He knew that she was dying. That much was clear. It had been too long and too painful. Life was being drained from her day by day. She was thinner. She was flaxen. She had those sunken, wasted eyes.
Her birthday was approaching. Her husband Ernst was on his way from Munich. Perhaps he would miss her birthday. Carus wanted to gift her a picture. Something from him to her. Something that expressed what he was feeling and experiencing with her at that time. But nothing came to mind. He sat for hours at a time staring at the blank paper, wishing his daughter would magically recover, thinking of the coarseness of her skin, the elegance lost.
And then this one night came along. It was still and quiet. What reached him was the sounds of leaves wavering in the lightest of breezes, and the distant chortling of horses parked somewhere, perhaps a clang of wood as a faraway neighbour manoeuvred some cart or crate or collection of logs. It was dark too. So dark that his way was not really lit, but he didn’t need it to be. He knew his way. He had walked it many times. He knew at exactly which steps he might find branches or rocks that would trip him. He knew where the turns were and where the stinging nettles reached onto the path, and where the horses stopped to piss.
He was especially tired. He had not slept the previous night for Clara had been shivering all night long, puking up nothing but bile into the bucket beside her bed. He told her it would be okay and held a wet cloth to her forehead to cool her down, and held her head in his arms but in truth he felt hopeless. He felt like this had gone on too long, and she had gotten worse not better, and he didn’t know how much longer he could do it. He thought, regrettably, in the darkest corner of his conscience, that perhaps it would all be easier if she just died. Then it would be done. Then the peace of the world might return.
But he knew that that was a cruel thought. And most of him did not want any of that. Most of him loved his daughter and would endure a thousand sleepless nights to help her, regardless of how futile it might be.
He passed through the brush and up ahead appeared the moon, shimmering out from behind a lurking cloud. The moon lit his path down to the waterfront. He approached the lake with the keenness of a child, and then started to walk the path that circled it.
Clara had been such a beautiful young girl. She had a liveliness in her eyes that gave her real character, real presence. And she had the sweetest laugh. She was intelligent and kind, fun and funny. When she met her husband, Ernst, she couldn’t have made a finer match. He was her counterpart in every way, playing along with her jokes, entertaining her fantasies and giving her everything she needed from life. He was an artist. A good one at that. And he was often travelling, selling his wares across the globe. His more recent success perhaps meant she was more lonely as she did not go on every trip with him. And perhaps Carus himself had been neglectful.
The sound of little feet scurrying through a bush caught his attention, but he didn’t get the chance to see what it was. Perhaps a fox, or a small bird or something else. He stopped in his tracks and surveyed his surroundings. He realised he hadn’t paid attention to where he was at all, for thinking of his daughter.
He turned towards the water and looked out to the lake. Up above, the moon still partially hid behind a shifting cloud, gazing down on the water and reflecting up at Carus. The reeds, tilting to one side, wavered slightly, and the waterlilies drifted together. From behind the reeds, unexpectedly, a great swan emerged staring directly at Carus. It had a large breast spread out wide, and a tall white neck that reached up to its sharp head and its beady black eyes, blending into the night, which peered out at him.
His heart stopped. He sank to the floor in awe. For whatever reason, he felt there was something of his daughter in this swan. The way it stood tall and strong, more present than anything else around them. It was his daughter before her sickness. Carus started to cry at the sight of it. The moonlight shimmered off the swan’s coat and when the swan spread its wings, it lit up the reeds around it. The swan stretched high and wide and flapped its wings vigorously. Carus admired the strength of those wings. Their sheer power and force lifting it up out of the water. There was a great splash as the wings skimmed the top of the water and the swan’s mass shifted it this way and that.
Before he knew it, the swan was up above the reeds and careening across the lake, into the darkness. And the swan left Carus there, sat down in the dirt, looking out into the reeds.
Later that night, he got home and checked on Clara who, for the first time in a long while, was properly asleep, and he went next door and picked up his charcoals.