Joanna and the swan

The windows in Billy’s house had been dark and the curtains had been shut for several days now. When Joanna looked at the house, she wondered if somebody might have walked inside and vacuum cleaned all the light up. Maybe light was a bit like dirt, she thought. Your house stacked up on light, the light got old and dirty, and then you had to clean it up so that your house could gather new, fresh light. She had wondered what it must be like for Billy to live in that dark house, waiting for new light to gather in. Probably very scary, she thought. Had it been her living in that dark house, she would have gone outside as often as possible. But Billy never went outside anymore, and as weird as that was, Joanna kept staring at the dark, neighboring house whenever she walked by it. A week passed before Joanna’s parents finally told her that Billy’s house was dark and Billy didn’t walk outside anymore because Billy no longer lived in that house. His family had moved to a different country.

Joanna didn’t miss Billy much to begin with. She was way too busy with school and football. But when the summer vacation began, the days would pass over into endless hours of trying to think of something to do, and Joanna missed the time when she could just walk over to Billy’s house and meet up. As the house remained vacant, the garden slowly grew wild and jungle-like, with flowers and grass in slinging postures. Joanna’s parent complained that nobody moved in to take care of the mess, but Joanna would, during the summer vacation weeks, come to notice a new inhabitant at the plot. A swan had settled in the lower region of the garden, down by the pond, and made itself a home there.

The swan looked a bit ruffled. Grey feathers stuck out from the otherwise white feather coat, as if it had not combed itself properly. It wasn’t exactly friendly either. Whenever Joanna walked down to the pond – at the other side of the fence obviously – the swan would hiss and sneer at her. Joanna felt it was unfair of the swan to act that way. She had, after all, lived in the neighborhood the longest. She hissed back. The swan hissed. She barked. The swan stood up and batted its wings. Joanna jumped and howled. Safely positioned at each side of the fence, a battle of endurance and dominance took play. The battle lasted for a few days, until Joanna’s parents one sunny Saturday suddenly noticed the swan and suggested they go down to feed it. The three of them brought a few slices of bread, divided it into bread crumps and threw them at the swan. The swan’s first subtle hisses were soon quenched by its hunger, and it ate the bread crumps contentedly. The war was over, diplomacy had won out.

As Joanna kept feeding the swan, the swan became ever more friendly. Its ruffled feathers soon disappeared, and the white, full-grown swan grew more confident with Joanna. After a while, she dared to walk into Billy’s old garden to greet the swan, and the swan showed no sign of hostility. It greeted her back friendlily. She would call the swan Barry – because it reminded her of Billy, and they became playmates over the summer. They ate bread, bathed in the pond, built dams and nests, and even went to the beach together. She was happy to have Barry around. He was a good friend, and Joanna looked forward to spending the summer with him. That is, until one day, Joanna started noticing another swan hanging around by the pond.

The development was very sudden. One day, Barry was alone in his nest, eating bread crumps and making swan noises. The next day, another swan was hanging around sharing his bread crumps and plucking at his feather coat. The new swan changed Barry entierly. He would no longer bathe in the pond with Joanna. After some days with his new swan friend, he even started hissing and sneering at Joanna when she approached. It was dramatic. Joanna cried, but Barry didn’t seem to mind the least. His mind was completely set on that new swan who hissed and sneered along with him whenever Joanna was around. Whatever friendship they had had, it was gone now.

Again, much delayed, Joanna’s parents noticed the new lady swan in Barry’s lair. They discussed it a bit, then Joanna heard her father say, causally and matter-of-factly: “Swans mate for life.” It felt a bit like a punch to the stomach, and that was the last time Joanna cried over Barry.

Somebody moved into Billy’s house that autumn, and Barry and his lady friend was chased out by the lawnmowers and the construction workers. The new houseowners build a pavilion down by the pond where Barry’s nest had been, and Joanna never saw him again. She was, to be honest, happy that the new houseowners made such a racket. Then, probably, no other swan would be tempted to move in and become her neighbor again.

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