“Swans (Elsewhere)” and “Settle/Return”

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Swan“Swans (Elsewhere)”

When I was little more than a boy-shaped mist, my father would take me to a low rolling somewhere where the streams and ponds converged muddily near the coast. It seemed like a summer place, its perfection and grooming not unlike a mini-golf course, but I remember it only in terms of wet: earth storm-dark and soft as sand, dewed grass deepening through impossible greens. It must have been the off-season—the drizzle of spring, the fecundity of fall—when nearly no one else was around. My beat sneakers were always squishy.

I don’t remember much besides the green and the wet and the white gazebo near one swan pond. This must have been some sort of park: we would kick-pedal paddle boats out among the honking cygnets, chop slowly through the bracken with the trees leaning low above and dripping on the calm dead-water, on the swans, on my father and me. This was our jungle. Where were the other wet-weather people? They were elsewhere. This was all in the haze between the divorce and the custody suit. We would chop the water among the birds, then dock so that I might roll like a skinned log loosed down the impossible green slopes while my father watched from below and talked to solo moms who watched their daughters roll down those same impossible slopes.

How many places could this one place be?

There was a dairy bar near the gate.

 

“Settle/Return”

Sometime in the night he startles from his sleep to a sound like his front door shushing open, and in the seize of waking, he knows: she’s returned. The soft creak of floorboards in the hall, as if she’s shifting her weight, standing still, and in her breath there’s a panicked rasp. Almost a whimper. Like the muscle that draws taut the worry-line of a brow, he sits up in his bed and listens, staring hard at his bedroom’s darkened door, and he says her name, and he says hello. In the quiet that swallows his voice, it’s the waiting that feels like forever. But it is only the settling of the house that he hears, and the night wind through felled leaves, and his hope, so easily mistaken as fear.

Photo used under CC.

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About Author

Douglas W. Milliken is the author of the novel To Sleep as Animals and several chapbooks, most recently the collection Cream River and the forthcoming pocket-sized edition One Thousand Owls Behind Your Chest. His stories have been honored by the Maine Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and Glimmer Train, and have been published in Slice, the Collagist, and the Believer, among others. www.douglaswmilliken.com

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