The boy I love has a swan’s wing for an arm.
He is one of seven brothers who was cursed and lived as swans till their baby sister came and rescued them. His older brothers say rescued. He is the youngest brother, and spent more years as a swan than as a boy. He remembers flying, and floating. When he tries to remind his older brothers, they say: did we really do that? We can’t remember.
They have all gotten married to princesses their baby sister selected for them (she had become a princess herself while they were cursed, which is a somewhat delicate creature, almost like a swan), but the youngest brother has not. He kisses me behind the stable; he embraces me with his good arm. They call it his good arm. We go for walks round the lake where he had been a swan, and he shows me the place where he and his brothers nested amongst the reeds. There is still a single white feather there, and he plucks it off the ground between his fingers.
I wonder if it was mine, he says, and tucks it behind his ear.
Earlier, we had dipped our fingertips into the lake, watching the ripples arc away.
I used to swim here, he says.
I remember seeing them on the lake when they were still swans, their curving necks, their black eyes, and their baby sister come to the lake to visit them too, sprinkling crumbles of bread over the lake, outstretching her fingers till they came to her and submitted to her caresses. After the prince found her and married her, it wasn’t so easy for her to go back, so I would drop stale pieces of bread from the palace kitchen into my apron pocket and go to the lake myself, crumbling the bread as she had done, reaching out to them as she had done, but they only fluttered away.
Oh, says the youngest brother. That was you?
He sits down in the reeds and tugs at them, his swan’s wing arm draped uselessly at his side.
My fingers are still damp with lake water. I take hold of the feather behind his ear and chase the line of his jaw with it. He sighs at the soft touch of the feather and, nearly smiling, pulls me into his embrace, the lightness of his wing shivering against my bare skin.
Cathy S. Ulrich sometimes tells her daughter fairy tales when they take their dog for a walk. Mostly, it’s after her daughter says, “Please stop singing, Mom.” Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, including The Citron Review, Spry Literary Journal and Cease, Cows.
Artwork: Lara Zankoul, “Complicity”