Jonathan Corrigan, is a graduate of Birmingham and Edinburgh law schools. He decided to abandon a legal career to become an English language teacher. Having taught in Tokyo, Madrid and England he is now currently running a language school in Dublin and aiming to establish himself as a new writer of fiction.
By Jonathan Corrigan
“Do you think my bum looks big? I definitely think that I’ve put on weight. It’s all that damn white bread I’ve been eating – I’ll never learn”. Fionnuala asked while twisting to better see her rear in the waters reflection.
“I can’t say that I spend much time looking at your bum, what with me being your brother and all. But from what I’ve seen, it looks smaller if anything”. Fiachra responded.
“You aren’t even looking.” Fionnuala raised her head, diverting her attention away from her rear. “What are you looking at?”
“Her over there. I think she fancies me. She keeps giving me the eye and flashing her breasts at me”.
“Are you being serious? That’s disgusting!”. Fionnuala responded, a look of sheer revulsion crossing her face.
“What’s disgusting about it? We all have our natural urges”.
“Towards swans? What would our mother say if she could hear this conversation – I dread to think. Beastiality is just wrong on every level”.
Fiachra raised an eyebrow before replying: “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re swans too.”
Fionnuala let out a sigh of exasperation.
“Yes, but we are still humans. We just look like swans for the time being”
“We’ve looked like swans for over 2000 years. We were humans for all of 5 minutes, I think it’s time to just accept things are the way they are and get on with it”.
“So you can get your leg over?” Fionnuala retorted defiantly.
“You do know how we have sex as swans, don’t you?”
“Look, I don’t want to hear any more about it – it’s just not natural. What if there are loads of little Fiachras running around, how are you going to support them – and they’d be swans for God’s sake? You’re only thinking of the couple of minutes of pleasure, not the aftermath”.
“You’d think with all the advancements in technology someone would have thought of some form of contraception for animals”, Fiachra mused.
“They have – it’s called neutering. Speaking of neutering – where’s your brother?”
“Well you know that swan with the black neck?” Fiachra started, a twinkle in his eye, he knew his sister wasn’t going to like this.
“Yes….” Fionnuala didn’t like where this was going, the black-necked swan had a reputation, from what she could gather from the other swans. It might have been because she wasn’t from around here and the males all seemed fascinated by her, but there’s no smoke without fire.
“Well, she’s built a nest and Conn is helping her to….. how should I put it, to fill it”.
Fionnuala recoiled with shock.
“It’s bad enough that you want to fornicate with one, but are you trying to tell me that our brother is going to settle down with, a swan? Oh the shame – thank God neither of our parents are alive. We come from such a proud lineage and the two of you are going to pollute it, cavorting with animals”, Fionnuala started flapping her right wing to fan her face and calm herself down.
“Sis, it’s the twenty first century, get a grip – we have to face reality. We’re not turning back into humans anytime soon. I’m off to start the mating ritual with this one – wish me luck”.
Fionnuala was aghast. For two thousand years she and her brothers had been forced to live as swans. In the years before that until now she had been their mother figure, and as such had treated them like her children. Their mother had died in childbirth with their father marrying their aunt shortly thereafter – as was the norm in those days. Everything had seemed fine at first, or at least as fine as it could be following the death of their mother. They should have seen it coming, it’s not like the idea of a wicked stepmother was a completely unheard of thing. They’d initially thought that they’d be safe, what with their stepmother being their aunt as well, but unfortunately not. Their stepmother had grown increasingly jealous of them and cast a spell turning them into swans. The spell was supposed to last for 900 years, 300 years in 3 different locations, but another millenium had passed and here they were – still swans.
She had tried everything she could think of to break the spell. Followed up on every myth and bit of hearsay she could gather over the years. Being a swan was quite a good way of avoiding suspicion – nobody suspects a swan is eavesdropping on their conversation. They had been in the courts of Kings from France to the Ottomans, been among saintly figures and soothsayers in India and been the muses for Latin American artists. All in the hope of gaining information to break the spell – nothing had come of any of it.
Here they were, same as they’d nearly always been. Back in Ireland, this time in a public park with all the other regular fowl. Nothing to mark them out as different, just plodding along with the tedium of their everyday life. Ever since people had given up on the magical and mystical, it had become harder and harder to get by. Now if someone heard a swan speaking they thought they’d lost their marbles. So they’d head to the nearest psychiatrist, desperate to decipher what their subconscious was trying to tell them by depicting a talking swan in their waking life. Then there was the woman who thought she had had a spiritual awakening and was a prophet from God, able to spread his word to the animals – until she ran out in front of a bus in her excitement. Nobody seemed to be able to wrap their head around the fact that they were talking swans due to a curse placed on them by their evil stepmother – had they never read Snow White?
“You’re looking very pleased with yourself, I heard all about your antics with that hussy”, Fionnuala said as she saw Conn strutting towards her.
“Have you been listening to the lake gossip? She’s exotic and actually has a really sweet personality, as well as being a right cracker”.
“She’s a bloody swan, how much of a personality can she have?” Fionnuala screeched.
“Keep your voice down, we don’t want people thinking they’re channeling the Holy Spirit and running in front of buses again”.
“The parks not even open yet, stop trying to change the topic,” Fionnuala retorted defiantly, not for the first time.
“I shouldn’t have to change it. You should just be happy for me. And Fiachra. For 2000 years we’ve blindly followed you as you’ve attempted one hairbrained scheme after another to change us back. Can’t we just be happy with what we’ve got and enjoy it? Both myself and Fiachra could build lives here, you could do the same”.
“With a swan?” Fionnuala spoke flusteredly “They’re only interested in getting their leg over and then moving on”. It wasn’t like either of her brothers to speak up, especially when it came to such deep matters, and at the same time.
“Fiachra said you don’t know how swans have sex – I don’t really want to have that conversation with you to be honest. And swans mate for life, not just for Christmas”.
“Really?” Fionnuala was stunned that she didn’t know this.
“Shows how much attention you pay. Do you see those two over there – they’ve been together for the last fifteen years, having raised four kids who have all recently flown the coup, so they’re a bit down in the dumps”.
“Fifteen years isn’t that long a time. It’s pretty long as bird relationships go, I suppose, but still – it’s not that impressive”.
“It is when the average age of a swan is less than twenty”.
Fionnuala looked around at the other swans on the bank of the lake, scanning the flock for some character to belittle Conn’s argument.
“What about that one over there, he’s always really crabby and keeps pecking at the others” Fionnuala spoke confidently, thinking ‘Now I’ve caught him’.
“Do you pay attention to anything that goes on around here? He’s mourning, his partner was attacked by a dog and didn’t make it.”
“Swans mourn? Like humans do?” It was the first Fionnuala had heard of this too. She really had never paid much attention to the others.
“They’re not so different from humans after all. Do you want me to tell you a bit of gossip about her over there”, Fiachra gestured to the overweight swan who Fionnuala had observed as the ringleader of the females, the one who had implied that the black necked swan had a reputation.
“Go on”, Fionnuala was intrigued, it was usually the ones who gossiped the most who had the most to hide.
“Well she used to be the mate of him over there, the one on the right”, Conn gestured across to the other side of the narrow lake where two swans sat together.
“With one of those playboys? They tried to come on to me – both of them at once. Could you imagine, all they do is sit and watch the other swans, probably waiting to attack a poor defenceless female when the time is right”.
“Ehhhh, I think you might have interpreted things the wrong way. They were probably trying to befriend you since everybody else shuns them”.
“Why would they shun them?” Fionnuala asked.
“Once he’d set up his nest with her he realised he didn’t have feelings in that way for her, so he broke it off with her and got together with his true love, who he happens to be sitting beside right now”.
“Gay swans? Are you having a laugh? Next thing you’ll be telling me they want to adopt”.
“Not adopt actually – surrogacy. They want someone to lay an egg for them so that they can raise their children together but she’s turned everyone against them. They’re all afraid of getting on her wrong side, so have shunned them. Since we’re relatively new here they might have thought they could have befriended us, but did you not bite one of them?”
Fionnuala looked over towards the couple on the other shore and felt a pang of regret. When they’d tried to communicate with her before she’s just assumed they were trying it on – stupid birds and all. She’d taken a lump out of one of their necks and given the other a rightly hard kick, so that he had been limping for days afterwards. She’d never thought that they might be trying to be friends.
“But how do you have conversations with them? All they do is quack, grunt and snort”.
“How do deaf humans have conversations – they find a way. There are other ways of communicating than just by speech, if you made an effort you might just learn something”. Conn made to go, happy that his point had been made. “If you want, I can start lining up suitors, go on a date – see what happens. You never know”.
“I don’t know. It sounds a bit strange”, Fionnuala squirmed at the mere mention of it.
“What else are you going to be doing? Washing your hair?
The things that can happen in a few months! Conn and Fiachra had taken great pride in setting their sister up with a variety of suitors, none of which met her high standards of course, but at least she was getting herself out there. The nagging feeling in the back of her head of ‘You’re going on a date with a swan’ never left and the awkward silences were just unbearable. However, the truth was she was quite lonely, not that she’d openly admit it. Now that Fiachra and Conn were in steady relationships, and there were the first whispers about kids, Fionnuala was feeling increasingly out of step with reality. For 2000 years she’d had a single focus which had driven her forward – now she had to come to terms with the fact that she was unlikely to achieve it. Which is probably why she needed things to distract her, like taking command of the flock.
It had happened on impulse. The overweight swan who had been jilted had been making fun of the couple across the water. Fionnuala could see that the others in the group were uncomfortable – laughing along so as not to have her turn on them. The couple, from what she could see, looked to be on the verge of tears and if there was something Fionnuala could not stand – it was bullying. So she may or not have puffed her feathers out to make a mockery of the overweight swan, taking Conn’s advice about other forms of communication. When the overweight swan tried to turn on her, Fionnuala may or not have headbutted her, exerting her dominance and knocking the other down a peg or two in the parks social hierarchy.
Now she was Queen Bee – the leader of the flock – and she quite liked it. There were twenty swans in total, slim pickings for a suitable partner. Then there were the other birds in the park who Fionnuala decided they should protect from the nasty humans who liked to torment them. They weren’t so brave when Fionnuala stepped out of the water and extended her neck and wings to their full height and weight.
“Things have changed a lot around here since you and your brothers arrived”.
The swan who had been in mourning, spoke in a thick German accent. Fionnuala was stunned and thought to herself ‘Have I learned to commune with the other animals by accepting my fate?’ ‘Maybe I’m a prophet from God – to spread his word to the animals?’ She definitely needed a psychiatrist at any rate.
“What…?” For once Fionnuala was near speechless. “How…?”
“How can you speak?” The mourning swan responded calmly, like a pair of swans having an oral conversation was par for the course.
“But we…. we had a curse placed on us by our evil stepmother”, Fionnuala replied, sure now she hadn’t imagined hearing him speak.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had a monopoly on curses and evil stepmothers. My stepmother turned myself and my ten brothers into swans, so technically she was more evil than yours”.
Fionnuala was stunned.
“You’re one of the Wild Swans – from the Brothers Grimm?”
“Technically Hans Christian Andersen was more accurate in his portrayal, but then I did document the story for him”.
“But it’s a fairytale! And in the story they all turned back into humans”
The German swan let out a sigh, “They’re not likely to say that there was not a happy ending in a fairytale now, are they? I’m Holger by the way”.
“I’m Fionnuala”. She felt a strange sensation that she didn’t remember feeling before, or at least not for a long time. Her cheeks felt warmer than normal and beads of sweat started to form on her forehead. Conscious that he might notice it, she started to feel even warmer and increasingly uncomfortable, yet with a strange but not unpleasant feeling in her stomach.
“I’m sorry, I have to go” she stammered as she made a quick exit to rejoin the rest of the flock.
“What’s up with you?” asked Conn when she had rejoined the flock.
“I just found out… The mourning swan … the one who was mourning his partner not the time of day…. So the mourning swan, well he has an evil stepmother, or had an evil stepmother – I think he used the past tense.. anyway, he’s actually one of the wild swans… well, we’re all wild swans….. well kind of, but I mean the fairy tale ‘The Wild Swans’”. The effort of forming a coherent sentence was proving to be a struggle for her.
“Oh yeah, did you not know that about Holger? By the way, don’t mention about him mourning – I was just making that up.”
“Why would you make something like that up?” Fionnuala shrieked in an effort to sound annoyed, but was happy that he had.
“It fitted my narrative better – you felt sorry for him, didn’t you? And it helped change your frame of mind”.
“So he’s not in mourning?” Fionnuala enquired.
“Just out of curiousity, is he single?” Fionnuala asked, trying to appear nonchalant and only half-interested.
“It doesn’t matter surely. He’s only a swan. It’s not like you’d be interested anyway”. Conn started to walk away as he spoke.
“Just bloody tell me!” Fionnuala’s act of nonchalance dropped completely.
“He is. Apparently he’s on the lookout for a mate, or so he told me.” Conn said, a smirk crossing his face.
“Why didn’t you set him up with me?”
“But sure, he’s only a swan. And he’s German! Imagine the shame!”. Conn mockingly fanned his face with his right wing.
“Shut it! Has he said anything to you about me?” The not-unpleasant feeling in Fionnuala’s stomach was getting stronger and was starting to rise up inside her.
“He may have…. All right, I’ll put you out of your misery. I found out who he was when he asked about you. He didn’t know we could speak at the time but said he thought you were the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen”.
“Why didn’t you say something before?” Fionnuala was blushing deeply and getting increasingly excited.
“I thought it would work better if you were feeling less pressure when you met him. I like the way you’re not angry at me for lying to your face, just that I didn’t set you up with him”. Conn said with a smirk. “Looking to get your leg over?”
“Do you not know how swans have sex?” Fionnuala responded with a wink.