Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Before and After (05/14/09)
- TITLE: Anna's Swans
By Charldene Ashley
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It had never bothered her before that every spring the cove fattened and swallowed the marshlands; displacing animals, and lifting the dock. She’d even liked the change, the look of a bigger cove. But not anymore. For this spring flood threatened something precious—a family.
Since her father left, the cove had become the calm center of a life that seemed to be spiraling downward. Anna felt comforted sitting on the weathered dock, watching the swans chase clouds across the mirrored surface of the water. “Swans mate for life,” her father once told her. Anna thought God had got it right with swans, which were at least bound by nature, if not by love.
Anna spent hours on the dock, watching the mother swan build her nest, tirelessly pulling up rice grass, one blade at a time, while the father circled around, his wings arched back, puffed with pride, trying to look ferocious, protecting his family. In the nest were four large eggs—children who might be swept away by the rising water.
Grabbing a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans off the floor, she quickly dressed. She peered in the kitchen. She didn’t see her mother and didn’t expect to. Her mom seldom rose before noon on Saturdays. After shrugging into her anorak and tugging on her boots, Anna went outside, closing the door quietly behind her. Was she afraid of waking Momma? Would her mom even care? Momma didn’t seem to care much about anything anymore.
It was so still outside, as if the world were holding its breath, not daring to breathe lest the rain start again. Her boots made a sucking noise as she walked briskly across the back yard. The woods that rimmed the property looked bleak and melancholy, branches hung low, as if beaten down.
The trail to the cove started by the garden shed and snaked through maples and hickories. Under blue skies, she loved to be among the sun glazed trees as they waved their leafy fingers, welcoming her, ushering her down the path to the cove. But his morning the damp heaviness of the woods felt oppressive, like a heavy arm across her shoulders.
She recalled the hundreds, no, thousands of times she took this path to escape the painful, angry words her parents hurled at each other. It was at the small cove with its quiet beauty that she could forget, at least for a short while, the loud tearing ugliness that filled her home. But even the serenity of Falls River Cove couldn’t help her forget the most terrifying sound of all…the sound of the door slamming behind her father, as he left the house for the last time. And behind him, her mother’s spirit, like a shadow at his heels, slipped through the door and was gone.
That was a year ago. The angry noises had stopped, replaced by the brooding silence of loneliness. Once more the path became an escape route, but this time from her mother’s suffocating unhappiness. At the cove, Anna could watch the shore birds, wheeling and circling over the water, free to go anywhere, but choosing to stay at her cove, to stay with her. Like her swans.
Anna panicked when she saw the dock underwater. She looked across the channel for the nest. It was gone. Another family obliterated. She sank to the ground, tears falling down her cheeks like rain.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. Anna looked up and saw Momma, her face animated by concern and love. A face Anna had almost forgotten.
“They’re fine, Anna. Look.” She pointed to the mouth of the cove, where two swans glided ghostlike across the water; four tiny signets following in their wake. She pulled Anne to her feet. “We’re going to be fine, too.”
Wrapped in the circle of mother’s arms, Anna believed her.
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