STORYGLOSSIA    Issue 20    June 2007


The Swans of Tuonela


by David Michael Wolach





They were walking in Tuonela Park when the swans caught her eye. Down a ways from the softball fields and the picnic area they waddled about like invalids, shitting in the grass, yakking. Some waded in the river that ran alongside the track. Others pecked at a smatter of breadcrumbs that had been left for the ducks.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't listening," she said.

Richard picked up a stick and threw it into the river.

"I was saying that mother was feeling better yesterday."


He looked at her impatiently.

"I told you I called her."


"When did I call her?" he said.

She flicked her cigarette into the grass.

"When did you tell me that."

"I told you right before you fell asleep," he said. "I thought you were going to quit."

"I have," she said. "In either case, I don't remember that."

She looked beyond his ear and saw the swans, smaller now, farther away. She sneered.

"What?" he said.

The sun was unpleasant. By noon it had gone up to eighty-six degrees on the porch thermometer.

"Anyway" he said. "I think we should go see her tomorrow morning. Maybe after dinner—or before."

He slid his glasses up his nose and looked into the sky, obviously thinking about which sequence of events would be more expedient.

She began to jog.

"What are you doing?" he said. He jogged to catch up with her.

He began to wheeze almost immediately. "Slow down, Amanda, Jesus. I'm gonna die here."

She stopped and looked at him.

"I am dissatisfied with you," she said, and then she broke into a run.




They sat across from Richard's mother on matching mission-style rockers. The room was filled with glass nick-knacks. Mostly animals. A collection of five little birds of varying colors, an Oraforce turtle, some cats. A small dish of hard candies sat on the table that separated the couple. Richard unwrapped a caramel and lodged it in his cheek.

"How are you, mother?" he said.

"Can't complain," she said, easing back on the couch.

The woman was large. Her body made a deep impression in the fabric. "I'm glad you're feeling better," he said. We're both glad."

The woman waved him off and then let her hand free-fall onto her lap. "And how about you?" she said. Richard knew that in her mind she was really asking the question: How's that meshugunah you married? Richard looked at his wife intently, as if he were trying to cause a reply.

"Myself?" she said. "I'm fine. But I see you've gained more weight. If you're truly serious about living into your seventies I suggest you diet."

"Honey, please" Richard said.

His mother waved him off again.

"Don't worry about it," she said. "She's right. I have to do something. Doctor's been saying the same thing for five years now."

Amanda got up and walked to one of the two glass display cases that sat flush against the wall. She opened it. She picked up a glass figurine, this one a ballerina, and held it to the window.

"That's one of my very favorites," said the mother.

She coughed heavily and then groaned. "I don't suppose you'd like it though."

Amanda put it away and surveyed the room.

"It's right of you not to suppose," she said.




It was a rainy, misty morning. Amanda took the hunting rifle and put it into the car. She let the engine idle while she fixed her face in the rearview mirror. A light touch of foundation, a lighter touch of balm on the lips—a color almost transparent.

"All right then," she said and backed out of the drive.

She drove to the park. In the lot she wrapped the rifle in a blanket. While her husband still lay asleep in bed she walked the narrow path up the river until she got to a patch of tall grass. There, amongst the cattails she squatted and waited. She waited for fifteen minutes or so, until the first swan appeared.

The animal caught the middle of the scope. It swam up river at a steady pace, its slender neck curved like a bass clef, so beautiful. Perhaps it was searching for a morsel. Or perhaps it was swimming so as not to drown in the Tuonela, unaware that it could bank like a boat at some quiet spot amongst the reeds.

She looked up and saw the shale cliff jetting out of the bank down where boats often cut past, where they knifed through the water slowly, like old men doing the backstroke. She looked behind her and to either side. The park was completely empty. And so Amanda focused on the swan again, readied herself, and fired.

The shot didn't echo. It seemed to die in the mist. The recoil of the weapon was so forceful it threw her backwards into the weeds. She only caught the aftermath. White feathers, like a handful of so much confetti, fluttered down into the water.


Copyright©2007 David Michael Wolach