She counted them on her fingers; one, two, three; like swans flying overhead with grey undersides and cloud bellies. One, two, three. A swish through the air, a brief, repeating, soft-whistling note the only thing that drew attention to the animal’s passing.
From where she stood at the edge of the wood she had no idea whether their journey was long or short, whether a brood of cygnets had been successfully reared or were being abandoned because they were just too much damn hard work.
It was impossible to know why and where they were going – like the suicides she counted on her fingers.
There had been a time when there none. When she had not known what the word even referred to; when a description of its meaning would have caused her utter bafflement, perhaps caused laughter because of the ridiculousness of such and idea.
There had been a time. She had been very young and wearing a red dress with white spots, gathered at the waist to feel like an embrace.
She must have been persuaded by some observation, some comment or some query of her brother’s about a certain type of aircraft attack that confirmed the meaning of the act.
She knew it was real. Not reserved for war or for plays and poets.
She tasted it was real, tasted the shame, the taboo that melted words of sympathy on her tongue when one day a friend revealed how her father had died. That had been number one. Why was she so naïve as to believe it would be the only one? For some reason it was inconceivable to her that there were other injured minds: limping, starving, abused, self-harming minds.
The spotted dress no longer fitted. Blazer, collar and tie made a mockery of modesty stretched over her young woman’s body. Her mind changed, the void opened and she heard a brief, repeating, soft-whistling note calling her; a gentle promise of anaesthesia and amnesia.
Yet, her feathers were never quite ready – she doubted if they would ever hold her. And instead of being gone, she continued being. The swans were overhead, day after day: she counted on her fingers.
It was impossible to know where or why they were going.

Gabrielle Barnby
Written 10th September 2017


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Gabrielle Barnby