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During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 3 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.
Round 3 Finalist: “Swan Boats in Brief Repose” by Victoria Miluch
We don’t talk about how we, each of us, came to be swan boats when we gather at the shore at dusk. We bring our heads together and our necks fan out like the spokes of a wheel. We talk about the shore we’re on, if today, this week, it borders some moss-plush forests or a desert, if we spy mountains with ice caps or mountains with lizards with skin like sandpaper when we squint. We chat about what soft plants we find beneath the water here, if we can eat them. About the sticky algae film, how it clings to our plastic skin, or the water’s ice-clean clarity. Murmur about sun and shade, the day’s long float. The small talk of swan boats. Yesterday is okay, but a past beyond that doesn’t interest us so much after each of our transformations.
It’s like when I was still a thing with soft organs and thin skin, a small one, and my home was wherever the paperwork said it was. The family with the backyard with a black lab and chickens, the house with crucifixes and quiet in every room, the one adult with six other small thin-skinned things: each home was the first home. My last home before it became the water was my very first home, where my first father still lived. He couldn’t see anymore, and he didn’t talk to me, not when I washed his bedding or counted out his pills, not when I heated up what the nurse told me was his favorite microwave dinner. Not when I backed out on what I’d taken on, when I didn’t apologize when I said I was leaving. What you need to do when you do a thing like that is float away from it. It isn’t forgetting, that putting away, but it’s the next best thing.
I know I’m not alone in this. We, none of us, don’t talk about it, but every now and then a clue slips out. Maybe one of us has a nightmare, repeats something or another, hints at life before the life of a swan boat drifter. Who we left behind, for a good or not good reason. Or one of us invites strangers for a ride sometimes, then drowns them. We don’t know what this tells us, but it has a root and we see it, how it stretches past the estuaries we’ve travelled, circles lakes and grows through oceans, loops at the mouths of rivers. We shake our swan boat heads: time, again, to leave. We think ahead, we drift toward the far blue of the horizon line.
And at dusk or the thin edge of dawn, when we’re drowsy and still bobbing like a wheel, I can feel us, each of us, drifting back, farther and deeper. Then catching ourselves just as quickly. You get used to that—you build the muscles for it. You learn that floating right takes just as much skill as swimming.
Victoria Miluch is an MFA candidate at Indiana University, and has served as the fiction editor of the Indiana Review. She has fiction and translations forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Passages North, and Denver Quarterly. She also writes about science for the radio.