Saturday, September 14, 2013
Even after the swans found him, the ugly duckling was never truly happy. Even as he matured into a lithe, majestic swan, he knew in his heart he was still a pale, lanky, awkward duck. His adoptive parents--his duck parents, the ones he thought of automatically when the phrase "my parents" came to be used--were diligent and zealous in their instruction. They named him "Echo" because he was the only one who did.
His childhood was a river of petty jibes, taunts, and insults, broken up only by those times they played at leaving him, a favorite game in those days he was slow to learn how to fly. The last time, that fateful final time he was abandoned, he imagined it to be just another of his father's games.
The Ugly Duckling grew up, got a respectable job, married a swan woman, and, though the prospect filled him with dread, raised children of his own.
Now and then he would wind up in bars in the seedier parts of town trying to pick up duck girls and generally making a fool of himself. On one of these excursions, he found out the old mallard had died. He stared at the obituary, the text rendered blurry and obscure by the same combination of scotch and soda the old mallard preferred. Apparently, the old duck flew too high on scotch-and-sodas and was sucked into a jet engine like some boozy Icarus. The paper had little to say about the duck's life beyond a wry where-are-they-now tone regarding the years-old custody dispute Echo barely remembered.
There would be a funeral. Family Echo hadn't seen in years gathered round to sing the praises of the old mallard. What a righteous, upstanding duck. He thought about going, about showing them all. I'm a swan, you motherfuckers! I was a swan the WHOLE. TIME. But of course they knew. There had been a fight, all those years ago, more out of stubborn pride, he suspected, than any actual love for him. Sometimes across a crowded stream he thought he saw one of his brothers. They never acknowledged him.
Why should it matter so much? He was miserable there every day of his young life. Why couldn't he just move on? Growing up back among the swans he was craven for affection then distrustful when it was given, whipsawing through relationships trying to find that magical answer to the hole in things. A key to solve the riddle of his life.
Alone, the death notice discarded, he took to the sky.