Flight of Swans
Transfixed by the swan-like grace of her movement, I saw her spread her arms to the wide sky and leap over Mawhitipana Bay. The sun glanced a moment through her auburn hair – a flash of amber light full of the vibrant warmth of kauri – and then she was gone from sight. All that remained was her echoing scream blending into the keening of seagulls.
When the vision first came it made no sense to me. I was a solitary woman, living on a private patch in paradise. Then the new place next door was finished and they moved in.
Now, as I sit in twilight and watch the faeries flicker amongst the manuka and pohutakawa, I wait to be illumined – to understand what I have seen and why it came. I listen to the swirl of wind-blown branches and the rhythmic ‘hush’ of waves on the shore, waiting for the sound of Alana’s footsteps coming down the damp stone steps to my door.
The shlap-shlap of her bare feet makes my body’s tension run and flow, settling me snug within my armchair. Why care so much? Has the world ever cared for you?
“Brynn?” she calls.
She slips in like a dryad – a slender undulation of form. Her chair is waiting, its Wagner tapestry faded and worn by its previous occupant, an old piebald cat I called Sheeba. Alana carries the black case as usual, its golden lettering worn like the chair.
“Will you play for me?”
She opens the case to reveal the gleaming sections of the flute. With two swift movements she slides the three sections together, and then stands. Her eyes shut, she is poised, the line of her neck and the line of the flute forming a triangle. The sound of her starting note changes the energy of my room. Soulful, aching, it lifts, then dives, then lifts again. I sigh and relax into the magic of her playing. So odd to think that I have begun to care – that I have let this girl touch a heart long worn out by enmity.
There’s a shift in the energy. The faeries grow restless, scatter…
“Alana! So this is where you go.”
The mother stands in the doorway. An older version of the teenager before me, thicker in body, faded in hair, but an echo, a memory. Nonetheless, her tailored suit and painted face speak of a lifestyle alien to me. Alana’s eyes have turned large and her limbs tremble. I stand. “Alana visits me to play her music. My name is Brynn.”
“Yes, well. I want her to come home now, it’s late.”
There is the scent of red wine on her breath and a vagueness to her eyes. Even so, she is appraising as she looks about my collection of bits and pieces – much of it gathered from the dump. Her eyebrows arch as her eyes linger on my tie-dyed dress and long grey-streaked hair. She sniffs, and my muscles clench, braced for the blow – ‘Odd, mad – no fit friend for my daughter’.
“Are you the reason my daughter is talking of faeries?”
“You’d have to ask her.”
Alana looks at me, her hazel eyes wide, as if her brain no longer functions in her mother’s presence. She shakes herself. “Brynn’s my friend,” she replies.
“A strange friend …” The mother turns to me, her greenstone eyes trying to focus and bore down into my flesh. “Are you on medication?”
A blow to my belly, but it’s not the first time I’ve been asked. “No.”
“So you’re just an eccentric artist?”
“Except I don’t paint.”
Alana’s mother laughs with a snort through her nose. She draws herself up to her full height, shifting back her shoulders and raising her head, nose high. “Come home, Alana.”
“Is everything OK?” Alana asks.
A black cloud crosses her mother’s face, and her shoulders hunch, drawing a protective wall around her. “Yes. Your Dad’s gone out, it’s time for bed.”
Alana relaxes, pulls the flute apart, and puts it back in the case. She flashes a smile at me, and then follows her mother through the door. As they climb the steps, the mother says, “I don’t want you coming here again.”
Not wanting to hear any more, I shut the French doors, and glance across to the dull mirror on the wall. My unpainted face is lined and weather-beaten, and my hair is wild about my head. I frown. I fear this girl will make the world flood in.
As I sit down, the faeries settle back in the trees with the slow grace of swans. Strange … they care only for the state of your heart and soul, and they ran from Alana’s mother. I do worry for that girl.
Alana’s auburn hair is glowing with the warmth of the autumn sun. I sit back from my herbs, and place the offcuts in my basket. “I wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“I thought your mother didn’t approve.”
Her laugh is nervous, and I know there have been words. My heart drops, and defensive bristles rise around it. I brush these feelings away along with the abrasive dirt on my fingers, and ease back onto the grass.
Alana sits beside me. “Mum’s not used to Waiheke yet.”
Of course not, what has the society wife of a financial controller to do with my other-world paradise? I sigh. “Why did they move here?”
“I’m not sure. To get away from everything, I think.”
“A shame they brought themselves.” Her sharp in-breath makes me realise it’s silly to assume her feelings are as simple as my own. “But then, they brought me you.”
Her smile is warm, and the moment has passed. She eases back onto her elbows and looks across the herbs to the native bush and sea below. “I like it here. I’m glad we came.”
I nod as I lean forward to continue pruning.
“Brynn – why don’t you have any friends?”
I pause, and swallow against the rising darkness, old memories of the taunting crowds, old wounds best laid buried. “I just don’t.”
“But there are lots of people like you living here. I see them at the market.”
“What do you mean ‘people like me’?” Alana blushes and turns her head away. I try to hold back the swell of the dark void. She cannot understand what it’s like to be set aside – labelled mad for your powers and attacked because of fear. “Anyway, I have other friends. The faeries keep me company.”
“Can you really see them?”
I laugh and the faeries laugh with me, an orchestra of wind chimes. “Yes, of course.”
“Can you see them now?”
“But how? I so wish I could!”
“They exist on a different frequency to us. You have to look with the right kind of eye.”
“You have to squint?”
I laugh again. “Something like that.”
“Can you teach me?”
Her hazel eyes are wide with wonder this time, not fear. She is other-worldly herself – perhaps that’s why I like her. Or is it the vision, replaying at the back of my mind that holds me to her? I stand, easing the twinge in my back with my hand. Beneath the steep valley, the sea sparkles with faery lights.
As I turn back to Alana I realise that I see myself in her. Always more fey than human, I was once the ‘ugly duckling’ sitting on that same patch of grass, staring up at my teacher, Gillian, tall and woods-wild. Here, I listened as her lilting voice explained the lore of the bush and revealed the ways of Spirit. Here, I felt my heart ache for the day when the world of magic would open wide to me, and shut out the pain and misery of the ordinary world … So time has come full circle. “Why do you want to know?”
Alana fiddles with a loose thread on her jeans. “There must be more to life. There’s so much beauty in the music and all of this ...” She spreads her arms wide, taking in bush and valley, sea and sky, and sighs.
Her longing is my own. And yet, to teach her as Gillian taught me? A bond I cannot break on a whim – an obligation? I’m not ready for this. “Maybe, one day.”
Her disappointment is like a knife going through me. She hangs her head. “It’s Mum, isn’t it? Did I tell you about the first time my father hit her?”
“They were arguing. He flipped and smacked her in the face. She fell to her knee, and dropped her wineglass. It splashed across the rug, and I didn’t know whether there was wine and blood or only wine. I screamed.”
Tears spill down her face as if they seek to cleanse the memories from her mind. I wish they could.
“He ran off. Mum glared at me and told me it was fine before I was born. That he’d changed – lost his mind somehow. That it was my fault he’d hit her. You see, she says hurtful things when she’s drunk. Please, don’t let her stop you teaching me.”
Our stories so different, and yet the strands weave together. We are swans fleeing a world of ducks, flying along the silver pathway of the moon. The deva whispers from the puriri, “Let her in. She belongs.”
Who ever belongs? The darkness swells again and the pain and bitterness of my own unspoken story slam the door, like a child trying to trap the bogy monster in the wardrobe. “I can’t promise. Not yet. You’d best go back, before they miss you.”
Alana turns away. Her shoulders shake, and her head hangs low. I reach out with a clumsy arm and try to pat her shoulder. “It’ll be alright, Alana.”
She nods, but does not look at me. She walks away.
The light of the full moon forms a beam of silver – a path across the dark waves. The only sounds are the trill of crickets and whine of mosquitoes against the constant swell of wind and shore. There is a heaviness in my belly – a foreboding. I remember my vision, and wonder if I should have given in to Alana. But I’ve kept the world out too long to let it back in now.
There is a wave of panic as the faeries scatter, and the thud of shoes on wet stones. Too late, here it comes.
He stands in the doorway. Tall, broad-shouldered, his stiff white shirt and pressed black trousers in contrast to the redness of his face. “So you’re the madwoman who’s filled Alana’s head with nonsense.”
“I’ve been a friend to your daughter, yes.”
“My wife told you to stay away from her.”
“She did not.”
He steps closer and glares down at me from beneath knotted black brows. “Don’t lie.”
I stand and draw all my power to me – pulling strength from the earth beneath my feet and the fire within my belly. “She told Alana to stay away from me.”
He snorts, and shakes his head. “I know Alana was here today, and it won’t be happening again. Do you understand me?”
“I don’t control your daughter. She comes because she wants to.”
He walks up to me and looks down his nose with slate-grey eyes. There is a flickering within them, as if more than one person is looking out. “Keep away from her,” he says, his voice dropping an octave and his broad, hairy fists clenching and unclenching.
The dark void overwhelms me. I am once again that frightened girl in the playground, surrounded by a gang of teenagers chanting “witch, witch, fly off on your broomstick”. The ringleader, a sneer on his piggish face, stepped forward and hurled the first stone. A sharp sting as it slashed my cheek – thick warm blood seeping down neck and dress. Bent double in the burst of stones that followed, I fell to the ground. My body arched as the first boot knocked my stomach sideways…
Even outside the playground, the world is full of bullies. A fury boils in my heart that Alana has brought this to me. “I’ll tell her to stay away,” I say, sitting down again.
He laughs with a snort, and his eyes glint with a dark triumph. “Good. I thought you’d understand me.” He turns his back and walks to the door. Before he crosses the threshold, he looks around my room and sniffs. “You know, they have places for people like you – homes. Perhaps you should talk to the social welfare.”
As he turns away and melts into silver and shadow, a fire rises to fill the void within me – a fierce, crackling heat. Through the red haze, Alana slips from behind the puriri.
“I didn’t realise... I would have warned you…” she says.
“Go away!” The cry that erupts from me is not my voice – is not me. It is the rage of a lifetime.
Alana cries out. Then flits like a fantail from my door and flees into the bush.
The early glow of morning finds me still sitting in my armchair. The faeries have returned to settle amongst the trees. Chattering their fury at the night’s violent energies, they start to clear them with rainbow spells.
My heart eases as they work, and the hollow darkness dissipates. My head clears and I remember the vision. My heart jumps to my throat, and I leap up. Alana! What have I done?
I lift my hands to my head, and call the vision to me. I recognise the light of morning over Lookout Point. I grab my staff of twisted manuka and pull my robe about me as I stride out, calling to every force and power to attend with me.
My staff beats the bass rhythm to my heart’s staccato as I’m almost flying along Cory Road to the cliff-top reserve. As I reach the entrance, there’s a flash of amber disappearing beneath manuka scrub. I launch myself down, careless of the steep zigzagging path, and crash my way through low branches and tall grass, to erupt out onto the narrow point. “Alana!”
Alana turns, and my eyes catch up with the scene. They are both there: the mother is half way over the edge. Alana is crying, but her mother’s face, when she turns to me, is under a gloom too far gone for tears. There’s a midnight shade to the skin on her face and the arms beneath her embroidered top.
“Brynn. Help her!” Alana is hanging on to gorse and grass, trying to get down to her mother, to pull her back. The grass gives way and she screams as she slips several inches.
I step forward to close the gap between myself and Alana, and hold my arm outstretched towards her mother. “Lady, no man is worth this.”
“What would you know?” Her voice is a growl.
“I know you could leave him.”
Her whole body clenches in denial. “There’s nowhere to go he couldn’t find me, and no way to live.” She looks back at Alana. “Get back!”
“No! Mum. No!” Alana sobs, trying to reach her mother. I leap, grab Alana’s coat, and drag her back.
Her mother smiles and I sense her tension release. She spreads her arms to the wide sky. As she leaps, the sun glances through her auburn hair. Then she is gone from sight – all that remains is her echoing scream blending into the keening of seagulls.
Alana collapses into my arms – wild with grief and horror and the pain of a lifetime. I hold her to me, and rock her back and forth – a mother in a moment, crooning to her child.
It is strange, this complex weave. As Alana tends our herbs, she giggles at the faeries who flit and dance about her. It is a year and a day from the vision’s release and her father’s breakdown and commitment to a psych ward. So much has changed already.
Waiheke is an amazing place, and as Alana once told me, there are lots of people like me living here. They gather down the Ostend Market around the organic stalls. They chat over coffee about the energy of the place, and their concern that the new wave of Auckland immigrants will change it. “Not a chance,” I laugh, and tell them straight, “It’s Waiheke will change them.”