When they tell you swans mate for life, what they forget to tell you is that this isn’t always a good thing.
Greta and Pistachio were walking on the grass next to the lake, both of them deliberately, angrily silent. The only sounds were the soft rushing of the fountain and the padding of their webbed feet. It was too early in the morning for most of the humans. The only ones who showed up this early were always in a hurry to get absolutely nowhere and only yelled and skirted around them if the swans tried to ask for food.
“…fucking ridiculous,” Greta said under her breath.
Pistachio rounded on her. “What was that?”
“Nothing. I’m giving you the silent treatment.”
“No, I’m giving you the silent treatment.”
Now Greta stopped, whipping her long neck around to face her husband. Why did she pick such an ugly swan, anyway? His neck must have been an entire inch shorter than hers.
“We can’t both…what the hell do you think I did to deserve the silent treatment?”
Pistachio tutted and lifted his head to the sky, turning away from her as he began to walk again.
“Oh. I think you know.”
Greta followed after him, making a low and growling honk. “No, I fucking don’t. That’s why I’m asking you.”
But Pistachio only lifted his head even further to the sky as he walked.
Greta balked. “You always just shut down instead of talking to me. Like I’m supposed to be a mind reader. And then here you are, Prince Turd of Shit Mountain, walking around like you’re soooo superior because I don’t know what supposed slight I’ve made against you has got your neck in a knot.”
Pistachio shoved his head even higher into the air, his neck straight up now. He was feeling quite pleased with himself, getting under Greta’s feathers like this with so little effort. He would have to remember this technique the next time-
His foot caught the edge of the sidewalk and he stumbled forward. His other leg would have kept him upright, but that one caught the same edge of sidewalk. The world flung itself up and with a whump he was flat on the sidewalk, his neck still so stretched out his beak was just over the side back into the grass.
Wild honking filled the air behind him. Ugly, celebratory honking. Pistachio was sure she was exaggerating. He picked himself up – no help, of course – and turned to find Greta not only laughing away, but running around in circles with her wings out.
“It’s not funny,” Pistachio said.
More honking laughter.
“This is precisely why I was giving you the silent treatment!” Pistachio yelled to be heard over her honking and running. “That human child ran at me and scared me and you just laughed about it.”
Instantly Greta stopped laughing, stopping right in front of him.
“I laugh at funny things.”
“And I’m just a joke to you!”
Pistachio turned and stalked off, this time keeping his head down low.
Greta followed after, not willing to let him get the last word in.
“Oh, yeah? And did you even wonder why I was giving you the silent treatment?”
Pistachio walked faster. “Because you’re a straight bitch?”
“Because I saw you talking with Hazelnut yesterday!”
This time it was her turn to hold her head up in triumph. He skidded to a stop and swung around to look at her.
“Hazelnut? She’s a goose!”
“That wasn’t stopping you eye-fucking her yesterday! And last week! You chat her up every time she shows up to this pond!”
“She’s. A. Goose.”
“I. Know. That’s what makes it so disgusting.”
“Greta, Christ, I…wait.”
They had both heard it. The sound of a familiar car door slamming shut. Forgetting each other for a moment, they both looked toward the little parking lot across the grass. That old human who always wore the knit hat no matter the season was shuffling over to her favorite bench. In one hand was a paper bag. They knew exactly what was in that paper bag.
“Who’s ready for some potato treats!” the old human asked, settling onto the bench.
Greta and Pistachio were already running. All the swans at the lake knew the sounds of this human. They’d all be running over. Greta and Pistachio would have to work fast. The old human began tossing the little bits of potato onto the ground in front of her and they started pecking at them, getting as many as they could.
“We’re still in a fight,” Greta said around a mouthful.
“Good.” Pistachio swallowed. “Because I still hate you.”
“Ooh, hate, such a strong word, tell me how you really feel.”
Eliza sat on the bench and watched the two swans in front of her with loving care. These two were her favorites, mated now for almost a decade. Eliza would actually drive all around the lake looking for these two, so they could get first dibs on the treats before the rest of the swans and geese realized she was there. She tossed more potato pieces and sighed. Even as they ate they still honked at each other, as though to remind the other that they were still there. Eliza was always filled with such love when she came to visit the swans.