I was too young to remember the day my Granddad past away but the night my Gran died, the swans came.
I don’t mean that she had anything to do with them, it was just that I noticed them that night.
I had received a phone call from my mum to tell me that the old dear had been defeated by her seventh stroke. She’d never need to fight with her slippers ever again.
I’d been staying at my girlfriend’s and we’d been partying all weekend so neither of us was in a fit state to drive. We called a cab. It was white. The radio was playing ‘Take My Breath Away’ by Berlin. The taxi driver didn’t say another word after my answer to his initial question of, ‘Are you two going somewhere fun?’
We went over to Gran’s house, did all we could, said very little and ended up sitting around the living-room drinking whisky with all the family and staring into the coal fire.
Later on that night we left the house to mum and dad, the rest of us went home.
We decided to go for a walk. It was nothing to do with the gut-full of whisky that we’d consumed, everyone had been drinking all day but no-one had the luck to feel the effects. I think we had to get the granless house and death out of us, so we headed down the river, I think it was around eleven. I remember checking after we saw what we saw and was a bit relieved it wasn’t midnight.
We walked through the graveyard, which ran parallel to the river and it freaked us both out. We had walked that way many times before and it had never bothered us. I put it down to death having been so close to us. The only thing that we said to each other was,
‘Did you feel that?’
We both nodded and hurried further away. The trees stopped rustling and the silence was noticeable for a second. Then we heard it, there was a very sweet flute sound. We looked across the river and there was a figure on the bank at the other side. We could see the shape of them clearly as that side of the river had houses and street lights. It was too far away to distinguish features though. From the size and how they stood, we thought it was a man. The sound was coming from him but we couldn’t make out if he was whistling or playing an instrument.
That was when the swans came. We hadn’t seen any as we walked along, but now there were about thirty of them. They faced the man and were formed into two semi-circles, one inside the other.
We looked at each other and I commented that maybe this was him feeding them and the ‘whistling’ was how he called them.
I felt quite unnerved, even more so than I did in the graveyard, but I didn’t say that to my girlfriend. We were still at the stage where I wanted to give an illusion of bravado.
It was her who pointed out what I had seen myself, there was no flurry of the swans feeding, they just sat on the water perfectly still facing the man and I assume, listening to the music.
We were transfixed on the swans when the music stopped. We looked up and the man was nowhere to be seen. He would have had to have moved over fifty yards in any direction to be out of our view, he did this in the time it took us to lift our heads.
And it got stranger. The first swan on the left-hand side of the outer semi-circle began to swim away down river and it was followed by the rest. Then the first swan on the right hand side of the inner semi-circle began to swim up river and the rest followed.
We watched them until they were out of sight.
We tried to make sense of what we had seen and spoke about it as we walked home. I don’t think we wanted the night as our companion.
Any animal wouldn’t be anywhere near anything evil was our eventual reasoning.
Their formation, music and the disappearing man, we ignored.
For the next few nights, after a week and then after a month, we went to that spot at 11.00pm to watch for the swans and the man. We saw nothing.
On the anniversary of that night, I realised that it was the swans that I’d remembered first. It was also a year since my Gran’s death.
We retraced our steps yet again at around eleven.
I realised that I missed my Gran but I desperately wanted to hear the music and see the swans.
(The events regarding the swans is based on fact.
We discuss this every now and then and even after thirty odd years we still have no idea what we saw or heard that night.)
Image – Pixabay