“Oh, bother.” A sharp, cold wind knocked into Leda as she stepped outside the library. Her mood, which had been quite reasonable, shriveled to two cranky lines between her brows. The promising spring day had disintegrated into a leftover piece of February. Wind gusted up and down Sixth Avenue, blowing garbage down the street like tumbleweed.
“Ouch,” Jane yelped. She’d come out right behind Leda, and the door hit her. “Why’d you stop like that?”
“Look at this,” Leda gestured dramatically, waving her hand. “What a mess. I’ll have to go home and change.”
Jane stared dutifully in the direction of Leda’s flapping hand.
“I don’t see anything but a fake Jamaican selling incense.”
“The day, the weather, it is awful. I have to go home.”
“Go home? Because of a cloud over? That’s ridiculous.”
“I have to change. I’m inappropriately dressed and underdressed to boot.”
“We’ll jump on the subway.” Jane scrabbled out of the way of an imposing older man with an aquiline nose. As he exited, he brushed against Leda aggressively. He was so close she could smell his cologne.
“Excuse me,” Leda said pointedly. His answer was simply to turn and stare at her again, a slight leering smile tugging at the corner of his mouth before he turned and walked towards Union Square.
“You’re an ass!” Jane called after him. As if on cue, the sky darkened noticeably.
“It is so going to rain,” Leda said.
“Oh, come on,” Jane pleaded. “We have a whole day planned. What about the gallery, the music in the park?”
“I’ll meet you down there. I can’t go dressed like this.”
Jane’s face fell. “If you have to,” she said reluctantly. “Just don’t let it take you an hour to pick a new outfit. You’ll miss the band playing.”
“I won’t,” Leda assured her.
Jane rolled her eyes. “Sure you don’t want to come along now? I have a hoodie in my backpack.”
Leda gave her a withering look. “A hoodie? It will ruin the outfit entirely.”
“I tried,” Jane shrugged, tossing her skateboard down, “See ya there.”
Maybe it was a bit silly not borrowing Jane’s hoodie, if only for the walk, but Leda was fashionable. She’d put so much thought into exactly how the outfit looked that she couldn’t face the disruption of the hoodie. She crossed the Avenue, heading toward Union Square. The wind was really sharp now, whipping Leda’s hair around her face. A few fat raindrops fell. She hoped it would hold just a few more minutes.
Halfway across Union Square the rain began to break. Leda stopped to pull a scarf from the bottom of her bag to cover her library books.
From the gray sky of Manhattan, a white cloud plummeted. As it approached, the shape of a swan could be discerned. He flew with neck outstretched; his beak pointed like an accusing finger. Leda stared with astonishment and then the swan smashed into her with brutal force.
Leda screamed as she fell, landing on her back. She frantically pushed down at her skirt, attempting to defend herself, but the swan responded with a savage ferocity. Its heavy beak pounded her thin legs, leaving numb welts. Feathers sliced against her soft skin. He dealt a blow to her shin that landed with the force of a baseball bat.
It hurt so badly that Leda stopped struggling. The swan watched with no small satisfaction as Leda gasped and tears welled in her eyes. A sob escaped her. The swan – triumphantly, and with a slow show of absolute power and confidence – lowered his head and put it under her skirt.
The world seemed all in wild motion around her. Her skirt rippled with the movements of the swan; the trees were torn through by the ripping wind. In the distance, pedestrians hurried along the wet sidewalks, their heads down. Life moved on. It would not stop for this; it would not stop for her. None of this, she realized, was going to stop.
With her free hand, Leda scrabbled in her bag. Her fingers brushed against the heavy library copy of Agnes Gray that she’d checked out for her book group. With precision born of fury, Leda clutched the book and bludgeoned the swan.
His head dropped to the pavement, unconscious. Leda wasted no time. She shoved the body into her book bag. He almost did not quite fit, but Leda’s bag was purchased with the intent of some very serious library trips and had a drawstring top in addition to two buckle closures. Her hands were shaking as she coiled his neck, shoved it inside, and pulled the drawstring tight.
Momentarily safe, Leda curled up on the sidewalk beside her bag. Every piece of her ached; her legs were scratched, bruised, and bleeding. A huge knot was forming under one eye and her mouth tasted of blood. She sat there for a very long time, crying a little and shaking. Her cell phone rang; she watched it buzzing on the pavement.
Slowly she got up and began to collect the broken, scattered contents of her library bag and her soggy books. Her dress was ruined, split almost up to the crotch, hanging in ragged strips. When she passed her hand under her runny nose, she discovered it was actually bleeding. She tore off a piece of her skirt and pressed it to her nose.
At her apartment she paid the cabbie, who peered curiously at her battered face but didn’t offer help. She unlocked the door, and was resting just inside, when she saw her bag stir gently, and then begin to thrash furiously, a cacophony of honks issuing forth. Rage flushed through Leda like a hot drink. With the full force of her one-hundred-and-twenty-pound body, she slugged the bag against the heavy New York door. The bag wiggled once more and lay still.
“I hope I killed you,” Leda said viciously.
She staggered into the tiny kitchen and emptied out one of the heavy, plywood kitchen drawers. With aching, tired fingers, she undid her bag and dumped the swan into the drawer. Unconscious and limp, he seemed smaller than when he’d attacked, but she still had to push down on him to get it closed. Slowly she took out her library books, stacking them neatly on the table as was her habit. They were ruined, even the copy of Agnes Grey had blood and feathers stuck to it.
In the bathroom Leda summoned the courage to face herself in the mirror. She looked like a different person entirely. A terrible red welt was beneath her right eye. Her mouth was swollen.
She squeezed peroxide into the cuts on her face, the many small scratches all across her nose. They bubbled and hissed. Tomorrow she’d get some scar treatment from the drug store and hope it worked.
She took the hottest shower she could bear, scrubbing herself all over. She was changing into her dressing gown when she heard the buzzer go off. She jumped and shrieked. It buzzed again.
“It’s Jane! Let me up.”
Leda pushed the button and heard the buzz and the click that meant the downstairs door was opened. She had no idea what time it was.
“Oh my God, what happened?” Jane gasped. “Let me look at you. You were attacked. Oh my God. Are you okay?” Jane crowded into the tiny entrance, dropping her skateboard and backpack.
“I’m thinking it through,” Leda said a bit faintly. “I fought him off.”
“We should call the police. And get you to a hospital,” Jane said, taking in Leda’s skinny, bruised legs sticking out from the dressing gown and her pale, battered face.
“No, no,” Leda said calmly, settling on the futon couch. “I’m fine. I don’t need to go anywhere. I just need to rest a bit.”
“Where did it happen?”
“Right there in the open? No one helped?”
Leda thought about this for a moment. It was odd that no one had helped, but she’d hardly had time to reflect on it. She shook her head.
“This guy, what did he look like? Was it that guy from the library?”
Leda couldn’t help it – she started to laugh. Jane looked shocked, her face creased in worry. Leda laughed harder. The whole thing was so ridiculous.
“Leda?” Jane said softly.
“I have him. I have him right here in the drawer. No, Jane, don’t look at me like that, really truly, I do. Do you want to see him?”
Without waiting for a reply, Leda went to the kitchen drawer. It wouldn’t do to open it and set him flying around the apartment. Who knows what he’d do in an enclosed space? She couldn’t let him loose. That wouldn’t do,
“Hang on a minute, Jane.” Leda limped to her coatrack and, from one of her best hats, extracted two long, vintage hatpins. She cautiously opened the drawer a crack. The swan struggled to uncoil, but Leda was ready this time. The hatpins sparkled dangerously in her small, thin hands.
Jane screamed just before they went in.
* * * * *
“However did you think of it?” Fawn leaned in to look more closely at Leda’s hat.
Fawn had spotted them at lunch, and Jane had felt bad and had invited her to eat with them. As much as Leda loved the Village, this was the hazard. There was always some graduate student or teacher acquaintance from Jane’s work that could divebomb what had been a perfectly good gossipy, boozy lunch.
Leda shrugged, “I think of clothing all the time, so it seemed fitting. I so wanted a hat.” She tugged a bit and straightened him on her head, “Granted, he’s smaller now but it is still a bit heavy. He goes so nicely with so many things and the materials are so…”
“…lux,” Jane said.
Leda nodded, “Yes, exactly.”
Fawn was less thrilled. “Well, I think it is cruel.”
She would, Leda thought. You could always count on Fawn to climb on any bandwagon rumbling by. From the look of her outfit today, which consisted of some sort of sweater possibly made from a yak, she was very likely a vegan this week.
“Cruel how?” Leda demanded.
“Leda wanted a hat,” Jane explained.
“He’s a living thing,” Fawn retorted, “and you’re treating him like a fashion accessory. It’s worse than cruel, its, its…” she trailed off,
“Practical?” Leda replied, “Just? Not to quibble, Fawn, but I am not treating him like a fashion accessory. He is a fashion accessory.”
“You didn’t see what that bird did to her,” Jane said.
“Irregardless of what he did…”
“Regardless,” Leda corrected.
“…he does not deserve to be worn. Soon everyone will want swan hats.”
“If they do, it is only because I made it fashionable,” Leda replied. “And I wonder what you think the alternative should be? Should I turn him loose so he can attack other women? I have an obligation. To the city. To other women.”
“To wear him?”
“Well, it is not as if I get free rent,” Leda pointed out. “Space, as you know, is a premium. So, at the very least, he must pay for his space in my domicile, and this is the way that works best for me. And he has amends to make for running my dress.”
“I can’t believe you’re party to this, Jane,” Fawn said. “I’d expect it of her, but she’s a narcissist and we all know it. I expected better of you. Aren’t swans endangered?”
“I don’t know, but that one is, as far as I’m concerned,” Jane cracked dryly, and tapping one of the hat pin’s decorative ends. “He’s only a hat because it turns out he’s a little hard to kill, aren’t ya, buddy? Got a pin straight through you and still not dead.”
“That’s horrible! You have no empathy,” Fawn huffed.
“Better lacking in empathy than lacking in common sense,” Leda retorted.
They finished the rest of their lunch in silence and went their separate ways.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Truthfully, at first, Leda had harbored hesitations, but she had grown to enjoy wearing the swan. It was so soft and white, so plush that she almost forgave the funny orange feet and the furious struggle it threw forth every time she drew it out to wear it. Sometimes it would hiss like an annoyed teakettle and she would snap her fingers and pop it alongside its long neck to make it stop. She’d gotten so used to thinking of him as a hat that it was sometimes funny to think of how she’d come by him. Her conversation with Fawn had upset her greatly.
“Am I being indecent?” she asked Jane. “Shouldn’t I let him go?”
“Not in the slightest,” Jane said darkly. “I think you’re showing mercy.”
“Am I? To make him into a hat?”
“Okay,” Jane said, “You made him into a hat. But what did he make you into, in his mind, when he attacked?”
Leda did not know how to answer that question. Sometimes she almost pitied him, trapped by the dual hatpins, and dared herself to be large enough to set him free, to trust him that he’d learned his lesson and would cease attacking young women. Then she’d look into his furious black eyes and remember the greedy triumph that had roasted there when he’d made her cry. How satisfied, how deliberate.
“I would let you go,” she explained to him, “but I’d have to be certain you wouldn’t try that again.”
The swan hissed contemptuously. Leda shivered.
* * * * *
A month later, Leda was enjoying her Sunday treat of French pressed coffee and a pastry at the local bakery. Leda wore the swan hat matched to a chocolate brown coatdress that complimented both the swan’s creamy plumage and the copper lights in Leda’s hair.
Leda had just settled in at a table for one when, to her chagrin, Fawn sat down opposite her. Fawn wore a shapeless, sack-like dress that would be perfect attire if one had to harvest turnips. Leda could not figure out why people like Fawn lived in Manhattan. Wasn’t there a commune somewhere in Maine that needed her on a committee collective board or something? She was so close that Leda could tell she used ineffective natural deodorant.
“We’ve always been very different, Leda, since we became friends.” Fawn said, in slopping tones that sounded as sincere as the vendors who sold real gold watches for ten dollars.
Leda had absolutely nothing to say to that, as she could not disagree that they were different, but she didn’t want to agree that they’d ever been friends.
“Perhaps I should have explained my viewpoint rather than attacking you personally.”
“Perhaps,” Leda said, “but I doubt it would have changed my mind much.”
Fawn was silent for a moment. Leda pressed the coffee and poured herself a creamy cup. She loved her coffee; it was such a pity that Fawn was there.
“Perhaps it was accidental.”
Leda felt the swan all but nod its imprisoned head from its adorning spot. She removed the hat and put it on the table between them.
“This creature? Look at him. There’s nothing dumb or unintelligent there. It was quite deliberate.”
The swan’s black, beady eyes glanced off Leda’s unrelenting face to Fawn’s warm and tortured one.
“Everyone makes mistakes.”
Leda thought about this. “You know,” she said, taking a tiny sip of her coffee, “you’re correct. Everyone does make mistakes. There are consequences for mistakes.”
Fawn opened her mouth, but Leda waved her hand for silence.
“If I make an error, and calculate the wrong time for the subway, I have made a mistake, yes? Does this prevent me from missing the subway? No.”
Fawn was already shaking her head in disagreement. “It is not kind to the poor bird. He should be taught better, not punished. You have to think of it from his perspective. He’s learned his lesson.”
“So, have I,” said Leda. With a firm grip, she replaced the swan on her head, patting it perfunctorily.
The swan honked, a dramatic on its part, for it was immortal and no harm came to its flesh. The dramatic had its desired audience. Fawn leapt to her feet, capsizing the table and sending hot coffee down the front of Leda’s dress. She ripped the swan from Leda’s head, hatpins and all, and fled the street and into a subway opening, the deceitful creature cradled in her triumphant arms.
Leda started to go after Fawn in no small temper, but the waiter, thinking she was fleeing a tab, arrested her flight. He demanded fifteen dollars: the price of her breakfast and Fawn’s, as well as another twenty to replace the broken crockery.
All in all, it was an awful Sunday.
* * * * *
“Here.” Jane pulled the two jeweled hatpins from her bag.
“Thank you,” Leda said tightly. “And the bill?”
“I don’t think she can afford it just now,” Jane admitted. “She had to miss work for a week while her face healed.”
“Hmph,” Leda said, which was part sympathy, part scorn. She pressed a band-aid back into place over one of the fresh cuts on her hand. “Was she badly hurt?”
“She says its fine, but she’s not really. If you ask her, she thinks she’s a martyr.”
They sat together for another long minute. Leda had a pile of laundry beside her on the couch. She took a shirt and began to fold it. After a while, Jane picked up a hanger.
“So much for your smashing hat,” Jane said, in a flat attempt to raise some humor, as she carefully smoothed out one of Leda’s many cotton dresses. “What did you do with the body?”
“Swan pie,” Leda said, “with a pastry crust. It was delicious.”
“Seems in you he’s met his match,” Jane said.
“No, not his match,” Leda smiled. “More like his nemesis. So much for the good name of gods and swans everywhere.”
Kat Ogden (she/them) is a storyteller who writes, directs, produces, and acts. Kat has worked on numerous television series and films, such as Z Nation and Safety Not Guaranteed, and also was awarded a Tacoma Artists Initiative (TAIP) grant to write, produce, and star in the original short, Infested. Currently residing in the Pacific Northwest, Kat is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and loves the community and camaraderie of the Seattle Film Community. Another lifetime ago, Kat was on one of the first reality shows. Kat was once in a roller derby league and is an avid quad skater, known to haunt the various cities she visits at night with signature pink and teal roller skates. Kat likes ballet and modern dance, can read a book in a single bound, is a left-handed blackberry picker, and holds the unofficial record for highest bungee jump off a building. www.sabotageanddialogue.com