by Joyce Goldenstern
- The Wife
I’m in the process of divorcing a swan. Well, not a full-blooded one. Only part of him is swan. His left arm is a kind of wing. A relic of his wasted youth: an evolutionary anomaly. At first I was attracted to it: I mean, the wing, obsessed even. But now I blame it for all of our problems.
For one thing, he insists on ironing all of his own shirts. He wears only those made of starflowers — an arduous task, ironing all the tiny petals. Each shirt lacks a left sleeve, a hole only for his wing to stick out. His expert ironing makes me feel unwanted. He spends his day preening the feathers on his arm and washing and ironing his peculiar shirts. Food, he hardly eats it. Sex, he is disinterested. He says our bed reminds him of a bed in a robber’s den: a memory from childhood. He prefers to sleep alone under it or flutter lamely above. I’ve tried reasoning and expensive perfumes. But nothing seems to work.
- The Swan
Our father deserted us when he remarried. He sent me and my five older brothers to a boarding school. My sister got stuck in a convent. Before we were separated, I had slept in my sister’s bed and loved drawing snakes and spiders on her back. Then one day everything changed. Dormitory life, I could not adjust to it. I lived for visitors’ day. Once in a while Dad would show up tossing a ball of yarn, unwinding it in front of him and then following behind. My stepmother resented his visits and pouted and plotted at home. My sister baked cookies in the convent kitchen, mailed them in a tin. Her loneliness took hold of her, led her to climb trees and hide in them. “Come down,” well-wishers shouted. She would only drop down her clothes piece by piece by piece — a necklace, a girdle, a garter — and sit there shivering in her shift, quiet as a fish.
Do not trust silk shirts sent special delivery from a wicked stepmother. That’s a lesson I’ve learned from my life. As soon as they arrived, my five brothers and I tried them on. Deceived by glittering gift paper, we turned into swans.
Joyce Goldenstern, a Chicago resident, has been adapting folktales and writing fiction and warily “living by fiction” for many years. A full collection of her stories will be published by ELJ Publications in fall 2015.