The Cygnet

 

There was a sick silence in the car as it made its way through the streets toward the elementary school.  Phillip looked in the rearview mirror before he changed lanes and saw the profile of Imogen’s face looking out the window.  She looked just like her mom.  He felt a new wave of grief pour into him like hot tar, sticking to his insides and burning.  He flipped the mirror up so its reflection was the ceiling.

“Dad, do you know how to make dinner?” Imogen’s little voice asked from the back seat.  She was shaking. 

He swallowed and tried to steady his voice before replying, “Well, I think I can give it a go.”  His accent sounded more British all of a sudden against Imogen’s high-pitched American one.  He pulled into the parking lot of a school he had never before driven to.  It was Imogen’s first day of school after moving to Kansas from Hawaii after the accident.  “We can give it a go together, all right, Imogen?  What should we make tonight?” 

“I like the macaroni and cheese that Mom makes… made…”  Sobs broke through on Imogen’s last word.  Phillip felt another fresh layer of steaming hot tar make its way through his body. 

Instead of pulling into the pick-up lane, he parked the car and forced himself to turn around and look at her.  Had she shrunk?  She looked so much smaller than he remembered. 

“Imogen, it’s time to turn off the tap.  Do you know what that means?”  She shook her head no.  “That means that all of the emotions that are filling you up right now are clouding your thinking.  You’re not able to be logical if you’re being emotional.  Now let’s turn off our taps together.”  He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again.  “All better, right?”

Imogen wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her little hand and gave a half-hearted nod.  “There, now.  I’ll help you find your new classroom.”

Phillip held Imogen’s little hand in his as he went into the office to check her in, and then on to her classroom.  He felt very small himself as they walked hand-in-hand down the long hallway.  The bright-colored artwork that hung along the walls seemed oddly out of place to him.  He felt himself squinting because of the brightness of it all.

When they reached Room 6, he squeezed her hand and let her go.  He saw the teacher, but as she crossed the room to meet him, he only nodded an acknowledgement to her and began walking back down the lonely hallway. 

“You must be Imogen,” he heard the teacher ask in an overly cheery voice.

“I want people to call me Genny now,” he heard in response.

Thirty minutes later, when he pulled into the parking lot of the lab, Phillip realized he didn’t remember any of the drive.  He walked through the lobby, said good morning to the receptionist and turned right at the long hallway.  At the last doorway on the left, he entered 1-0-0-3, his personal code, on the keypad.  His chest hurt when he did so; it was his and Janet’s anniversary.  As the lock clicked open, a red word appeared on the digital display: TARDY.  He was late for the first time he could remember.  He was the last person on his research team to arrive.  He’d have to leave earlier from now on to drive Imogen to school, he thought.  

He went in, took off his jacket and hung it on the hook next to the door.  It felt heavier than usual.  So heavy, he wondered if the hook would break off the wall.  He pulled his lab coat off another hook and noted how heavy it was as well.  Pulling it onto his arms felt as though he were tugging on weights.  He checked the pockets to see if someone was playing a joke on him and had loaded them with ball bearings, but his pockets were empty.

At his station, he sat at a microscope and looked through the eyepiece into an invisible universe.  He quietly scratched notations onto a pad of paper beside him.  He glanced down at his watch to check the time.  Looking at the numbers on the face, he remembered the words that were inscribed on the other side, “To the love of my life, Phillip.  Yours forever, Janet.” 

He quickly stood, almost knocking the microscope over, and dashed for the door.  He jogged toward the men’s room at the opposite end of the hall.

“Are you ok, Phillip?” a passing colleague asked.  Phillip covered his mouth with his hand and began a full run.  He pushed the door open and before it could close behind him, a stifled cry escaped the hand that clamped his lips.  With his back to a wall, he sank to the floor, shaking to the point of convulsions.  His sobs grew louder and echoed off the walls.   The feeling of hot tar returned, but this time it seemed to fill his lungs.  He tugged at the collar of his shirt, trying to catch his breath.

“The tap,” he gasped.  “Turn off the tap.”  He gulped in air and let his head flop backward onto the wall.  His breathing slowed and steadied.  After a few minutes of listening to the rhythmic echoes of his breathing, he stood and went to the sink.  He splashed some cold water in his face and dried himself off with a rough paper towel.  In the mirror, Phillip saw a man who had lost everything.  “Turn off the tap,” he told the man.  He straightened, never losing eye contact with himself.  “Emotions are interfering with your logic.”  A steely, coldness seized him and at that moment he knew his life had changed.  He took one last look in the mirror to watch the last remnants of Phillip Hazard dissolve and leave behind a new creature born with one purpose – to get Janet back.

The movie-like dream ended and another began.

“I love you.”  The words floated past Genny, carried away by an island breeze.  The soles of her feet were scorched as she padded along the hot, white sands, but just the sight of the expansive cerulean waters was cooling enough for her.  This isn’t the Isle of Man.  This is the Caribbean.  Her hair trailed behind her, dancing in the wind, as did the black kaftan that wrapped around her waist.  She looked down at her toes and wiggled them into the sand. 

 

* * *

 

That’s when I knew I was dreaming.

“Nice dream?”

“The last one was.  But it would have been better if you were in it,” I said as I felt an arm encircle me from behind.  “But I knew it wasn’t real, anyway.”

“How?”

“It was sunny.  I was on a beach and everything was bathed in warm, golden light, instead of the blue glow.”  I looked over my shoulder at the window where a dull blue light seeped into the room from behind a heavy, closed curtain.  “Oh, yeah.  And in the dream I could see my toes,” I sighed and then laughed in spite of myself.  Instinctively, Ken patted the bump that used to be my stomach.  

“You’re still beautiful.  And she’ll be beautiful, too.  Just like you.  I don’t know if this little island can take that much beauty.”  I could hear the smile in his voice. 

“The Isle of Man is not an island anymore,” I reminded him.  “We’re on the bottom of the Irish Sea floor which is miles below where the original sea floor was,  thanks to my dad’s science experiment gone wrong.”  I still had trouble believing the events that led up to that moment.  My dad had almost destroyed the island while attempting to travel back in time to save my mom.  I had discovered that I was somehow destined to save the island, and when I failed, Mannix, the glowing blue boy, saved us all from drowning by encasing the Isle of Man in a domed force field.  It all still sounded more like the plot of a sci-fi novel than real life.  “We don’t live on an island, Ken.  We live in Atlantis.” 

“Mannin,” he corrected me.  It drove him nuts when I called it that.

“And how do you know we’re having a girl?”

“Wishful thinking,” he sighed.  “Having a little Genny toddling around would mean I have two of you.”  Not that I wasn’t happy that we were expecting a baby, but I wasn’t as happy as Ken was.  He seemed to swoon when he would talk about it.  We had been married eight months, and I had been pregnant for seven.  I would have preferred that the baby had entered the equation a few years later.  “Besides,” he added, “I have a fifty-fifty chance at being right, you know.”

I looked over my shoulder at him and smiled.  He was propped on one elbow – a weak display of thinking about getting up.  He smiled the crooked little smile that made me fall so hard for him.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I adored him more than ever.

I felt a soft thud on the foot of the bed and careful little footsteps winding up the edge of the mattress.  Coal, our adopted cat, stopped at my bulging stomach, where he had slept until a month earlier when our growing baby booted him out of his spot.  He sniffed at me disdainfully.

“Sorry, Coal,” I said and stroked his head.  He opened his mouth as if he were about to reply, and then jumped over me and toppled off of Ken.

“Coal!”  While Ken struggled with the cat, I rolled out of bed.  Ken slid out on his side and we each pulled our side’s covers up and made the bed like two dancers performing a routine for the hundredth time.  Behind him on his nightstand stood a neat stack of books.  All literature.  Mostly ancient books written with dusty, long forgotten words.  On the nightstand next to me was a small avalanche of dog-eared notebooks with diagrams and equations scribbled haphazardly on the covers.  On the top of the mess was a journal bound in soft, honey colored leather that Ken had given to me as a wedding gift.  Having heard that my mom had taught me to keep a journal, Ken was the ever-thoughtful husband from day one.  I flinched every time I looked at his thoughtful gift and saw the Celtic knot I had unthinkingly carved onto the rich leather.  When he first saw the graffiti, he said that I had christened the journal and truly made it my own.  I felt like I had ruined it.

“Are you working today?” he asked as I shuffled into the hallway. 

“Yes,” I called back over my shoulder.  “I do every day.  Why should today be different?”  I continued into the bathroom and closed the door, waiting to hear the same reason he had been hammering me with for the last seven months.

“Well, the baby…” he started.

“Sweetheart, the baby will be fine.  Women have been working through their pregnancies for generations.  It’s not like I’m out tarring roads or handling hazardous material.  I’ll be in a nice, safe, comfy laboratory.  It couldn’t be any safer, right?”  Without waiting for a response, I switched on the bathroom light and closed the door.  It was refreshing to be in a room with no windows and be illuminated by white light, even though wisps of blue energy still seeped under the door.

I look older, I thought.  At least I feel older.  I felt like I was a century older than I was a year and a half before when my dad and I first moved to the Isle of Man.  I turned the hot water on in the shower and stepped in.

Showering was not my favorite activity anymore.  Most of the time, I could pretend that I wasn’t pregnant, but in the shower, there was no avoiding it.  I looked in disgust at the pasty white skin stretched tighter by the day over my ballooning stomach.  Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t unhappy that I was pregnant.  But what I didn’t like was people limiting me in what I could do simply because my stomach was large, or treating me like I was fragile just because I happened to have a human being growing inside me.  Cerdwyn, Ken’s mom, was the worst about special treatment.  I think she would have physically carried me from room to room if she could.  Her carefulness was irritating. 

I stepped out of the shower, dried off, and put on my robe that with my huge stomach made me look as big as a circus tent.  I opened the bathroom door to find Ken standing there.  He pulled me close and kissed me.  Suddenly, I couldn’t remember why I was irritated.

“Mum, Celine and I are meeting up for lunch.  Would you like to come along?”  Poor Ken was still painfully in the dark about my strained relationship with his sister, Celine.  I still had no idea why she hated me.  Fortunately, I had seen very little of her lately.

“Um, no.  It’s okay.  I think I’ll be pretty busy today.”

“What if I told you we were eating at the Indian place on the high street?” he tempted me, flashing the wicked smile again.

Indian food…Time with Celine…Indian food…Time with Celine…

“If it was the Indian takeaway in Ramsey, you might have had me,” I said and giggled.

“You work too hard,” he said, playfully wrapping a chunk of my wet hair around his finger.

“Somebody’s got to make sure this island is running right.”

“That’s not your job, Genny.  Don’t put too much stress on yourself.  Okay, darling?”

I still couldn’t stop blushing when he called me that.  I wondered if I’d ever be able to be around Ken without swooning.  I pulled myself together.

“I’ll try not to stress, but it is actually my job to keep the island running.  Besides, I’m not doing it alone, you know.  I’ve got help.”

“Your helper worries me more than if you were doing it alone,” he said, running his hand roughly through his hair.

“Don’t worry,” I said, knowing his unconscious sign for frustration all too well.  I kissed his cheek and ducked under his arm to escape.  He closed the bathroom door behind him and I went to change into my work clothes, which in my pregnancy had become anything that would fit.

I was in such a hurry that as I left the flat, I forgot to maneuver around the squeaky spots on the stairs down to the building exit.

“Genny, is that you?” I heard a voice call from the flat behind the stairs.  I squeezed my eyes tight in frustration at my carelessness.

“Yes, Mrs. Tiney.  I’m just heading out.”  I stood stone still like a kid who doesn’t want to get caught playing in hide-and-seek.

“Come here, dear.” 

I sighed and obeyed.  Her door was open, as usual.

“What a beautiful cake,” I commented as I walked into her small flat.  She hovered over the current cake she was decorating like a hummingbird.  “Wedding?” I asked.

“Yes, dear.”

Mrs. Tiney made special occasion cakes, and they were always beautiful.  Whole families would pool their rations and give them to her to enable her to buy the ingredients to make their cakes.  There were so many detailed red roses and intertwining vines on this wedding cake that only small windows of the white icing peeked through.  Still, the blue energy of our underwater world gave the icing an ever-so-slightly blue appearance.

“I always marvel that people still have big weddings and receptions.  I would have thought that everything now would be so trivial.  What you ate for supper last night…  What you wore to work that day…  Even the milestones of an individual’s life should mean nothing underwater.” 

“But life continues, Genny,” she said, engrossed in the rose she was piping.  “Just look at your own tummy.  And love can grow in even the most desolate of times.  Just like Mr. Tiney and me…”

Oh, here she goes again, I thought. 

“He’s always been a man’s man, Mr. Tiney.  Oh, back before the island sank, he was a real outdoorsman.  Always sea fishing.  He was an excellent hunter…” 

She was always bringing up Mr. Tiney, whom I had become convinced did not exist.  I had never heard him go in or out, or heard his voice through our woefully confessional air ducts, and I certainly hadn’t seen him.  There were no obvious signs that a man lived in her miniscule flat.  Old beads hung from the doorway of the bedroom.  The threadbare sofa, which I was pretty sure had once been a vibrant floral pattern, had faded to slightly varied shades of beige.  It was difficult enough to see how she made gigantic cakes in such a cramped space, our small flat dwarfed hers in size, but it was inconceivable to imagine another person living there – especially not a man.  Despite her constant references to a husband, I was sure that “Mr. Tiney” was nothing more than the imagined companion of a lonely old lady.

I began listening again when she said, “And remember the new pair of swans that arrived at Curraghs Nature Park just before the island sank?  Could she possibly mention the island sinking again?  Every time someone said those words out loud, a twinge of guilt shot through me.  Yes, it was my father who blew up the pocket of energy underneath causing us to sink, but Mannix had convinced me that I could somehow save us all.  I was the unsung failure that only the Keepers knew about.  Thanks for reminding me, Mrs. Tiney.

“I heard a little black cygnet just hatched,” she continued.  “Oh, that I could go and these old eyes could see it.”

“Why don’t you get Mr. Tiney to take you,” I asked, tongue firmly in cheek.

“He’s much too busy with his work, dear.” 

“I’m sure,” I said and rolled my eyes as I turned to leave.  As I was about to step into the hall, my conscience stopped me and I turned back to poor, lonely Mrs. Tiney who looked so small and fragile and tattered in comparison to the giant, decadent cake next to her on the table.  “You know, I’m sure my lab partner can handle things without me today.  How would you like it if I went with you to Curraghs?”

A smile lit up her face, causing her wrinkles to pull upwards, but then she turned to the table.  “But my cake.  They’re going to pick it up this afternoon.  Oh, dear.  Perhaps another time…” Her eyes welled up and I couldn’t take it.

“We’ll have to rent a horse drawn wagon to get to Curraghs anyway.  What if I help you deliver the cake this morning?”

She clapped her hands in response.  “You’ll make an old lady’s dreams come true.”

“I’ll go get the wagon and be back soon.”

“I’ll write a note for Mr. Tiney telling him where we’ve gone.”

“Good thinking,” I said, smiling.

“Bless you, Genny Creer,” she said and brushed a happy tear from her eye.  I ducked my head, pretending not to see it, and left. Genny Creer?  It still sounded strange to me.  How long does it take to get used to a different last name?  Normally, I thought the idea of a woman changing her name after marriage was abhorrent, but I would have cringed to hear my maiden name “Hazard” for the rest of my life.  There was a lot of baggage for me that came with the name “Hazard”.  It made me think of my father, and I tried very hard never to think of him or the mass murder he almost committed on everyone on the island, including me.

I left the flat building and looked up.  Life in Mannin was still surreal.  Above me there was no sky – only an enormous ceiling, a transparent force field that sizzled blue with power.  It was bizarre to remember that Mannix, the glowing blue boy confined to the Tower of Refuge, was the one who constantly generated it.  Were someone to see the dome for a moment, it would be breathtaking in magnitude and beauty.  But when you were confined to live under it twenty-four hours a day, it was stifling.  At least, it was for me.  It saved us all by holding the Isle of Man together when it sank to the bottom of the Irish Sea.  It saved us still by holding back tons of water that threatened to crush us all.  It was our savior, but it was my curse because I saw it for what it was – a ceiling.  I began to tread the cracked sidewalk than ran past our flat building, through the blue tinted air that left little eddies as I walked.

“Good morning,” the grocer called out from behind a small table of carrots.  Unfortunately, the largest of the towns on the island didn’t have much of the choice as the more rural towns.  The less plentiful vegetables, nurtured to maturity by the blue rays of our energy-providing dome, were snapped up before they ever made it to Douglas.  We were often relegated to potatoes, cabbage and carrots unless we travelled.

“Good morning,” I called back.  Beside the grocer was a newsagent which in the old days would have sold candy and pop among newspapers and magazines.  Now the candy selection, which sold for astronomical amounts of rations, was growing thin as the supply was exhausted.  The only newspaper available was The Manx Times, which came out once a month and was only a few pages thick.  How much news could occur on an underwater island, after all?  Like the candy, the newspaper, too, was outrageously expensive, so Ken and I never bought one.  Firstly, I had always hated sensationalized mainstream news and secondly, I figured that if there was anything we needed to know we would hear it first hand from Cerdwyn, Ken’s mother and the leader of the Keepers.  As I read the headline, I realized how wrong I may have been.  Maybe the price wasn’t the only reason Ken never brought a newspaper home. 

“CANNELL VOWS TO FIGHT KEEPER ELITISM” it read.  I detoured to the front of the store and glanced quickly over the stand to see that the shop owner was nowhere to be seen.  My fingers trembled a little as I slid the front paper up from the others and began reading as a lump formed in my throat. 

 

Darius Cannell, leader of the Free Atlantis political party, loses another legal battle against the Keeper group to view documents they refer to as “prophecies”.  The Douglas court ruled that the documents were indeed considered private property of the Keepers and that they could not be forced to share the information contained therein.

Cannell thanked the throngs of Free Atlantis who awaited the verdict outside the court saying, “I had hoped that this would be the beginning of the end of the Keepers’ elitist tyranny over us, but it is not the end of our fight. They continue to control our fates with documents that they refuse to allow us to see.  Could that be because they don’t exist?  I’m afraid so.  I know their ways.  I’m ashamed to say that I was one of them in my youth.”

When asked about his connection to Phillip Hazard, the scientist believed to be responsible for the Isle of Man’s submersion, Cannell defended Hazard.  “In every tragedy, the people in power find someone to blame.  It tends to help the public deal with what has happened.  Dr. Hazard has been the scapegoat of the Keepers, who I believe are ultimately responsible for our current situation.  I ask you, who do you blame?  A mentally and emotionally unstable man, or a group of people who admit to having had knowledge of the events beforehand and did absolutely nothing to stop it?  If what they say is true, they could have prevented Dr. Hazard from ever setting foot on this island.”

Cannell went on to say that he is hopeful that one day the Isle of Man will return to the surface.  “All we need is the right person with fresh ideas to take us back to where we belong.  I truly believe we will make it back.”

 

 

Darius Cannell was my father’s former lab assistant.  I had only met him once, but judging from the picture on the front page, it didn’t look like the last year had been kind to him.  His careworn face made it look like he’d aged ten years.  I couldn’t believe he, too, called Mannin “Atlantis”.  I thought I was the only one who said that.  I suddenly realized that with an underwater community, it wasn’t too creative a name after all.  With Darius using the term, I realized that was probably why Ken was so irritated whenever I called it Atlantis.

I had heard rumblings that there was a counter group that had formed against the Keepers, the protectors of Mannix and the island, but with little access to news this was the first time I had read the details.  At one time, I myself had thought that the Keepers were nothing more than a crazed cult marked with red triskelion tattoos on the back of their necks.  Once everything they had predicted came to pass, however, I thought it was only logical to become a Keeper myself and work along side them for the good of the people.  Reading another side of the story in the newspaper brought me back to a question that had plagued me; wasn’t there something the Keepers could have done to stop the island from sinking?

“You’d better be planning to pay for that newspaper young lady,” the shop owner shouted as he stomped out from the stockroom. 

“Sorry,” I said as I carefully placed the paper back with the others.  “I was just- Sorry!”  I felt guilty, but sped away knowing I didn’t have enough rations for both the newspaper and the horse and wagon rental and I felt that I owed my allegiance to Mrs. Tiney at that moment.

As I neared the boardwalk, I could see the Tower of Refuge glowing through breaks in the trees.  The tower was Mannix’s home and glowed a more brilliant blue than anything else in our underwater world because of him.  The power he emitted not only generated the dome above, but also provided us with the energy to run everything electrical within.  I hadn’t seen Mannix since the day the island sank.  I occasionally thought about going to talk to him, but the tower was guarded around the clock by the Keepers, and the Keepers did not allow anyone admittance.  I couldn’t imagine why.  Surely there was no one down here who would want to harm Mannix.  He was our lifeline.  Killing him would mean death to us all.  Still, the Keepers never rested their watch over him.  And allowed no one but Cerdwyn entrance.

I exchanged some ration tickets for the horse and wagon and drove it back to pick up Mrs. Tiney.  I had driven a wagon only once before.  The horses were so well trained that you could practically tell them where to go and they would trot there.

I helped Mrs. Tiney into the wagon and went back inside.  As I sized up the cake, I pulled a rubber band out of my pocket and pulled my hair back into a ponytail.  Nothing worse than hair on your wedding cake.   I finally slid my hands under the support board and began the daunting trek back to the wagon behind a gigantic cake I could barely see around.  In a way, my stomach served as a kind of shelf on which to rest the cake.  I was relieved that Ken wasn’t around to scold me about doing too much.

As I secured the cake in the back of the wagon, I couldn’t imagine why I had agreed to do something like this.  I didn’t like the outdoors, though nowhere in Atlantis could truly be called “outdoors”, and Mrs. Tiney drove me a little crazy.  I had just agreed to a cake delivery, a half an hour there and back of listening to Mrs. Tiney prattle on about her imaginary husband, and to schlepping around a wildlife preserve. 

Fortunately, our cake delivery was only a block away.  Saint George’s was a Church of England that looked to be built in the 1700’s.  The chapel was tall and gray and behind it stood a cavernous mouth of a graveyard full of weatherworn gravestones that jutted out at odd angles like rotten teeth.  Some of the Celtic crosses reminded me of the ones I’d been so taken with when I was at the Manx Museum with Ken.  The insular quiet of the dome made the cemetery even creepier than it would have been on the surface. 

Preparations for the wedding were already underway.  A lady hurried around to the rear of the chapel, lifting a wedding dress high above her head so that it wouldn’t be soiled by dragging on the ground.  A man carried an armful of flowers through the main entrance.  After helping Mrs. Tiney to the ground, I carried the cake into the rear entrance of the chapel where there was a communal room that the bride and groom were using for the reception.  I placed the cake on the table with a sigh of relief that I hadn’t dropped it.   The moment the cake touched the table, Mrs. Tiney transformed from the crazy old neighbor lady to an artist on a mission.  She had a sparkle in her eye as she keenly inspected the cake.  Even her footsteps were steadier.  She took from her handbag little cellophane bags of red and green icing, snipped off the ends, and touched up any smudges that happened along the journey there.  I couldn’t see that there were any problems, but apparently she could with her sharp eye. 

As she worked, the bride and bridesmaids walked through the room toward the back of the chapel.  They chattered and giggled until I noticed the bride’s expression change at the sight of the red triskelion on my uncovered neck.  Their conversation devolved into whispers.

“…bad luck,” I heard bandied as the group passed.   “She’s one of those Keepers,” a bridesmaid choked out and the group broke into a jog while the bride began to cry.   Anxiety rose in me and I felt my chest tighten.  I pulled the inhaler out of my pocket and took a puff.

“I think I’d better wait for you outside,” I told Mrs. Tiney as I exhaled.

“I’ll come with you, dear.  I’m all finished,” she said and took my arm.  “You mustn’t listen to the wagging tongues of young girls, Genny.  Your people saved the island.”  After my father tried to destroy it.  I winced. 

The farther we walked from the cake, the shakier Mrs. Tiney became.  Her eyes dimmed and the mental acuteness she possessed in the church faded.  By the time we had reached the wagon, she finally morphed back into the Mrs. Tiney who lived downstairs.

Curraghs was a straight shot down the A3.  The rhythmic clip-clop of the horse’s hooves made me sleepy and just as I was wondering if a nap in a horse drawn wagon would be considered ‘falling asleep at the wheel’, Mrs. Tiney swung her head around to look at me.

“Where are we going?” she asked. 

“Remember, Mrs. Tiney?  We’re going to Curraghs to see the new black swan.  You left a note for Mr. Tiney…”

“Who’s Mr. Tiney?” she asked.

Gotcha, I thought and couldn’t hide the grin.

“Oh, yes, that’s right.  The cygnet.  I remember now.  You’re a lovely girl for taking me, Genny,”

I looked down at my bulging stomach and my stringy brown hair hanging limp past either side of my eyes.  “Thanks, but I’m not feeling too lovely at the moment.”

“You’re driving an old lady to see a swan.  What can be lovelier than that?”  She patted my leg.  Yep, I definitely had a lapse in my sanity to volunteer for this, I decided and jiggled the reins to hurry the horse along.  The horse shook her head in disapproval and carried on at the same speed.

At Curraghs, I parked the wagon in the car parking lot and walked around to the other side to help Mrs. Tiney down.  The skin of her hand was so soft and thin that her veins appeared to rest on the surface.  A fat, worm-like vein that ran down the middle of her hand rolled a half-inch to the side when my thumb rested against it.  She didn’t seem to notice.

Our pace was slow enough that I wished she had a walker with tennis balls on the bottom to help her along.  Surely, that would only have sped us up.  Are there any tennis balls left on the island? I wondered.  Instead, she steadied herself by wrapping her arm around my left arm, and I held her veiny hand in place with my right hand.  It was driving me nuts not being able to check my watch, covered over by Mrs. Tiney’s hand.  I could feel my lab time being sucked away as Mrs. Tiney slowly meandered along the walking path admiring the wonders of God’s creation.

Finally, we made it to the pond.  Black swan… Black swan…  I surveyed the area for the appearance of a nest.  Truthfully, I didn’t know what a swan nest was supposed to look like, but I was pretty sure it would be on the bank and look “nesty”.  The path wound around the perimeter of the pond and further along, three women and a man with matching brown vests clustered together near a grouping of reeds near the water.  As we approached them, I saw that the vests had badges that read Curraghs Nature Park.

“Excuse me.  Could you tell us where to find the black cygnet?” I asked.  The group fell silent.

“She’s here,” one of the women said, looking down into the clump of reeds. Mrs. Tiney clapped her hands in delight and peered into the reeds.  Inside was a little, lone, black ball of fluff.  “Take a good long look.  Assuming she survives her father, she’ll be the last swan in Mannin.”

“The last black swan?” I asked.

“The last swan,” she responded.  “We only had the pair and the mother died last night.  No more mating.  No more swans.”

“The mother only laid one egg?  Don’t birds usually lay several?” I asked, leaning in over the cygnet to get a better look.  The rise and fall of the feathery fluff was the only signal that it was a living thing. 

“The number in her clutch was as unique as the color.  Only one.”

Mrs. Tiney wiped a tear from her face.  I had viewed this trip as an act of kindness, but for her it had turned into an act of bereavement.  She covered her mouth with her hands and tears began to cascade over her fingers.

I looked around the area.  “Where’s the father?”

“We had to cage him for now,” the man of the group answered.  “He was hissing and snapping at passersby.  Trying to protect the little thing, no doubt, but we can’t have him attacking people.”

The cygnet lifted her head and looked around.  We all fell silent as she tried to make sense of the world around her.  She stretched and stood, shaking with weakness not unlike Mrs. Tiney.  The very young and very old aren’t so dissimilar.

Mrs. Tiney grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, as if she might disturb this hallowed moment.  “I only hope she and her father survive long enough for your baby to see a swan.”

The cygnet turned toward us and the glow from the blue dome glinted off her black eyes.  For a moment, the baby swan and I looked at each other, our eyes signaling to the other by their unnatural blue glow that something was terribly wrong with our surroundings.  We were living a lie, in a way, in this upturned fishbowl.  And we were doomed to die in it.  Just like this tiny, helpless swan, my baby was doomed to die here never having felt the warmth of the sun on her face or live a life without the boundaries of a ceiling.

Between the rigors of travel and the emotional viewing of the cygnet, Mrs. Tiney was exhausted.  She seemed heavier as I walked her back to the wagon.  I helped her in and we rode back to Douglas in silence.  Her head bobbed as she went in and out of sleep.  My thoughts were fixed on the lonely cygnet.

Mrs. Tiney was right.  People had adapted to life in Atlantis and had even become a bit nonplussed by it all.  After a short period of adjustment, everyone went right back to doing what they were doing before, like they weren’t living under a dome.  I always felt like it bothered me more than everyone else, but now, after seeing the cygnet, our last swan, I felt even more uncomfortable.  We are safe, but to what end?  What future does our baby have here?

“Wake up, Mrs. Tiney,” I whispered as I gently shook her arm.  We were back at our flat building in Douglas.  She opened her eyes and a smile spread across her face.  I got out and made my way to her side of the wagon.

“I had a most lovely dream, Genny.  I dreamed that we went together to see a swan.”

“It wasn’t a dream, Mrs. Tiney.  We went to Curraghs today.  Remember?  There’s only the male swan and the cygnet left.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now.  I forgot how sad I was.”  She held her hands to her mouth as she had when she had learned the truth about the last swan. 

“Don’t worry,” I said, helping her out of the wagon.  “Everything will be fine.”

“How can it be, dear?  How can it be?”

“I don’t know, but it will be.”

While I was walking Mrs. Tiney to the front door of the building she suddenly looked around in total bewilderment by her surroundings.  “What on earth has happened to the sky?”  I didn’t know how to answer.  I kept silent and continued to take her inside in hopes that once she was back in familiar surroundings she would begin to remember on her own.

The note she had left to “Mr. Tiney” was still on the coffee table.  I walked her to her sofa and sat her down.

I brought her a cup of water.  “Mrs. Tiney, I’m afraid I have to go.  Will you be alright?”  She sipped her water.

“Yes, dear.  Thank you.”

I shut her flat door as I left.  Even though it wasn’t locked, I felt like she’d be safer with it shut than open as she usually left it.  By the time I returned the wagon and walked back, it was 4:30.  Too late to go to the lab.  I squeezed my eyes shut in frustration at my waste of a day.  Even though there wasn’t a lot to do at the lab, there was always something to do there, and that something would surely have been more fun than a depressing trip with Mrs. Tiney to Curraghs to see our last swan.  In retrospect, the trip was a bad idea.  It had stirred a nagging discontent in me and it seemed to have made Mrs. Tiney’s dementia worse. 

I carefully climbed the stairs, navigating around the squeaky spots as deftly as a cat burglar so as not to alarm Mrs. Tiney.  I was drained and I just couldn’t talk to her anymore that night.  As I approached the top of the stairs, the most delicious smell hit me.  I opened the door of our flat, closed my eyes and breathed in.  Ken had been cooking.

“How was the lab?” I heard Ken call out from the kitchen.

“I didn’t go.  Long story.”  I shut the door and walked into the kitchen.  Ken had his back to me, busily stirring a pot on the stove.  He was wearing jeans and a gray Henley that he had had so long that it was fraying at the edges.  But even that couldn’t detract from how beautiful he was.  How I ended up with a smart, loving, gorgeous man who could cook was beyond me.  I walked up behind him and rested my head against his back.

“Well, I see you didn’t stay home and rest.”  He leaned back with a smirk on his face and kissed my forehead. 

“You should be glad I didn’t because then I would have cooked, and I can guarantee you it wouldn’t have smelled as mouth-watering as what you’re making.”

“I love you, but I’ve got to admit that the ketchup soup you made on our honeymoon was not your best moment,” he laughed.  “Besides, Mannin won’t have bottles of ketchup forever.”

“It didn’t start off as ketchup soup.  I burnt the first pot of soup and I added ketchup to hide the burnt taste.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“You’d think someone as gifted with chemistry as you are would be able to cook,” he chortled.

“You’d be wrong,” I said and hugged him.  “Science is peaceful to me.  It’s calming.  I get all flustered when I cook.”  My mind wandered as I watched him stir the pot of stew.  My grief over the helpless cygnet and my worries about our unborn baby began to merge into the same agony.

“Our baby will never taste ketchup,” I said flatly.

“What?”  When I didn’t respond, he smiled and said, “That should be a good thing, right?”

There it was again.  That pang in my stomach that reminded me that although we were all alive, we were not living.

“She’ll never see a blue sky, or feel the warmth of the sun on her cheeks.”

“You can’t change what has happened, Genny.  This is where we are, and where our baby is meant to be.  You’ve got to accept that.”

“How can you just accept this?  It’s not natural.  I was at Curraghs Nature Park today, and believe me, there’s nothing natural about those animals languishing under a blue ceiling.”

“What were you doing at Curraghs?”

“Oh, Mrs. Tiney…  I told you, it’s a long story.”

He switched the stove off and turned around.  “It’s either the ceiling saving us, or death to us all.  What’s your choice, Genny?”

“I think there’s a third choice.  I want to go back up top.”

“We can’t.  This is our life now.”

“Does it have to be?  Maybe I can come up with a way to…”

“Genny, you need some food in your stomach and you need to relax.  That’s all.  Apparently nature preserves are not healthy for you.”  He smiled at me and I felt myself relax a little.

After dinner, he sat on the sofa and read aloud from Shakespeare’s The Tempest while I paced and played my violin.  When my brain went into overdrive, playing usually calmed me down.  It gave my mind something else to do.  But that night, the words Ken spoke only fuelled my manic thoughts and turned my music into a beautiful torture.

 

“If by your art, my dearest father, you have

Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them. 

The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,

But that the sea, mounting to th’ welkin’s cheek,

Dashes the fire out.  O, I have suffered

With those that I saw suffer!” (1.2.1-2)

 

 

The “wild waters” swirled around me in my imagination.  I played louder in an attempt to drown out Ken as he read the words of Miranda’s father, Prospero.  I could hear my father’s voice as Ken spoke.

 

“I have done nothing but in care of thee,

Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter, who

Art ignorant of what thou art…”

 

 

“Lies!” I shouted involuntarily.  “He never did anything for me!”  In my frenzy, I lost hold of my bow and it shot up into the air and landed on the floor with a crack.  Coal, who had been lying on the rug in a particularly bright ray of blue glow, scampered behind the sofa.  I gasped and ran over to the remains of my bow.  The sudden silence made my ears ring.  The bow hair lay limp on the floor connecting the two pieces of the cracked stick on either side.  I felt Ken’s arm around my shoulder.

“I’m sure we can find another bow.  There’s got to be one on the island that someone isn’t using.”

Tears welled in my eyes.  “Probably, but one day we’ll run out, Ken.  We’ll always have food and water, but we’re going to run out of ketchup and bow sticks and all the little things that make life worth living.  It may be after we’re gone, but one day it will happen.  What if there won’t be a violin left for our baby to play?”

Ken wrapped me up in his strong arms until I stopped crying over the piece of me that lay broken and unmendable on the ground.