Swansong

By Liz Faier

 

Screaming down the rails, the trolley shuddered to a stop but couldn’t avoid hitting the giant, white bird who had unexpectedly and suddenly dropped from the sky. It lay mangled on the tracks, wings splayed open and long neck twisted beneath the car’s wheels. No one was prepared for the jolt of the collision. Only moments before, Hermann had been lost in 1935, daydreaming about his first waltz with Anna at the Vienna Ball, but now he found himself crashing forward in the carriage. He soared out of his seat, his flight broken by his forehead smacking the metal chair railing in front of him. During the impact, his coffee cup flew out of his hand and spilled onto the large cardboard box that he had been cradling on his knees but now lay damaged at his feet.

The trolley reverberated with unease as people hurried towards the doors. 

“What was that?” asked the woman next to him.

“I don’t know. It just fell from the sky,” Hermann answered from the floor. Putting his hand to his forehead, he felt wetness, deciding it must be coffee. Leaning on one knee and then using both hands against the chair’s seat, he pushed himself upright. Yellow stars paraded in front of his eyes and a deep queasiness rose from his stomach. 

“No way,” said the young man behind him. “It’s a sign.”

“Perhaps. God works in mysterious ways. Who am I to question him?” Hermann replied. But he did, especially the past weeks when upon waking he found the other side of his bed empty for the first time in fifty-two years of marriage.

The passengers exited the trolley, and one-by-one they filed past the majestic bird, pausing to pay their respects as it wept scarlet, darkening nearby grass and cobblestones. Hermann paused in front of the swan, drawing the dented package tightly to his chest. It was the keepsake box in which he had entombed Anna’s last costume, right before Jews were expelled from Austria’s ballet. During the accident, blood and coffee had dripped onto the box’s plastic viewing window and across a faded handwritten inscription, “To Anna, my love, who leapt off the stage and into my arms. Forever yours, Hermann.”

An emergency worker approached Hermann, guiding him gently to the back of an ambulance. 

“Sir, come with me. You’ve hit your head. Do you know what day it is?” 

“Wednesday.”

“Ok,” she replied, tempering the concern in her voice given his incorrect response. “What’s your name? Where are your going?”

“Hermann Weinstein. I’m meeting Anna, my wife, at the hospital. She’s waiting for me. I have this surprise for her. I must go now.”

“Your wife? She’s waiting for you?” replied the woman. 

“I think so. I don’t know. But I’m late!” Hermann stated agitatedly. As he started to stagger away, the box slipped from his hands, spilling its contents onto the ground. 

“Sir, just a moment. Just a few more questions, ok?”

“Oy vey ist mir! What is this nonsense? I don’t have time! Odette is waiting for her dress. Tonight’s the … ” his voice trailed off. He clutched his chest and collapsed, his fall cushioned by layers of white, silk tulle from the tutu, which engulfed him.  

When the orchestra began, he opened his eyes and took in the theater’s resplendence of gilded, sparkling chandeliers and heavy, burgundy velvet curtains. He was alone in the audience, but there in front of him was his beloved princess, pirouetting and leaping through the air, light as a bird. His heart burned with joy, and he thought, “dance, my love, dance. Join me after the last performance.”