I’d never seen a swan land on anything like a clifftop before, so I caught one and took it to the top of an abandoned office, where the heating units and filters left deceptively little flat space. Climbing the fire escape with a 60-litre backpack of drugged swan was harder than my usual workout, but that’s the sacrifice you make to test out a theory.
On the square patch of tiling, I set the bag down and loosened the fastenings. I pulled the swan out carefully, its body heavy and pliable as dough; neck sunk around a wing like the clasp of a bracelet. It smelled of the river’s bowels mixed with freshly dug earth. I didn’t delve too far inside the backpack.
I waited until the swan came to, hoping the sedative was weak enough. By then it was late afternoon. The swan’s chest rose like white surf. Swivelling its beak, lifting and squirrelling at the concrete, it tried to move.
My brother had said this would be stupid. A waste of a day. As if he lived any better: engraving trophies for people who were competitive bastards at their jobs, who bled sales and technology.
I let the swan alone to find its feet and move around the tight corners to look. It honked a few times, angrily, maybe desolate. I took that to mean it knew it was fucked.
Did you know swans need at least 30 yards of take-off to become airborne? And to reach a safe height, after that? The swan tried to hassle me for a bit, wings batting with force, like it was beating sheets against the turgid summer air. I hassled back with the tennis racket I’d brought. Then it pounded its feet as if it might build speed that way. Formula One cars have pent up drive like that. Of course, none of them have to launch off a roof.
Do you think swans even recognise dread? When they’re lost? When they come to an edge? Picture themselves at the bottom: crumpled, miscalculated, every bone in their body rearranged a little or a lot. Do they shiver at that? I reckon not. This one didn’t at least; it leapt, weight bobbing beneath its wings for a few seconds, and opened wide to the ground.
Honk if you’re horny, I called down. The swan was not horny.