It’s that time again. Time for another First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF). Other free feature stories can be found on my Pinterest page (a shared short story board) and on the Freebies page of my site.
Today’s offering is the continuation of last month’s story. If you haven’t yet, you should read the first installment before continuing. To read Part 1, click here.
A Lamentation of Swans, Part 2
She hadn’t taken a single step since her fall.
When the hospital released her, she was to go to physical therapy. But she made Jeremiah take her home. He carried her into the house, and she spent her days transferring herself from wheelchair to furniture and back.
She lost track of time.
“Jeremiah. What are you doing? Close those at once.”
“I’m sorry, madame, but I will not. You can’t stay closed up in here. It’s time you begin your recovery.”
“Recovery? There’s no coming back from this. Close the drapes and leave me be.”
“Many pardons, madame, but I can’t do that.”
Anita brought in a tray loaded with a giant vase of fresh cut flowers, three bottles of mineral water, crusty bread, cut fruit, and assorted cheeses.
“Anita.” Juliette’s tone hid none of her annoyance. “Take this away and bring me my juice.”
“Juicing isn’t eating, ma’am.” She took the vase and put it on the end table where Juliette could easily see it. “There’s precious little nutrition in it.”
“Especially with vodka in it,” Jeremiah said.
“Jerem—” Juliette started.
Anita interrupted her. “You need good, hearty meals. It’s time.”
“Time? Time for what?”
“Ramon thought you’d like to see the fruits of his labors. He brought these cut flowers in for you. I told him that’s the last vase he’ll need to fill. You’ll be going out to walk the gardens from now on.”
Juliette fought back the tears. She’d love to walk the gardens. She’d give anything to walk anywhere at all.
Damn her staff. Damn them all. They didn’t understand. How dare they do this to her?
“Come on, ma’am. Sit up and eat. We have a lot to do after lunch.”
“And what would that be, Anita? Are we running a marathon? Hiking the Appalachian Trail?”
“I don’t see why you couldn’t do those things, after training for them.”
“Get out,” Juliette whispered.
Jeremiah approached the chaise and stooped down beside her. “Do you have any idea how long you’ve been hiding in here?”
Juliette turned and looked outside through a curtain of tears. She had no idea how long it had been since the accident. It had been even longer since she saw her beloved swans. She watched through the glass as they bent graceful necks to the water, then stretched them up to the sky. She couldn’t hear their trumpets, but she knew just what they sounded like.
Like they were calling to her.
“Lamentation,” Jeremiah said.
“Lamentation,” he repeated.
“I know what lamentation is,” she said. “But no one’s crying.” She wiped her face, making sure none of her tears still showed on her cheeks.
“No, madame. The swans. They aren’t a flock. They are a lamentation. Groups of swans are called lamentations.”
“Lamentations.” She reflected on that tidbit for a moment. A lamentation of swans. It was sad. Poetic and dramatic, but sad.
Just like her.
“I miss them,” she whispered.
“They miss you too, madame.”
“Will you wheel me out there? I should like to see them. I’ll take them some bread.”
He looked down at her. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to accompany you down there.”
Juliette reached for her wheelchair, intent on swinging herself into the seat and being wheeled down to the pond.
But Jeremiah pushed the chair out of her reach.
“Jeremiah! What are you doing?”
The doorbell rang, but neither Jeremiah nor Anita moved.
Who in the world could that be, anyway? No one visited. Not in years. And she was glad. She didn’t want to see anyone, anyway. But curiosity got the best of her.
“Well, isn’t anyone going to get that?”
Ramon entered, followed by two gentlemen in black pants and purple polo shirts. The logos on their breast pockets read ALLEGRO PHYSICAL THERAPY.
“No one answered the door, so I let these fellows in,” Ramon said. “This here is my nephew, Pablo. And this is his partner, Tobias.”
Juliette dropped her head and sighed.
Anita said, “Come on. I’ll show you to the ballroom. You’ll have the most space in there.” She led the gentlemen out of the room.
“Do you require my assistance during your session, or will you be all right on your own?” Jeremiah asked her.
The ballroom? Of all places. She hadn’t even looked at the closed doors since she began her convalescence. “I’m not having therapy, so it really doesn’t matter.”
He scooped her into his arms and started walking toward the door.
She swatted at him, but his body was hard and hers was weak. She imagined she had little impact on his efforts and stopped, saving her hand further injury.
“Jeremiah, please. Put me down.”
“I will, Juliette. In the ballroom.”
“Juliette? You’ve never called me that before. Even when we first met and I asked you to. You said it wasn’t appropriate.”
He stopped outside the ballroom doors. “You’ve never been in my arms before.”
Before she could react, he carried her inside and placed her in the care of her therapists.
* * *
She had her second wedding on the lawn, her beloved swans in the background. As she stood with her new husband on the edge of the pond, tossing bread cubes into the water and watching the swirls of fuchsia and flame in the sky melt into the midnight inkiness of nighttime, she put her arms around his neck.
“Dance with me, Jeremiah.”
He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. “I thought you’d never ask.”
The stars twinkled in the darkness, they and the moon reflecting off the still, dark water.
Swans trumpeted their approval at her choice.
“A lamentation of swans,” he whispered in her ear.
No more lamentations for Juliette. For the first time in forever, she was happy.
I hope you found this story enjoyable. I wrote it when I was a little sad, but like a true romantic, I pushed for the happy ending. However, as you know from part one’s comments, I originally had a far different (and much sadder) ending in mind. What do you think about happily ever after endings? Always, sometimes, or never? How would you have ended this story? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment below.