BY CATHY ULRICH
The girl you love is becoming a swan. Like in the ballet, you think, though you aren’t actually familiar with the ballet. Your mother had you in classes when you were a child. She said you wept every time you went inside the studio, tears flowing quietly down your face as you gazed at the mirror and dipped into your pliés.
You fell in love with the girl you love before your homeroom teacher had everyone switch seats, when she sat diagonal from you and returned the pencil you had dropped, her fingers lingering against yours.
We’re not supposed to use mechanical pencils, she said.
I like them, you said.
She smiled and turned back in her seat, and you were in love.
In science class, the teacher talks about how everything is made up of magnetic fields, and that love is merely the attraction of two opposing forces.
No, you write in your notes. No, no, no.
You sneak glances at the girl you love from the other side of the class in homeroom, swallowing her in pieces. You learn the strand of hair she’s always tucking behind her ear, the gap between her heel and the back of her shoe, the earlobe she tugs when she’s daydreaming.
Nobody sees you looking.
You think nobody sees you looking.
At night, in bed, you think of the girl you love. You think of the way her fingers touched yours, think of her mouth, think of the curve of her bare shoulder that you glimpsed while you were changing for gym. Flushed, breath hitching, you think of the girl you love.
You are the one always watching her.
You see her kiss her boyfriend at her locker between classes. See her tuck that strand of hair behind her ear when she bends over the drinking fountain. See her smoke a cigarette outside during lunch break, flicking it into the bushes.
You are the one who sees she is becoming a swan.
The truth is, you have never seen a swan. Down the street from your house there is a ditch where ducks nest when the water is high and abandon in the fall, leaving it bare and brown. You have found stray feathers there amongst the tall grasses, rubbed them between your fingertips before tossing them aside.
For you, a swan is almost a make-believe creature.
Your mother has never seen a swan either. She thinks they must be very beautiful in person, though.
Majestic, she says.
Yes, you say. I thought so.
Why is the girl you love becoming a swan?
You ponder this in your bed at night. You look up transformation, metamorphosis, swan. You click the lead in your mechanical pencil out, out, out.
Swans mate for life, you write in your science notes.
You think of showing the girl you love your notes, telling her. Swans, if anything, at least believe in love.
At school, you come across the girl you love plucking feathers out of her hair in the bathroom. She is embarrassed to have been caught, turning her head quickly so you can’t see the reflection of her face in the mirror.
It’s all right, you tell her.
She starts to cry. They just keep growing there.
Let me help, you offer, and she sinks against the counter as you pull the feathers out of her hair. They are a part of her; she winces.
Does it hurt? you say. I’m trying to be gentle.
No, she says. No, it’s fine.
You pull her hair away from her neck, looking for hidden feathers. You have tucked the torn ones into your backpack. You will admire them later, in your bed, stutter the wisp of one across your lips with a trembling hand.
There, you say to the girl you love. All done.
You could tell her, now, about swans. You could tell her about transformation.
This is something amazing happening to you, you could say.
She says: God, I want a cigarette.
She says: You won’t tell, will you?
No, you say. No, I’ll never tell.