By Shayne Terry <email@example.com
Submitted October 2002
Summary: This adaptation of the classic fairy tale reminds us once again how universal the story of Lois and Clark is.
Once, in a park on the edge of Hobbs Bay, a duckling was born. She looked like all the other ducklings, but from the very beginning it was clear that she was different from all the others. Instead of following her mother and doing the things the other girl ducklings did, she tried to imitate her father and the other drakes.
Her father, a gruff old bird who had lost many of his feathers, rarely had time for her. He did his best to push her back into the nest, but no matter how often he pushed, she'd always leap out and follow him. The other drakes made fun of him, saddled with this odd duck child, and they laughed at her. She pretended she didn't care, but each insult was like an arrow to her heart. In time, she came to feel ugly inside.
Despite the derision of the other birds, she excelled at doing what the drakes did. She swam faster, she was more aggressive at stealing bread from the children who came on Saturdays, and in time she found that she could force any bird on the lake to back down simply by an effort of will.
The duckling was better at being a duck than any of the adults, but she was alone. While the others danced gently on the water, pairing off with an instinct older than time, she was left as an onlooker. When the others made love, had children, took joy in their families, she was left on the outside looking in.
She was alone even when surrounded by the others, and with each passing day something inside her died. The duckling came to believe that she was irredeemably ugly inside, and she did everything she could to try to ignore that feeling. Fighting even harder, she gained a reputation with the other ducks. They called her "Mad drake", despite the fact that she was neither mad, nor a drake.
The name only increased her sense of isolation. The harder she fought to fit in, the farther the others pulled away from her. She began to despair, to feel that she would always be alone. The feeling of emptiness was almost more than she could bear.
Throughout the long winter, she'd cry when the others were asleep. While the others huddled closely together, basking in the warmth of family, she shivered and suffered.
In time, spring came, as it always did, and with it, a thaw. The duckling by now was no longer a child, but a fully-grown female in her own right. She was attractive, but the drakes feared her, and still she was alone.
Searching for frogs one evening, she swam gently through some weeds and stumbled onto something she'd never seen before. A great bird, graceful and white sat by the shore. It was disconsolate, its long, slender neck drooping as it stared at its own reflection in the water.
Another duck might have feared to approach such a bird, for though it was beautiful, it was new and strange. The duckling, however, wasn't afraid of anything but being alone. As she was already alone, she had little fear of anything else.
"Why are you sad?" she asked, swimming silently up to him.
The swan didn't look at her for a moment. "I'm the last of my tribe, and I'm all alone."
"Being alone isn't so bad," she replied. "I suppose you could always try to change your feathers and join with the others, but why would you want to?"
The swan nodded slowly, but a gleam appeared in its eye.
They talked, and they swam together, and the duckling was almost overwhelmed. She felt as though she was no longer alone. They agreed to meet the next night, and she went happily home.
A new drake appeared in the flock the next morning. He was handsome and competent and good at all the things drakes should be good at. He was interested in her, too, something that the other birds whispered about.
The duckling spurned him. Her mind had no room for anything but the great white bird, the graceful neck, and the reflection on still waters. Despite her rejection, the drake followed her, challenging her to be better than she was.
That night, the swan seemed sadder than it had the night before, but they still spent an enchanted evening together.
One evening followed another, spring falling into summer. The drake never ceased his efforts to come into her good graces, and she never gave him much hope. She grew comfortable with him, however, and in time, that feeling grew into affection. The drake was a good companion, enjoyable to be with during the day, and somehow, she felt less ugly when she was with him.
The swan remained mysterious. No matter how many evenings they spent together, she never felt as though she knew his heart. Always, there was some sort of secret sadness in his eyes. She began to despair of ever being with him.
When the drake who led the flock began to take interest her, the duckling felt flattered. She wanted all the things the other ducks had: the closeness, the family, the simple happiness in life. It was becoming apparent that she had no future with the swan, and though she had a drake she thought of as a friend, she'd long dismissed the idea of making him her mate.
Her friend came to her, begging her not to marry the leader of the flock. He claimed he loved her.
Though it hurt the duckling, she quietly told the drake that her marriage plans were set. He was her friend and nothing more, and that was simply the way of life.
On the night before she was to become a duck-wife, the duckling came to the swan and asked him directly whether there was any chance that they might become mates.
"I have to wonder," said the swan, "if you are blinded by my white feathers, by my slender neck. Do you really love me for who I am?"
"I'd love you if you were no different from any other drake on the pond," she replied fervently.
"Under the circumstances, I can't believe that." For the first time that they'd known each other, the swan swam away from her.
Saddened and angered, the duckling returned to the flock, determined to marry the drake leader and make what little she could out of life.
Oddly enough, throughout the long night, the image of the swan was replaced with the image of her friend. Her friend was strong and handsome, everything a drake should be. If he'd wanted to be leader of the flock, he could have been. Instead, his only purpose in life seemed to be to love her.
The thought that the swan rejected her hurt, and over the course of the night she came to realize that she cared as much for the drake as she ever had for the swan. Marrying the leader, living without love, was more than she'd be able to bear.
She'd have rejected the leader, but she never had a chance. He was killed in an accident, the way ducks sometimes are.
Turning to the drake would have been the most natural thing in the world, but he was still smarting from her rejection. The duckling knew it would take time to heal the wounds she'd dealt him, but she had nothing but time.
Her evenings with the swan grew fewer and fewer as she spent more of them with her friend. In time, they acknowledged the love that was growing between them. The duckling didn't feel ugly when she was with him; he made her feel beautiful in a way she'd never realized was possible.
On an evening in late autumn, she went to the swan to tell him goodbye. She'd found the friend she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, and although she still sometimes dreamt of white feathers and an arching white neck, she was willing to close that part of her life away forever.
"Part of me will always love you," she began, "but I've found the drake I want to spend my life with. He loves me, and I love him, and when I'm with him I don't feel alone."
"You'd give me up for him?" the swan asked quietly.
Dipping her head, she looked back up at him. "I think he wants me to be his wife."
The swan was silent for a moment, then said, "What would you say if you discovered that he'd lied to you?"
"I'd be angry," the duckling said, "but I love him. Love is about forgiveness."
Dipping his head, the swan said, "Then I have something to show you."
Stretching his head, the swan twisted and shrank. His beautiful white feathers shifted into a more common brown color. With a swimming head, the duckling realized that she knew the shape the swan was taking.
Her friend the drake sat before her.
"Which is the real you?" She couldn't help the anger and hurt in her voice. "Did you just take on the white feathers and the long neck as a way to impress me?"
"My real body is that of the swan, but inside I've always been the drake." The drake stared at her for a long moment. "I didn't want to make you an outsider just because I was."
In time, the duckling forgave him, and she discovered that she had the best of both worlds. By day she had a drake who could challenge her, be a partner, a helpmate and a lover.
But by night she got to fly with the swan.
Being a swan-wife was more than she ever could have hoped for. Best of all, she knew she'd never be alone.