“Mr. Fister,[*] Cindy wants a swan!”
“Well,” said Fister, looking directly at my face and smiling the way animals do when issuing some imminent threat, “then she can ask for one.”
The exchange was a surprise; I was hovering in the doorway of the school’s Hospitality class waiting for Dolly so we could walk home.
I was not angling for a swan, one of dozens of confectionary creations made that afternoon by the class for parents’ night.
I did not want a swan. I did not want to ask for a swan. The swans looked chalky to me, dry and especially pathetic. They looked like uneven, bottom-heavy worms that tapered upwards into a vague S-shape with two dark sprinkles for eyes and a gob of icing for a beak.
They looked like hell.
Dolly looked at me expectedly. Mr. Fister tucked his small teeth under the greying hair of his handlebar mustache.
“Mr. Fister, can I have a swan?”
Mr. Fister watched as I reluctantly plucked a swan at random; one from among the demented flock before me. That was probably the worst part: that despite everything, I had also brought this on myself.
I took one bite: I was right. It was chalky, dry. It tasted like stale, hollowed-out bread. And something else, far more distasteful…
The incident remains largely forgotten in my daily life. But sometimes, when I encounter ugly birds or badly-executed desserts or unseemly, overbearing men, or when Dolly again does something that particularly annoys, I remember that foul-tasting little swan, the only innocent among the four of us that day.
[*] Was “Fister” even his real name? If it ever mattered, it doesn’t now.