Leda and the Swan
Leda sat on the park bench, minding his own business. Well, that's not quite true: in this rare moment of idleness, he was admiring the blooming, small-flowered racemes of wisteria, nestled in the branches of the tall pine tree, just a few. The pale lavender against the dark green. He looked down. At his feet, a few buttercups had escaped the park's shears, and were scattered among the green grass, growing out to the edge of the carefully cobblestoned walk. He sniffed, but the scent of the wisteria didn't carry to him. In the bright sunshine, his own hair, which was a very dark blond and somewhat disheveled, shone almost like a halo around his head, but he was unaware of this. Not that he was unconscious of his own appearance, as a rule, although it was frequently a bit unruly. He liked it that way. Wisteria and pine… he had seen paintings of this, a few from China? Japan? But now from Europe as well… the pine lives so long, and the wisteria blooms for only a month… his eyes began to close. That must be very important to the Asians… wasn't there something else? The pine was male, and the wisteria female? Or was it… the other way around? "…she dances under a beautiful pine tree, covered in wisteria, expressing the emotions found in unrequited love in the manner of the women of the… something… period…" His eyes closed; his head sank forward upon his breast.
Suddenly, there was a rushing and flapping of wings, and an enormous swan lifted him in its beak by his well-exposed nape, and carried him high above the park, the city. Leda could see enough of the wings to know that the swan was white.
"Where are we going?" he asked, fearfully.
"You," the swan said (it was what we call a "mute" swan, and kept its gentle hold on Leda's nape, but no matter), "aren't going anywhere." Maintaining his almost still place in the air with the beating of his wings, and transferring his hold on Leda to his strong webbed feet, he used his beak to slit open—waist to crotch—the back of Leda's trousers (there was a small scratch at first; "Ouch!" said Leda), which fell slowly to earth. With Leda still in his webbed feet, and returning his upper hold on him to his beak, he proceded to rape him. Leda had never been raped by anyone or anything before, and, not to go into any detail (yet), at first it hurt a lot, and then not at all, and then it felt wonderful. He was even too flummoxed to notice that the swan seemed perfectly conscious of Leda's own sexual needs. But afterwards, he realized this, and always appreciative of good sex, even though he had never had it the wrong way around, or from a stranger, and a swan to boot, he said, "I say, that was great! Let's—"
"That's all," said the swan, loosing his hold on Leda, who, angry now, managed to take a tiny nip with his teeth out of the wing closest to him as the swan flew away. ("Ouch!" said the swan.) "Remember me, but not long," he said, while still within hearing distance.
Leda floated gently down, and landed on the park bench, with a light thump, his clothing mysteriously intact. "Humph," he said, cross about the sudden desertion, "that wasn't very… nice." A long white feather clung to the hem of his jacket, and he brushed it off. It landed in the green grass at his feet. He looked at the composition: the feather was very white, and the grass very green. "No," he said aloud, "too much contrast. Besides, what's the sense in a swan's feather in the grass?" (Not, he thought, that there was any sense in being raped by a swan.) He remembered, not the pleasure, but the pain, and gingerly moved his hindquarters on the bench. It didn't hurt at all. He had many friends, some of whom were homosexual, and thought he remembered that it should hurt now. Why didn't he think of the pleasure? Because, as he decided in a split second, to go around longing, however briefly, for a beast with which he shared a sex, but not species would be ridiculous.
Putting it all together (the floating, the lack of pain, the intact clothing, the swan itself), he now realized that it had all been a dream. "What an extraordinary dream!" he said aloud.
"What was?" said a familiar voice, as his friend David sat down next to him. The first thing he always thought of when David sat next to him, at a concert, a meal, a play, anything with chairs of equal height, was that while he, Leda, was at least two inches taller than David, David was always taller sitting down, because he was so long from the hips up. The second thing was that David was always disgustingly neat, as if he had spent five hours in front of a mirror. Then David became the friend he knew, which was very welcome, although sometimes a little frightening. Aside from being disgustingly neat, he was disgustingly intelligent.
"What was the extraordinary dream?" repeated David, looking keenly into his eyes. People, thought Leda, talk about myeyes; David's, although not large, were like two gray-green oceans observing you.
"Could you please manage to look at both my eyes at the same time?" said David. "Instead of first one eye and then the other?"
"I told you," said Leda, crossly, "the second time you mentioned it, that half of mankind look at people that way. At least half," he added.
"How do you know?"
"I asked all my friends. Most of them do."
"Well, I don't. Foolishness. We both have two perfectly good eyes. Are you going to tell me your dream or not?"
"No," said Leda, definitively. He had decided, during the previous chitchat, never to tell anyone. Not even his brother. But especially not David, who sometimes said strange things to him. He thought for a minute. Like: "Even though you are not responsible for my bad mood, it might have something to do with you." And Leda had answered, "That's enough of that now!" But in a nice way, of course. Actually, it didn't seem like such a strange thing to say now.
"No," David echoed.
"It's—too embarrassing!" said Leda, honestly. He looked down at his feet. Even the feather had disappeared.
"No," repeated David, a second time. "I'm insulted," he said lightly. And, still looking at Leda, smoothed the side of his moustache with the fourth finger of his right hand, which bore a signet ring, that should have been his brother's but somehow he had it. The finger also had a piece of sticking plaster at its tip.
"What happened to your finger?" asked Leda.
"I cut it shaving," he said, without changing expression.
"Don't be insulted," said Leda, "It was really a very strange dream—and you're always seeing psychological meanings in things."
David laughed. "You mean, I might think you enjoyed it?" Leda assumed this was just a good guess, and besides, an embarrassing dream might easily concern sex, at least tangentially. Besides, God knows, David had sisters (one of whom he had courted). It wasn't as if they never talked about sex—although not interspecies, or same-sex sex.
"Yes," Leda said, and laughed too, putting a hand on David's knee.
"I promise not to think anything like that," said David, with uncharacteristic meekness, looking down. I'm always touching people, Leda thought, removing his hand from the knee. Especially David. But other memories came back. Perhaps the dream experience with the swan had sensitized him to them. He, Leda, while they were sitting on the couch talking, at his place or David's, had actually nestled against David's chest, as if David were his father (he had no father) and he a little boy… more than once. David had never inclined his head, but sometimes let his arm fall from the couch back around David's shoulder, without any pressure. And suddenly he remembered unwillingly, during the sex with the swan, when he began to feel as though he never wanted to have sex with anyone but this swan, putting his hands back into the hollows between the swans' wings and his chest, feeling the chest's rhythmic stretching motions at he beat the air, closing his eyes (Leda closed his eyes now), crying out as the shuddering climax came, scrabbling with his fingers against the soft chest feathers, trying to hold the chest, as he felt his juices course through his sex organs, and out into the air… and then, he thought of something funny: I wonder if anyone in the park was surprised that it was raining sperm? Probably not, with all the gooey spring trees… but it had been a dream. He smiled.
He opened his eyes to see David looking into them, as if expecting something. Then the white swan and his dark friend, David and the swan, became one. The passion he had felt in mid-air shot through him again, now directed at David, and he felt himself blushing furiously. But in spite of this, he said: "I dreamed I was raped by a swan. But I lied. I did enjoy it. Very much." He picked up David's right hand, and stroked the sticking plaster on the fourth finger. "It was you—being imperious, but it was you, the whole time."
David put his hand on Leda's chin, and very softly brushed his lips against Leda's. Leda's full lips opened to lose themselves in a kiss, but David pulled back. Leda looked at him expectantly, furiously. David raised an imperious index finger. "This is the way swans do it," he said, and again brushed Leda's lips with his own, several times. Two women, walking by, stopped to look.
"Seems to be some sort of mating ritual,' said one.
"I wouldn't mind a little of that," said the other, and they walked on, laughing together.
David laughed. "Two Ladies in Conversation," he said.
"Oh!" said Leda. He had just finished a painting which he had decided to call that… had he shown it to David?
David stood up, and held out his hand for Leda, who took it, and they both started back the way David had come, their arms around each others' shoulders. With the motion, Leda felt a slight pain from the scratch at his waist.
"…and you'd better let me put some peroxide on that scratch. Birds' beaks are filthy," David said, and gave Leda's shoulder a hard squeeze. And then, because he couldn't resist, tousled Leda's unruly hair.
Although this is fiction, the people in it are real. There is not too much emphasis placed on their reality, and it's perfectly possible to enjoy the story without knowing who they are (or when they lived, my reader tells me). Yeats was already writing, but had not yet written "Leda and the Swan," so I have posted this under the first written source (that I know of), Ovid's "Metamorphoses." There are many Renaissance paintings of the rape of Leda by Zeus (or Io by Jupiter--the legend exists in both Greek and Roman cultures) in the form of a swan. My favorite is Corregio's ("Jupiter and Io"), and I kept the Yeats poem in front of me as I wrote the story. Which may be why I turned an essentially earthbound activiy into a helecopter.
Anyone who would like to see a photogarph of David, from about three years before these events, a (black and white) scan of "Two Ladies in Conversation" (1902), or a scan of Corregio's "Jupiter and Io," please send me a message with an e-mail address. As far as I know, there are no good photos of Leda, and I'd hate to send a bad one.
Comments, positivre or negative, are most welcome.