I wrote this for a competition ran by the Hospital Broadcast Service. A fantastic bunch of people made more fabulous by picking my humble tale as it’s first ever competition winner in January 2017.
The Swan hissed. It’s pink tongue trilled inside an opened beak. A few moments before, it’s huge wings had beat the ground as it threw itself at cars, buses and people. Now that it had cleared sufficient territory, it had squatted in the centre of the road, eyes glittering.
He looked down the dual carriageway. Four lanes of cars, buses and lorries. Nothing moved in either direction. Gridlock.
“What now, Constable?”
The officer looked down at an old man standing beside him. He hadn’t been there a second before and his mind conjured up the mysterious tailor from the Mr Ben programmes he’d watched as a child.
The old man was thin and barely five foot tall. He wore black trousers and a black crew-neck sweater over a light blue shirt. A thread-worn flat-cap and a heavy tweed jacket finished off the ensemble. Hands in pockets, he brought out a crumpled paper bag and unfurled it like a little sail.
A large crowd of people had gathered. Workers and young women with children had paused to take in the excitement. It was clear from the baleful stares that much was expected of him. The chequered cap and silver buttoned tunic could be seen for miles and he felt exposed. ‘Here is a Police Officer!’ it shouted. It was obvious who should be in charge.
At this moment it was the Swan.
There did not appear to be any prospect of that changing.
He looked at the swan. His first attempt to grab the bird had resulted in a full running retreat to the pavement. He could still hear the hoots and cat-calls. But the funny side was wearing thin. Everyone just wanted to get to work. Cars edged closer to the bird, which attacked bumpers and headlights with primeval frenzy.
He glanced down to see the old man throw a soor ploom, with practised nonchalance, into his mouth.
“They’re right bad buggers they swans. Take yer arms aff, if yer no careful.”
“Thanks. I’ll try and be careful then.”
“Once saw a man try and grab one.”
“Aye. Ended up at the Royal. Multiple fractures. Shoulda heard the screams.”
The old man continued his morbid recital, the soor ploom rolling inside his cheek, like a huge boil. He did not look up at the officer but fixed his wisdom in the direction of the swan, jabbing his finger at it. The swan responded with a hiss.
“It’s the wings, ye see. Huv tae be strong tae lift that bastardin’ big body aff the ground.”
The officer made a sour face. There was a job to do and he had no time for the pithy wisdom of the Maryhill Attenborough beside him. He resolved to step up to the plate once more. Just as he stepped off the pavement, the old man spoke, his voice laden with troubled sincerity.
“Ah wouldnae, son.”
“Ah wouldnae just repeat whit ye did a few minutes ago. Ye fair made an arse o’ yersel.”
“Don’t mention it.”
The old man was inscrutable. The soor ploom continued to roll around his mouth, the purple veins on his cheek thrown into stark relief as it passed underneath. He made brief eye-contact before, turning to the Swan, he proffered more sage advice.
“You’ve got tae huv a plan.”
“Really. What would you suggest?”
The light hearted sarcasm failed to register a hit, for the old man happily took up the invitation to share his knowledge in all matters swan.
“This wan thinks it’s landed in the canal. Wet road see? It’ll no’ shift. Ye need tae sneak up oan it.”
“I think I may have lost the element of surprise here, don’t you think?”
Oblivious, the old man continued to dispense his wisdom with calm authority. The soor ploom continued its circumnavigation. The officer heard occasional sucking noises. Like the last dregs of water draining from a bath.
“Once you’ve sneaked up oan the Swan, ye grab its neck, turn it doon and twist it under.”
This was accompanied by incomprehensible, frenzied arm movements.
“Once ye’ve goat the burd’s heid under its wing, it goes tae sleep like.”
“Stop. Did you say, ‘under its wing’?”
Visions of the dreadful white weapons filled the officer’s mind.
“Aye, son. Like this…”
More aerobatic origami followed. It looked suspiciously different from the first re-enactment. He remembered his Gran’s budgerigar. It went to sleep when she threw a towel over it’s cage. He looked around for a giant towel.
“Gie it a go, son. It’ll be fine.”
The officer got two feet onto the roadway before the swan attacked. He reached out to grab the Swan’s neck, but the bird, fast and supremely aggressive, pecked with brutal force at his hands. He retreated to the pavement, his capitulation only a little more measured than the last. He winced as he massaged his bruised and cut fingers.
“Naw son. Ye’ve goat tae approach nonchalant… sneak up oan it.”
“You seem to know a lot about this.”
“Aye son. Seen it before. Telt ye earlier”
“When ‘before’ ?” He was conscious that his tone had become impatient.
“Just yesterday son. Right at this spot too. Same bastardin burd if ye ask me.”
“There’s no’ much else to say.”
The soor ploom came around again. It was becoming positively celestial. A brief image of a boiled-confectionery eclipse came, unbidden, into his mind’s eye.
“Well, it was a young fella. Jist like yersel…”
“Wait. You mean another officer?”
“Aye. Ambulance crew did the best they could, but the screams were terrible. It was a good thing that yon man fae the RSPCA sorted it all oot.”
In his peripheral vision he could still see the swan, wings extended, lunging. There was a child’s scream. But that was’nt important right now.
“That man there…”
The old man pointed a nicotine stained finger at a barrel-chested man, in RSPCA uniform, wading through the traffic towards them. The Inspector greeted the old man like an old acquaintance.
“Hello again. Was it yourself who phoned?”
The old man sucked at his soor ploom and nodded.
The bag of sweets was proffered to the Inspector. He placed one in his mouth, rolled up his sleeves and approached the swan. The manner could only be described as nonchalant.
With one swift tuck and turn the swan’s head was folded under a wing and, packed up like up like a holdall, the swan was carried to the pavement.
Huge cheers erupted. Car horns honked and blared. Traffic moved again. Young women dragged protesting children off to school. A bus pulled in and its doors hissed open. The old man rolled up his bag of sweets and looked up with a twinkle in his eye.
“Thanks fur the entertainment son. It’s rare to see the polis making an arse o’ themselves two days running.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that you’d phoned the RSPCA?”
The old man stepped onto the bus and turned just as it began to move off.
“Och, Constable. Ye only had to ask.”
And with a brief, mocking salute, he was gone.
© Brian Cook and The Absentminded Scribe Blog, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Cook and The Absent Minded Scribe Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.