'Swanning Around' by Susan Carey

Lucy's hand trembled as she buckled the silver shoes that matched her grey velvet dress. She ran her fingers through her short hair. That afternoon she had shown the ship's hairdresser the picture of Dame Judi Dench. Getting her hair cut short was an act of boldness that would have been unthinkable if Des were still alive. On Aberystwyth pier in 1962, Des had caught her by her long blonde ponytail. 'The best catch of my life,' he used to say.

She knocked on Wanda's cabin door.

'Look at you!' Wanda said.

'You don't think it's a bit mutton dressed as lamb?'

'If you've got it, flaunt it.' Wanda took Lucy's hand and led her to the mirror. 'Get a load of us!'

Arm in arm they teetered down the corridor. 'I'm having second thoughts about this whole cruise lark.' Lucy said as she faltered on her high heels.

Wanda steadied her. 'We all have to leave our comfort zones sometimes, love. That's what fresh beginnings are all about.'

In the dining room a hubbub of chatter filled the air. Lucy and Wanda sat at a table with two couples they had met earlier. Lucy imagined all eyes upon her new hairstyle as she walked up to the buffet. A whoosh of cold air engulfed her. In the middle of the seafood table was an ice sculpture of a swan. Its neck curled in a serpentine shape and its wings were raised as if it had just landed from some celestial plane.

Lucy's husband had been attacked by a swan once. Des had hooked a big fish in the River Severn and while reeling it in had disturbed a nesting swan. The swan's mate had come at him, wings flapping and Des had dropped his reel and legged it back to the car. The swan stood triumphant at the top of the river bank, chest puffed out in attack mode, guttural noises coming from its throat. Lucy couldn't help but giggle.

'What are you sniggering at?' His face beetroot red from the exertion.

'Nothing, dear. Look, here you are, just in time for fish-paste sandwiches!'

After dinner, a woman wearing a white Grecian gown glided from table to table, handing out flyers. 'Dancing keeps you fit and does wonders for your figure!' Her accent sounded exotic. 'Why don't you join my lesson tomorrow morning? Dancing will make you as powerful and graceful as,' she looked around and pointed towards the sculpture, 'a swan!'

Lucy put the flyer in her bag. Before leaving the dining room, she took one last look behind her. The light was muted now as darkness fell, and the sculpture's outline blurred. Back in her cabin, Lucy lay down and watched the stars through the porthole. She closed her eyes and the swan uncoiled his long neck, took wing across the mirror sea and flew into a bright, cloudless sky.

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