Elisa turned to look out the window, trying to ignore her mother’s voice. It was funny, she thought, how in her mother’s eyes there was a big black line that divided everything into Before The Accident and After The Accident. Before The Accident Elisa had been the sum of her mother’s hopes a dreams - beautiful, confident, intelligent. She’d dreamed of a law career for her daughter, a good marriage (perhaps to a politician - a future Senator), and one day, equally beautiful, confident, and intelligent grandchildren.
Now Elisa was silent and withdrawn. “There’s nothing physically wrong with her,” the doctor had said. And Elisa knew that, knew like she had always known that she was beautiful, that her hair was long and wavy and her skin was golden and clear, that all her muscles and bones and organs and joints worked just beautifully, too. The only thing that had changed was the way that Elisa felt, and she felt as if all those things that her mother wanted for her weren’t what Elisa wanted for herself. But while Elisa’s mother saw it as a strict Before and After, Elisa thought that it was just that what would have been a slow and gentle realisation had come too quickly, taking them both by surprise.
There were swans, outside the window. While Elisa’s mother peppered the newest doctor with questions inside his office, Elisa sat in the reception and watched them, her fingers moving all the while. She wondered whether it was a good life, being a swan. They were a protected species - at least she thought they were. She wondered, if one got hurt, even if it was an accident whether the other swans got angry, or whether it was just humans who wanted revenge for something that no one meant to do.
“They mate for life,” said a voice behind her. Elisa turned, very slowly, and saw that someone else had joined her in the waiting room. It was a boy, maybe a little older than her, since his voice was already broken, and she could see that he had big black circles under his eyes. “Isn’t that weird? Imagine having to be with just one person forever. Those are all males though, you can tell. Well, I can tell - I read a lot. I don’t sleep very well, and you have no idea how boring it is at night if you’re not doing anything and you can’t do anything that makes noise. You can’t speak, can you?” Elisa shook her head, because she could speak, she just didn’t.
“That’s kind of weird, I guess, but that’s why we’re here, right? We’re weird. The doctor said I wasn’t supposed to say that but my mother said that I can cope however I damn well please. Is that knitting? What are you making?” Elisa dug through her rucksack until she’d found the pattern she was working on. The boy eyed it critically. “You’re good,” he said. “I tried knitting once but it had like twenty holes in it and it was just a scarf, which is basic, right? But this isn’t really going to fit a person, not a real person, it’s all the wrong sizes. Is it for a doll?”
Again, Elisa shook her head; and then, because she couldn’t help herself, she glanced out the window, down at the swans. “You’re making a sweater for a swan? That is weird.” There was awe and jealousy in the boy’s voice, and Elisa thought he would probably back off then. Everyone at school had, even her friends. But instead he tugged on her arm. “My appointment isn’t for ages still. Do you want to go see if it’s going to fit? You know you’re going to have to make, like, another five if you’re going to clothe them all, don’t you?”
Elisa allowed herself to be pulled off the sofa, and towards the door. Five wasn’t so many, really, but it would probably take quite a long while to finish them all. Perhaps she’d feel like talking again after that.