“The river rises, flows over its banks and carries us all away like mayflies floating downstream. They stare at the sun, then all at once there is nothing.”
—Utnapishtim, The Epic of Gilgamesh
I awake, half-submerged, surrounded by the carcass that was me, and is me, no more. I see a new world illuminated by a glaring molten eye above me. I extend my wings, and wait for the water to burn away, to free me from the last remnants of my watery home. This is my childhood; a brief respite, a frantic flight, and a patient wait upon the river bank.
As I grow up, excitedly rushing through my teen minutes, I watch the flock above, dancing in the Spring sun. Look! The sweeps, the bows, the dives! Each move is new and exciting! Soon I will join the adults in the sky, and create my own sequence. What will I be? Who will I meet? Will I dive like that one, or the other? Will my movements mimic him? Or her? My potential role models number in the millions, surging and soaring above me.
The time has come. My childhood is over. I molt. I stretch and feel the tearing. My dun skin splits, revealing gossamer wings, ephemeral and delicate. Such effort! Such strain! My God! I have never known the like before. My labor stretches on and on, painfully ripping myself free from myself, a leaf for my delivery room, no midwife but myself, millimeter by millimeter, rip, stretch, rip, stretch, rip, stretch, rip! Stretch! Rip! Stretch! At last!
I am free!
I rush into the sky, to join my million siblings. I join the dance, rising to the treetops, diving to the river surface. I barely remember that watery was once my home. There is nothing but the dance in my mind now. I seek eagerly for the partner of my lifetime, the singular one who will join with my choreography. I check each face that passes for my heart, each wing for my soul. Not that one, not that one, no, nor that one. Neither of those two, or the two that follow, or any of the thousands around me.
Still I search, undaunted. The seconds stretch to minutes. The minutes turn to hours. No knight has quested as long. My life slowly slips away. I am old now, and still I search. My wings are tired, my legs creak with the wind. My antenna droop, a sign of my generation. I will not settle, not even now, in the twilight of my time here. I have seen millions fall in love, dance together, and pass on. But my time is not done. I have but one choice left to make, and I will not relinquish this goal. I fly over and through the flock, as they dance and search, the older pairs slowly falling, the late bloomers steadily rising. My time to join the rushing darkness below will come soon, but not yet. Not yet! I defy the darkness! I am not yet complete!
And there she is. Older, ancient, in the sunset of her life and, like a sunset, resplendent. I know she is the one, and I see the revelation mirrored in her million eyes. We glide towards each other, suddenly alone in our ballet. We tentatively touch, reverted instantly to our awkward adolescent minutes once more in the face of this strange sense of completion. Tis odd, to find a part of yourself you never knew was missing. Odd, and yet natural, all at once.
She rose, I followed. I dipped, she dived. We move as one, following and leading in turns. First she, then I, then her again. There is no need to think. We cannot talk, for our mouths are sealed, and have been since we were infants. Our stomachs are empty but for air and butterflies. We are old, the two of us, but we no longer feel our aging bones or creaking souls. We soar! Higher and higher and higher, bursting above the others, fighting to reach clear air, dodging and weaving amongst the chaotic beauty, joyful in the movement and the unity. At last, we break the ceiling of our flock, and ascend, alone but for each other, consummating our love, in perfect silence, accompanied only by the rustle of the water and the leaps of the trout so far below.
At last, we tire, old beyond belief. We slowly descend, clinging to each other. As we pass the others, the neighbors and the family we have always known, we reminisce about our life. The sun is setting, boiling the clouds into golden steam. To think that this morning, we were young! It seems so distant, and yet so close. We can no longer flap our wings. Our arthritis seizes our bodies, and meter by meter we fall. But we have no regrets, and our lives have been full. Our children will live and dance beyond us. We will be echoes heard faintly in their eyes, their wings, their dance.
Slowly, so slowly, we fall back, entwined in each other’s arms. We rest upon the river surface that birthed us. Our legs twitch. Our eyes close. We die.