I go with them. They give me a pliant, misted, webbed sort of cowl to put over my head so that I am compelled to follow their shapes without being able to see where I'm going. We are walking quickly; after a while I hear a strange dry rustling and know that I am walking through very long grass; spear grass, taller than me by a foot or two when I look up and see its vague blurry presence.
When we stop they take back the cowl and I see that I am standing in a bright, directionless sort of florescent light with a silvery lavender cast, by a river that looks like the Avon in Christchurch as it used to be- that bend by the Gardens where you could hire peddle boats. The swan people tell me I can ask two questions and remain, as though they are waiting to convey them. I sit down on the bank. The grass is not grass at all, but short and thorny and when I look at it the blades are shaped just like miniature bay leaves.
I see him sitting on the opposite bank, in the unrelenting shade of great oaks that meet and keep that land dark. I don't need the swans to take the words to him, and they withdraw, annoyed, I think. So I ask my two questions and he replies, his voice low and plush and considered as always, and grief and longing are like a piece of half-worked iron, glowing from the forge inside my chest, unendurable.
No one is ever allowed to ask anything more, and I accept this without knowing why.
I don't remember leaving the river but the black swan people take me back quickly, telling me I have to be in the house before the birds start singing. The rasp of the tall grass against my ears and then the walk down alone from the hills between here and Waitati.
When I wake I hear a dunnock singing his little aubade outside the window.