When she saw the suitcase disappear behind black plastic flaps, she knew it would be lost. One week after her best friend since grade school, hairless and opiated, stopped gasping for air, she felt guilty about taking this long-planned cruise. Her errant luggage was a small, apt punishment. There was no afterlife. She knew her friend wouldn’t mind one couple missing the memorial service. Still, she felt ashamed to celebrate their silver anniversary on the day her friend became gray ash. In memoriam, she stood staring at the rat-riddled Strasbourg wharf. After they toasted her friend and she wept in her husband’s arms, a swan slipped along the silvered Rhine to their waterline window. The bird floated at the intersection of water and air, a boundary no swan could believe in. It peered into the cabin with jet eyes, droplets of silver running down its neck. Could it be a messenger, even though it was impossible that any product of combustion could have crossed the Atlantic that day? She was reminded of heraldic tinctures—a swan, argent, against a field, azure. She thought of the promise of stained glass. But all she could be sure of was this river, this swan, this boat, this empty wine glass. All silver tarnishes. Her suitcase, having detoured inexplicably to Caracas, was at that very moment on its way to their next stop.
Pat Valdata is a poet and novelist with an MFA in writing from Goddard College. Her publications include two poetry books, Where No Man Can Touch (winner of the 2015 Donald Justice Poetry Prize) and Inherent Vice; the chapbook Looking for Bivalve; and two novels, Crosswind and The Other Sister. She is an adjunct professor who teaches creative writing for the University of Maryland University College and the Salisbury University Center for Extended and Lifelong Learning.