It was already over by the time I found the goose. Which I should have known then, she’d said as much. But she’d said things before that weren’t true. Her word surely wasn’t God’s. Not that I trusted his either. But the point is it was over before I knew it. And before the goose.
* * *
“Can we do something?” I ask, tilting my head so my brown bob probably looks askew to Candice. But when I look at the world this way, it makes everything fall into place. Like this is how it is meant to be. Like it is never meant to be looked at straight. I push a few strands out of my eyes so I can see Candice out of the corner of my eye.
“What do you wanna do?” She asks without moving closer to where I’m seated on the soft couch that gathers me into it without me having to ask. Candice stands a step or two behind it, close enough that she could reach out and touch the back of it, could reach the back of my head and run the tips of her fingers through my hair if she wanted, but she doesn’t. She is looking in my direction but not at me. As though I am a ghost whose presence she can sense but whose shape she cannot quite discern.
I shrug my answer, but then change my mind. I am already losing the thing I really want so in the meantime I might as well ask for anything and everything else. I can’t be punished for wanting any more. “Go for a walk.”
I don’t wait for the inevitable question of who will drive us to the walking trail. My fingers release a strand of thread on the couch’s seam that they’d found to stretch and twist, and grab my keys from the counter on my way to the truck, and Candice follows me out the door, her boots tread silently over the bowing panels of the wood floors, but I still hear them.
I grab a handful of scratch from the feed container and throw it into the yard, and the chickens come running, their goofy bodies wobbling as they rush forward, stopping to peck the ground when they find seed.
I watch them feed as I reverse out of the drive.
This could be any day. It isn’t any day, of course, and yet it also still is. We’ve had this conversation. We’ve gone on this walk. How many times? A year. A year of walks. And we’ve walked right up to this moment.
The afternoon-turning-dusk light is beautiful. Gold and bright, like something out of a dream, like something out of a memory. The humid air, which used to choke me when I tried to take it in, holds me now. Each step feels a little like swimming, the air turning to water wrapping around me, its current carrying me along. I want to tell Candice this. And I turn to do so, but instead I say, “I don’t know what to talk to you about anymore.”
“I know.” She still isn’t looking at me. I can’t see the blue of her eyes, but I can see what they see: the endless green—more green than either of us had ever seen before we came here. There is so much of it you can see the entire spectrum of its shades—lime to emerald, avocado to evergreen, and everything in between. It’s almost overwhelming. Maybe the “almost” applies only to me though. The edge of tremendous always drawing me—to feel everything so fully that it almost ends me. It is devastating.
“I can’t talk to you about normal stuff because nothing is normal anymore.” It’s devastating.
“I don’t know what to say.” I can’t admit I’m trying and wish she would try harder. My eyes look down at her hands, hanging by her side, against her shorts.
So we walk without talking. I think about how if we just keep on walking this way maybe we will walk our way right out of this, right up to a different moment. A different place, a different time. And we do, in a way, and it doesn’t mean anything like how I wanted it to. Instead, we walk right up to a flock of geese.
“Geese always make me think of Fly Away Home.” I tell Candice without meaning to. I don’t look to see if she nods in response.
I remember seeing this movie in the stiff living room of my father’s employer, where I was offered black licorice as a treat and realized for the first time that even candy can taste bitter. The plot was simple to me then: a young girl became a bird. After seeing it, I spent many nights dreaming I was flying.
Candice starts walking slightly ahead of me, taking careful steps along the trail. “Geese are mean,” she explains when my head begins to tilt.
I don’t try to explain that the world was tilting and I was just righting it. That I know why her gait is awkward. Hers is a half-truth, so I correct it. “Geese can be mean. Usually when they’re scared.” Like everyone else, I think.
“Yes, exactly, and look at all the young ones.” I did look then, my head tilting even more to take it all in. There are a lot of geese that aren’t young enough to be goslings but aren’t full-grown yet either. They’re juveniles and, like goslings, have a lot of maturing left to do. “The adults might attack.”
“You’re right.” As my eyes continue to scan the green space around the trail, I realize there are more geese than I’d ever seen in one place, each one a brushstroke of gray on the green canvas. “God, there are so many.”
“Yeah, there are.” Candice meets my eyes for the first time all day, and for just a moment the space between us feels normal, like this is just an average day. Then she looks away, and so I do too. When I do, I see a young goose hopping several yards from the rest of the flock.
“What’s that one doing?” No amount of head tilting rights the image in my head.
“Looks like something’s wrong with its legs.”
My eyes flit to the left leg trailing behind the bird, the foot bent backward like it might have been broken at the ankle.
Candice has started walking again, and I jog a few strides to catch up. “What do you think will happen to him?” In the past year, Candice has ruffled when I ask questions that she thinks I should know the answer to. I hear in her voice she thinks this is one of those.
I stop breathing for a moment, the soft summer air has turned winter bitter. It isn’t the idea of death, though I hate that too, which Candice knows. It is how casually she’d said it. No emotion. For herself, the goose, or me. A fact of life, nothing more.
“Really?” Part of me knows she is right, but it is the small part of me. The other part of me so badly doesn’t want it to be true that I can’t even consider the possibility.
I can feel the tears starting to varnish my eyes, but I don’t want to cry anymore. Maybe that was why Candice couldn’t meet me eyes all day, since she’d said that first truth, which I had hoped was a half-truth or not a truth at all. I don’t want to cry just because she has said this truth too.
We walk a few more steps. Me clutching my track shorts to have something to hang on to, the heavy air holding me is no longer enough. Candice looking straight ahead or to her right, where I am not.
Finally she stops.
“You want to go get him?”
She nods and pulls her T-shirt over her head, handing it to me, leaving her in just a sports bra. It takes me about four tentative tries to reach him, but on the fourth, I am able to wrap the goose up in the T-shirt without too much trouble. He doesn’t put up much of a fight.
I cradle him in my arms and carry him back to my car and hold him in my lap while Candice takes my keys and drives us home. I section off part of our chicken coup for Gimpy, give him water and food. A blanket. He is as safe as I can keep him.
“He looks really bad.” Her matter-of-fact tone is soft like the goose’s feathers but still bare.
“You think so?” I am too distraught to judge the goose’s state. I know he’s hurt, but I don’t know what that means yet.
“I hope he makes it.”
He just has to make it through the night then tomorrow I can drive him to the wildlife rescue right when it opens at nine. Just twelve hours from now.
I don’t think one night is too long, but I should know better—how long had the previous night been for me? The kind of night when you don’t think your body will ever fall asleep, and then just before the dawn you do, and then it is morning so you cannot keep sleeping even though you’ve finally found what you’ve been searching for all night. If it had been a choice, I would have flown away last night.
When I go to check on the goose the next morning, I am not surprised he is gone.
Morgan Riedl is a doctoral student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio where she lives with her rez dog and retired horse (not in the house). She has an MA in creative nonfiction from Colorado State University. Her work has previously appeared on Brevity’s blog and was a semifinalist for Ruminate’s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize in 2017.