When you buy a house, no one ever tells you all its secrets. Foundation issues, maybe. A ghastly double murder? That might come up. But the fact that the attic door sticks in the summer or an armadillo has babies under the deck every spring—these are things you have to find out on your own. Which is why, when I moved to 324 Ladybird Lane, I had no idea there was a famous politician buried in my front yard.
I didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood when I moved in, and I could tell people were curious about me. They slowed down when walking past the house or waved from car windows, but no one had found a reason to approach me yet. I was a single man with no child and no dog living in a neighborhood of families and old folks and labradoodles. Everyone seemed to be at least ten years older than me and empty nesters or ten years younger and pushing strollers.
I didn’t mind that I didn’t fit in. Having just come out of a long-term relationship, I wasn’t looking for either a wife or a crazy party life. I just wanted my own place and my own yard and a little space to figure out who I was now. This seemed like a nice neighborhood to do that in.
My house was small, but plenty big for just myself, and the yard was great. In the back there was a good-sized deck (apparently attractive to armadillos) and two large shady trees. The front was plain but well-kept with a small plot of irises growing near one corner. They were pretty, but it seemed like an odd location for them, as if someone had thrown a stone and said, “There! That’s where we’ll plant.”
I’d been living there about a week when I looked out the window and saw an older man standing on the sidewalk staring at the irises. I’m naturally an introvert, but I knew I needed to make some connections so people wouldn’t start making up strange rumors about me, so I gathered up my courage and ventured outside.
“Hello!” I called.
He waved. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
I agreed. We shook hands and exchanged names. He introduced himself as Arthur Cannon, a widower who lived one street over. Then he said, “I don’t walk as much as I used to, but it’s such a nice day, I thought I’d stop by and see the mayor.” He gestured vaguely behind him.
I looked at the house next door, a mirror image of my own, except in red brick instead of white. “Really? The mayor lives there? I had no idea.”
Arthur squinted at me and grinned. “No, not that mayor. THE Mayor. She doesn’t live anywhere anymore. She’s buried right here in your yard.”
I looked at the irises and back at Arthur. He was watching me closely and I realized now that this was the reason for his walk, to give me this news.
“There’s…” I cleared my throat. “There’s a MAYOR buried in my front yard?”
He nodded. “Thought you should know. People round here have been wondering about you, hoping you won’t do anything to desecrate her memory.”
“Oh, no, of course I wouldn’t dream of… uh. Who, I mean, what was she the mayor of?”
“She was The Mayor of this neighborhood. Unofficially, of course.”
By this time, I could tell that Arthur was using capital letters every time he said “The Mayor,” but I couldn’t think about grammar while I was picturing an old woman lying beneath the St. Augustine grass. Was that even legal?
“Everyone called her that by the end, but at first she had lots of names. Penny, Feathers, Lucy Goosy, Hank. ‘Course that was before we knew her gender. She lived down at the pond but ventured all over the place, walking up the sidewalks, lounging on lawns, and she LOVED to give speeches! She’d stand on someone’s porch steps and just let loose! You could hear her for a mile. People would just shake their heads and say, ‘The Mayor’s at it again.’ Was such a shame when she died.”
“Excuse me,” I said. “Are you talking about… a goose?”
Arthur nodded and kept talking. “All the kids loved her. She wasn’t a pet, wouldn’t stand for someone to touch her, but she’d let them follow her around. They looked so cute waddling down the sidewalk, The Mayor and her trail of human goslings. Sometimes she stood smack in the center of the road. Cars would stop and honk at her, and she’d honk right back.” Arthur laughed, then stopped abruptly. “Everyone around here knew to watch out for her. That’s why I know it was an outsider who hit her.” He pointed to the intersection two houses down. “That’s where it happened. Right at that corner. Someone hit her and just left her there. Betty—she lived in this house before you—she buried The Mayor here in her yard and her granddaughter planted the irises.”
We both looked at the big pink and yellow blooms. “She was a good goose,” Arthur said.
Unsure how else to respond, I nodded solemnly. “So this was pretty recently?” I asked, wondering what the appropriate grieving period is for a fowl.
“Oh yes,” he said. “Just two years ago.” Then he pulled a small sprig of lilac out of his pocket and laid it carefully on the grass. I kept nodding but felt my eyebrows try to lift off my face. Wow, I thought, this was one beloved goose.
It turns out, I had no idea.
The flowers kept coming, as well as gifts of other sorts. Not every day or even every week, but once in a while, on a semi-regular basis, I looked out the front window in the morning to see a woman placing a daisy on The Mayor’s grave or a man sprinkling sunflower seeds on my lawn. One morning I backed out of my garage and was startled to see a child standing on the sidewalk reading a poem to the dead goose while her misty-eyed parents looked on. One afternoon, I came home and found a “Best of Mozart” CD atop The Mayor’s final resting place and wasn’t entirely sure if it was an offering or litter. A couple of days later, it was gone.
Most of the mourners didn’t disturb me in the least. They had been friends of The Mayor and simply wanted to pay their respects in peace. But some people knocked on my door and when I answered, asked excitedly if I could tell them where the goose was buried. These were the people who left trinkets—ceramic geese and heart ornaments and angels—and took selfies or asked me to take photos. I quickly pegged them for what they were: tourists. Out-of-towners getting kicks on local lore. I started saying no to photos and stopped answering the door, instead choosing to stomp around my house grumbling about these sycophantic rubberneckers who’d never even met The Mayor. Then I remembered that I had never met The Mayor either and saw that I was becoming a crotchety old man at the age of 39.
So I quit my grumbling and spent $40 on an engraved rock, not a headstone exactly, just a marker, that read, “Here lies The Mayor.” Then, in smaller text underneath, “Please pay your respects briefly and peacefully.”
It seemed to work. The rock actually drew more attention to the grave, but people stopped ringing my doorbell, and I got a kick out of the solemn way people spoke in hushed voices and tiptoed past the site.
Then one day about a year after I moved in, I left the house to go running and saw a woman laying a handful of dandelions on the corner of my yard opposite from where The Mayor is buried. “The goose is over there,” I said and pointed.
The woman looked up at me with large, round eyes and said, “What goose?”
“Never mind,” I said, and jogged off before she could respond. If there was anyone else buried in my yard, I didn’t want to know about it.
Carie Juettner is a teacher, poet, and short story author. Her work has appeared in The Texas Poetry Calendar, Nature Futures, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. Carie lives in Austin, Texas, where she enjoys watching the screech owls, roadrunners, and grackles. Follow her tweets at @cariejuettner.