On Living With Geese

Susan Pagani

The goose arrived in early Autumn. William, my husband, was standing on top of the shed, working on the roof. The shed was ramshackle, its floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with bottles and bags of powders—alumina, bentonite, borax, cobalt oxide and lithium carbonate—wood working tools, packing peanuts, and weathered cardboard boxes. It belonged to his mother, Daphne. Nearly eighty and a working potter, she used the shed to mix her glazes and pack her pottery off to folks around the country. William’s father, Roger, had built it in the seventies, and the asphalt shingles were so curled and cupped that the roofing nails had all been exposed and were bleeding rust. As William pulled the nails out, steel strained against the wood, creating a series of rapid screeches—something like a manic squeaky toy or the call of a domestic goose.

Daphne’s house and shed sit on a slim tidal canal that is fed by the San Francisco Bay. She has a double lot, on which she has created an English garden—well, she’s English, so that’s what we call it—charming and unkempt with a rambling bed of roses, fruit trees and, as she says, some rather brackish kale plants that grow wild on the canal bank. Across the water, there is a tiny dollop of land called Santa Margarita Island.

Nail after nail, William cast his song out over the canal, and soon it was returned in a see-saw of calls—scree-honk, scree-honk, scree-honk. William looked up to see a snow white goose fly over the island and land on the lawn below the shed.

In gray workpants, a T-shirt and a red fleece cap, William looked more like a lanky garden gnome than a gander, but the goose waited below, pacing the bank of the canal and answering his nails with a plaintive honk. When at last he climbed down the ladder, she ran at him—neck bobbing, legs waddling madly. William took hold of the ladder, prepared to give ground, but the goose stopped short of his legs and dropped her long, slender neck, and so he knelt down. Her eyes were cornflower blue, her beak was bright orange and knobbed, and she cooed and trilled as he pet her back feathers.

The goose hung around for the rest of the morning. If William went up the ladder, she waited at the bottom, venturing only as far as the bank of the canal to graze on the kale; if he came down it, she followed him into the shed and about the yard, watching attentively as he worked.

At some point, Daphne made a cup of Earl Grey tea for William and took it out to him, our catahoula Ella trailing not far behind. When the dog spotted the goose, her tail dropped between her legs, but her muzzle moved cautiously forward. The goose flung her wings wide, as if to say, “Come no further!” and charged. Ella retreated, bounding into the house. Daphne turned to follow, the goose hurtling along, hissing and honking behind her, the hot tea sloshing over the lip of the cup—she decided to ditch the cup, and as she bent to set it on the ground, the bird leapt up and pinched her hard in the bottom.

When I arrived several hours later, Daphne greeted me at the door, still chuckling. “The most extraordinary thing has happened,” she said. My mother-in-law has wispy gray-blonde hair and a beautiful, deeply lined face—all the lines arch up and into her pale-blue eyes when she smiles. She’s a small woman, often cold, so she wears a turtleneck every day (part of her uniform: jeans, wool socks, and rubber sandals). But her most striking feature is her hands, which are large and muscular, perhaps from all those years at the pottery wheel. She used them to tell me about the goose, two meaty hands gliding through the air like the goose coming into the yard, its beating wings, the rudder-like tail of a dog brought low. “No one can come near her, only William. She’s chased me all about—I mean, she really goosed me! There’ll be a bruise; I’d better find that tin of arnica. Well, never mind, come and see.”

                                                                    *****

By the time William’s goose flew into the yard, we had been living with Daphne for two months. We had moved to Marin from San Antonio, Texas, at the end of a hard time that had begun with the death of William’s father, Roger.

One day Roger had called William in San Antonio to say that he was inexplicably clumsy; a few days later he was disoriented and having trouble walking. He lost control of his bladder. William told his mother to take Roger to the hospital. It turned out Roger had a glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive tumor in the center of his brain, the corpus callosum. It was at first no bigger than a seed, but over the course of days—as the neurologist explained to William in a metaphor too beautiful and benign—it hatched and, like a cabbage white butterfly, spread its wings across both sides of his temporal and parietal lobes. By the time we got to California, Roger’s short-term memory was gone. He knew us, but not why he was in the hospital. Every day William had to explain to his father that he was dying. Two months later, he did die.

After the funeral, we returned to Texas. I went back to my job at the city’s alt weekly newspaper, where I was a food editor and news reporter. William expected to jump back into his residency and his books; he had one more board exam to pass before he could start practicing medicine. But it wasn’t that smooth. Roger had been the sort of father who gave his children cocaine for toothaches, swung his way through the 70s, and spent his last years perennially on the edge of bankruptcy because of bogus get-rich-quick schemes. But he was also an inventor, a carpenter, and wonderful hugger, who told his children he loved them every day. The glioblastoma had made it impossible for William and his sister—for any of us—to make satisfying peace with him. He had died at a low point, poor and disappointed, and much too early. As a son, William felt he should have taken his father’s side more in life; as a physician, he should have been more helpful at the end. During his study hours, I’d find him whittling sticks in our chicken coop or napping on the couch. Both of us were sad and lonely—everyone who had known Roger, everyone who understood, was back in California.

We were also broke. Rent and food were cheap in San Antonio, and we’d always been able to allocate the better part of our meager salaries to medical school loans and to set aside a small savings for travel and car repairs. Traveling back and forth to California for two months had eaten up some of our small reserve, but the rest we’d blithely frittered, cooking large and elaborate meals for our friends and buying each other treats. My old Honda stopped running after a handful of expensive but unsuccessful repairs, so William bought me a new Honda—though we’d vowed always to buy used cars. When William fell in love with a huge painting—a luminous pink splatter based on the Fibonacci formula—I bought it for his birthday. I don’t remember how we justified it all. Maybe we believed these gifts would lift the pall of exhaustion and grief that had fallen over us. Maybe we believed eating the good cheese meant everything was all right. Maybe we believed that when William finished his residency this period of our lives would end and everything really would be all right. 

Summer came, residency ended, and with it William’s half of our income. We had no plan, we were living on my $1,500 a month salary, and we owed $80,000 in med school debt. William still had to take the medical board exam. He’d need a course to study for it and a plane ticket to get to the test center. All of that would cost money. It was no time to quit a job, but the newspaper was imploding under new management—many of my favorite people had already bailed—and we were itching to get out of Texas and the oppressive heat. Moving would cost money. We decided to call our parents.

                                                                   ******

I followed Daphne into the yard and saw the goose sitting in the grass. The grass was yellow; the goose was white. The tips of her wings were crossed over her upturned tail feathers like a fancy napkin and, in the arch of her neck and the turn of her head, there was so much grace and contentment. I said, “Oh.” It came out quiet as a sigh, but she heard it. Her wings unfurled and she shot towards me, body low and flat, neck outstretched. Her beak unhinged, and a bright red tongue extended in a silent honk. She was a magnificent goose; I thought her feathers must be fine and soft. I saw her blue eyes. I thought I could pacify her, as one might do a broken dog, and so I knelt and put my forehead on the ground. The yard was incredibly still, and for a few seconds all I could hear were her great webbed feet crushing the dry grass as she crossed the yard.

And then the goose was on my head, in my hair, rapping hard at my ears. I yelled and laughed—was I in danger?—and sat up and tried to fend her off, flailing my arms yet distantly aware that I was fighting a bird. I never felt a single feather, only her sharp beak as she pecked my elbows and pinched my knees. It seemed to go on forever, but William was right there and he lifted her off me.

I stood and felt my ears for blood. There wasn’t any, only the grass in my hair. William had the goose in the crook of his arm. She let him hold her, but her neck stayed in constant motion, bobbing and weaving like a boxer.

“Is it wrong to punch a goose?” I said.

“Oh no, you can’t hit her,” Daphne said. Her accent is strongest when she’s incredulous.

“She hit me first.”

“Yes, but why did you lay on the ground? Silly girl.”

She was scolding me. I looked at William to see if he’d caught it, but he was too involved with the now calm goose. She sat heavy and relaxed in his arms—William’s hand deep in her feathers—and her legs dangled beneath her, slack as a resting marionette.

“Look how tame she is,” William said.

“She’s someone’s pet, isn’t she?” Daphne said. “What lovely eyes.”

                                                                   *****

In Marin, William had signed up for a medical board prep course, and I’d found a job writing real estate and insurance forecasts. It paid twice what I’d made at the alt weekly. My beat was the building, buying, and leasing of retail space. The people were nice, but it was dull as rocks and I had to be at work at 6:30 in the morning for earnings calls and breaking news—Athletic Shoe Company Opens 16 New Stores.

The goose came back every morning. From the roof, William would see her swim a lazy zigzag down the canal, and then pick her way up the bank and into the yard. Thinking she might belong to someone on the canal, Daphne called her neighbors; all of them were charmed to hear of a tame goose, but none could claim her as their own.

One afternoon, I stole a spare moment at work to research our goose. Her blue eyes and knobbed beak pegged her for a Chinese goose, an exotic domestic descended from swan-y show birds, and true to breed in temperament. She was a great talker: The slightest noise from William and she’d respond with a loud honk. The Internet said this attentiveness made Chinas terrific watch geese, but that they were rarely ever cross or petulant, and capable of great fondness for humans. They liked to forage their meals out of grasses and non-woody plants, and people often kept them as lawn mowers.

I returned home feeling flush with these fascinating tidbits, a pay stub, and a check for Daphne, the first installment on the loans that had helped us get out of Texas.

I found Daphne up in her room. Her house had started out as a low-slung 1950s California bungalow with two bedrooms and a garage. But Roger had converted the garage into her pottery—the studio where she threw and fired her pots—and built a bedroom on top of it, a large open space with a sliding glass door at one end that provided a great quantity of light and air and a long view of the canal and Santa Margarita. Daphne kept a desk, a few bookshelves, and a bed. It was all plain, serviceable furniture but every surface in the room was covered with sketches, paintings, pots, rocks, wooden objects, teapot clouds, mango fruit wombs, and wonderfully lumpy female torsos. My favorite was a tiny clay sculpture of Daphne, sitting inside an egg with her head on her knees. “What’s this one about?” I’d asked once.

“Oh yes, that,” she said. “I made it a long time ago. I had this feeling that I was waiting and waiting, and it was all so awfully boring.”

“What were you waiting for?”

“Exactly.”

On this particular evening, Daphne was sitting at her desk, working over a ledger book and listening to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. When I came up, she turned from the desk easily, as if looking for a diversion, and listened attentively to my goose research, adding an “I should say” in regards to her protective nature and “yes, she has, hasn’t she,” about the knob at the top of her orange beak.

“And you found all that on your computer? How extraordinary,” she said.

“On the Internet.”

“Roger had the Internet,” Daphne said. “He wanted me to have it too, but I couldn’t be bothered. And now I think it’s too late, I’ve missed out on all that.” She turned back to her ledger.

“There is something else … a check!” I held it out with a flourish.

Daphne took it, set it face down on her ledger, and turned away from me. It was as if all the agreeableness had been sucked from the room. “I don’t know why you bother.” She pushed the check toward me. Her fingernails, caked with clay, made the tips of her fingers look large and square. “You’ll only borrow it again.”

“No, actually, I think we’re okay,” I said, more evenly than I felt. My own parents had not been overjoyed to bail us out of Texas, but I hadn’t expected this reaction from Daphne. She and I had never talked about the loan, and William had only said that she was over the moon that we were coming to stay for seven months. Why had I brought the check up instead of giving it to him to deliver? I’d wanted to say thank you. But that wasn’t really it: I had expected recognition that William and I were, in fact, good kids. I’d wanted the credit for working to get us out of debt, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I might have to talk about what got us into it. “William and I want to pay you back. It’s important to us.”

“But can you afford it?” She turned, wincing at me through her bangs, one hand lightly covering her face.

“Yes, or we wouldn’t do it. Please, take the check.” Outside, the light was high in the tops of the trees on Santa Margarita, and I could hear William’s hammer in the yard.

                                                                   *****

I went out to the shed to find William, but the goose was there. So I waited until later that night, as we lay in bed, to relay the conversation in a stage whisper. The door to our tiny room was closed, but the walls seemed to conduct sound and, if she heard voices, Daphne might pop her head in for a final thought—“I’m giving up on string theory”—or sweet dreams (she couldn’t get used to knocking, and was always walking into rooms, a startling habit that made taking a dump uncomfortable and sex nearly impossible).

We slept with our window open, and the air came in cold and briny off the canal, which allowed us to pile on the flannel sheets and wool blankets. Our bed felt heavy and warm and safe. I told William about the check, about his mother’s hunched shoulders and covered face—as if it was embarrassing or hurtful, I didn’t know which. “I forgot how shaming she can be,” he said. “I’m sorry, that must have felt terrible.”

His theory was that she felt bad that she couldn’t just give us the money. It was kindness that had come out wrong. She didn’t seem angry with me; she’d been fine at dinner. I pointed out that she’d done the same thing the day before. Silly girl!

“She was just teasing you,” he said. “The goose was in your hair, it was hilarious.”

Perhaps I was too finely tuned in to Daphne’s moods and words. Maybe I should have led out with gratitude instead of “ta-da.” Maybe I should have explained our plan to pay down our debt—$1000 each to her and my parents—before we left. Maybe I should have left it to William.

When the next month rolled around, William took her the check. “Here you are, Mom,” he said. “Three more months to go.”

“Thank you, Son. Well done,” was her reply.

                                                                   *****

From the beginning, there was something exceptional about the goose and its love for William. So I didn’t mind about the bruises at first, I accepted them as part of the deal. Wild animals behave wildly, I thought—and, also, what’s in it for me?

In the annals of love, geese are famous for choosing one mate for all their lives. I’d read that if not reared among other goslings, a gander would imprint so strongly on his owner that he’d neglect to mate at all. I thought this must apply to geese, too. Ours had clearly imprinted on William—but like a chicken, she’d lay without a gander. Chinese geese are fulsome layers: up to 100 eggs a season, as opposed to the 55 eggs of your older European breeds. This was thrilling: I’d tried a goose egg once, and though the whites had a slightly chewy texture, the yolks were rich and tasty. Eventually, the goose would get used to me. She’d keep intruders out of Daphne’s privet hedge and mow down the dandelions, and we’d make 100 rubbery omelets.

                                                                   ******

Of course, we were grateful to Daphne for letting us move into her house, but we’d never stopped to talk about how it would work. Daphne seemed to assume our living together would be like our visits, in which we all more or less followed the regularly scheduled program. William and I assumed that we’d continue to live our life just as it had been, but in her house.

Roger’s death had changed how William saw the house. He hadn’t looked at it carefully in years, and when he did, he was shocked at how run down it had become. He felt badly for the fact that he had not been there to help care for the place. He made a list of projects—the kitchen cabinets and drawers needed a coat of paint; the avocado green carpet in our bedroom was full of mold and the floor beneath it was half rotten; Roger’s belongings had to be sorted and sold or given away, his tools cleaned and organized; and the shed was near falling down—which he tackled one-by-one and with hardly a word of warning to Daphne, much less a by-your-leave. All of the repairs seemed necessary, and making them gave William some purchase on his father’s death. And Daphne never complained.

It was not as easy for me to assume my way into the household. After keeping house for sixty or so years, Daphne had settled into a routine: she made the same meals on the same days week after week, she spread her grocery shopping across three stores to get the best price on each item, and she did laundry in the smallest number of mixed loads possible and always in the evening, when she got the best price on gas because of the kiln. I tried to help with these chores, but I had my own way of doing them, so my efforts only led to arguments—William had lost his favorite white guayabera in the battle of Little Pink Towel in July—and I soon gave up.

Not to whine: I liked coming home to a basket of warm towels, a full refrigerator, a set table, and Tuesday’s hot tamale pie. Daphne’s meals were more than habit, they pleased and comforted her, and she prepared them carefully. She enjoyed feeding us. But I did miss cooking, especially cooking with William, and being locked out of the kitchen contributed to my feeling of having only achieved guest status in the house.

Cleaning was the one thing I could do. For as long as I’d known Daphne, there had been a cartoon on the refrigerator that said, “Don’t worry spiders, I keep house lightly.” This was true, and something I had admired as a woman and an artist—until I had to clean the house. The house was tidy, but dirty (there was clover among the crumbs of the silverware drawer). Each week I vacuumed and mopped the floors, scrubbed the toilet and the tub, and dusted. On the one hand, I thought Daphne expected it; she’d fired the cleaning lady when we moved in, and she never said not to clean. But she also never said thank you, and at times she seemed to resent it. I could understand that: It always feels like judgment when another woman vacuums out your kitchen drawers.

And then one evening she met me at the front door, saying, “Look what William has done.” I looked around, expecting something miraculous, a docile goose perhaps. “He’s vacuumed.”

“That’s great,” I said. “You know I vacuum every week, right?”

“Yes, but he’s moved all the dining room chairs and vacuumed under the rug, clever boy. Doesn’t it look splendid?”

                                                                   ******

In the weeks that followed, the goose’s attachment to William grew tiresome. She had stolen the quiet of the yard from me, the yard that made the house seem bigger, that provided a place to have a private moment, alone or with William.

It should have bothered William most of all, for although the goose spent every day following him around the shed, she took no interest in his work there and was always in the way. One day, she absentmindedly stepped into a tray of red barn paint and then went walking about, leaving a trail of goose prints across the floor. William only laughed and painted the floor red.

Daphne was no better. She served her salad scraps and sliced figs rescued from the neighbors’ sidewalk in a shallow bird bath she had made from soul clay, an ancient-looking, rusty colored, and granular body she’d invented. The bath stood a foot off the ground, table height for big birds. Daphne had fired it for a pair of ravens that came to the yard each morning to devour her leftovers. The goose had sent the ravens packing.

They were not the only ones. Our nephew, a towheaded boy of four, came to play two afternoons a week. He had an adventuring attitude, but the novelty of having a tame goose in the backyard lasted only as long as it took the goose to chase him, screaming and crying, across it. The goose did not seem to mind if the boy was on the deck; however, the deck had limited appeal to the former master of the garden, house, and pottery—especially since it was now covered in swirls of deep-green goose shit. After a few weeks trying to conquer the goose—“But why can’t I have a stick?”—and playing with clay in the pottery, he told his mother he didn’t want to come back.

And so Daphne called the Animal Human Society to see if something might be done about the goose. They declined to take her: No one would adopt a bad-tempered goose, they certainly could not afford to maintain her for the rest of her days—she could live 24 years—and she’d probably end up euthanized. They agreed she must belong to someone, and suggested that Daphne put an ad in the paper. In the meantime, she might consider supplementing the salad with some corn meal. 

Daphne did all these things and, because the nights were getting cooler, put a waxy cabbage box lined with straw on the deck, just outside the sliding glass doors of the kitchen. The goose loved her box. It had a door cut into it, and as soon as all the lights went off in the house—as soon as she was sure there was no hope of her waddling into the kitchen or William walking out of it—she would step gingerly into the hay and arrange herself so that she could monitor the house.

In truth, I envied the goose. Everyone suffered every accommodation for her—and here I was, not the least bit fractious, and rather underappreciated.

                                                                   *****

Daphne had the idea that one should eat a dish exactly the way the cook served it. One evening, I ran a pat of salted butter through my quinoa. “I can’t imagine why you’d do such a thing,” Daphne said. “Quinoa is a very ancient grain, you know.”

“Quin-waaaaaah, the ancient grain,” William and I sang together, an habitual response to the weekly helping of quinoa, which always came with the explanation that it was a very ancient grain.

“Yes, yes, but you can’t possibly taste it with all that butter,” Daphne said.

“I think the butter actually makes it tastier,” I said.

“It’s quite tasty on its own, it’s nutty.”

“I might put some soy sauce on it.”

“You wouldn’t,” she gasped, and we bickered our way along like that, until suddenly we were in the middle of a spectacular rehashing. I’d thrown away a recyclable toilet paper roll and composted a good apple that only wanted trimming to be quite edible. I’d disorganized the kitchen drawers; nothing was where it ought to be. I’d left the bathroom door ajar, though I’d been told often enough not to because of the open window, and we were heating the whole of the outdoors. And, worst of all, my dog stole sweet corn off the counter and came into her bed every night and barked at the garbage man in the morning and she simply wasn’t getting any sleep.

I felt sick, but I sat back in my chair and let her ramble on, feigning calm—a maddening habit I’d learned from my own family. I apologized for the recycling and the drawers, and promised to ask before I threw away any fruit. Everything she said was true, so I didn’t add that the apple had been brown with rot and covered in fruit flies or that she might thank me for the cleaning.

Daphne turned her body away from me. “Mom,” William said, trying to make light of the situation. “What about me? I pruned your peach tree down to a stump. It may not fruit. And I ate an entire loaf of bread this morning. I’m very bad.”

“It’s very hard. It’s just very hard,” Daphne said, and went into the pottery studio. William went after her.

                                                                   *****

I didn’t want to see her euthanized, but sometimes I imagined swaddling the goose up in the cabbage box and packing her into the car. I’d take her on a one-way road trip while she slept. She’d wake up in the marsh next to the Oakland airport; I’d wake up alone with my husband.

I was not alone in my desire to be rid of a goose. Wildlife Services reports, responding to the Canadian goose explosion, recorded long lists of complaints against the goose: They dropped hazardous waste eight times an hour, making waterways foul (giardia, e-coli, and Chlamydia!) and walkways slippery. They threatened to destroy agriculture by grazing young crops, cars by napping on roads, and airplanes by flying into them. The latter happened more often then I’d imagined—an average of seven “ingestions” a month nationally, according to the FAA—and humans died. But mostly people in the report expressed what I’d experienced, a “general decline in quality of life.”

I found accounts of people trying everything from relocating the geese to scaring them away with decoy predators and loud noises and herding dogs. They even hunted them. But the clever birds mapped their way home, adapted to propane cannons and plastic alligators, and sneaked back into the pond when the dogs and guns had gone home. Some folks gave up and just tried to keep the geese from breeding by “addling” their eggs. In the verb form, addle means to confuse; in the adjective, rotten. In the lexicon of the brave—hell hath no wrath like a properly pissed off gander—it means to smother the eggs in corn oil or steal them. Our goose had no eggs to addle.

I wouldn’t disappear our goose, so we adapted. The goose and I would wake up with the five o’ clock alarm. I’d wander into the bathroom for a shower, and the goose would pace the gray boards of the deck, honking loudly and occasionally giving the sliding glass doors a good, solid knock with her knobby beak. After a bit, I’d trundle out to the kitchen, put the kettle on, throw a scoop of corn meal at her head, and both of us would go about our business.

In the evenings, it was a different story: I’d come home, and the goose would hiss and pinch. In the event of a goose attack, the experts say to keep your body calm, maintain eye contact, and slowly back away. But by December, I’d developed a kind of goose -fu: When she charged, I’d reach out with my leg, gently apply my shin to the middle of her neck and turn her backwards, briefly addling her so that I could run past and kiss William before she pummeled the backs of my calves.

                                                                   *****

The pottery studio was a wonderful place, once I ventured into it. Wooden shelves of stacked tea cups, bowls, variously shaped vases, and the chips of clay used to test the glazes—red, yellow, brown, green, and Daphne’s favorite, a ponderous blue full of sky and peacocks and dark Prussians. The floor was paved, the kiln red brick, and everything was covered in a fine dust that gave the pottery a hazy yellow light (silica and alumina, so pernicious it had sloughed the ridges off Daphne’s fingers; it took her three years to get citizenship because officials couldn’t take a fingerprint—they inked her big toe finally).

Sometimes, on the weekends, I’d sit at the top of the steps leading down into the pottery and knit while Daphne worked. We’d listen to Ralph Fiennes reading “Oscar and Lucinda,” pausing the cassette now and then to get a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit or to discuss what sort of Christmas pudding I might make, now that I was cooking.

                                                                   *****

Toward the end of year, William passed his medical board exam and was offered a job in Minneapolis. When I announced that I was leaving at work, people were surprised, but I hadn’t been there long enough for them to think of missing me. They were, however, fairly attached to the goose, and worried about what she would do in William’s absence. One of my fellow reporters called a friend at the daily newspaper, hoping an article would unearth the goose’s owner.

A photographer came to the house, and asked William to hold the goose. The goose was calm, neck high, feet dangling loose. But as the photographer stepped forward to get a close-up of her blue eyes, the goose jumped on William’s head and stretched out her wings and neck. In dismay, William looked up—and saw a gander’s impressive paternal apparatus spiraling down on his head. No wonder there weren’t any eggs.

Without other geese to compare for body size and beak knob, it’s challenging to sex a goose because the male genitals are curled up in the cloaca, the same opening that serves their urinary tract and intestines. We’d just assumed the goose was a female.

All along, I’d wondered who the goose was: Me, Daphne, my rival. But now that he was a gander, I realized maybe he had nothing to do with me. Maybe he was a stand-in for Roger, the missing father and husband—difficult and hapless, occasionally magnificent, and very much loved.

The headline in the paper read: “Couple Hopes Happy Pet Goose Isn’t Sad When Owner Finds It.” In fact, we hoped there was no owner. We were leaving, and but for the gander, Daphne would be alone in the house again.

                                                                   *****

“I think,” said Daphne, one evening. “I might like to have someone come stay in your room once you’ve gone.”

“A tenant you mean?” William asked.

“No, more like a person to look after things.”

“Like a servant?”

“No, not a servant, I don’t want them to clean, I want them to care for me.”

“You want a boyfriend?”

“No, no! Who wants that trouble?” she said. “I want a woman to stay, a friend, but someone who would be particularly interested in me and my well being.”

“She wants a lady’s companion,” I said. “Like in the novels.”

“Yes, that’s it,” Daphne said.

“I think you have to pay for that kind of companionship,” I said.

“Really? How extraordinary.”

                                                                   *****

The gander did stay on with Daphne. She’d call and tell us all about their winter routines. In the morning, she’d go out and break the ice on the gander’s water dish. He’d honk like mad, and she’d say, “Alright, alright,” and spray him down with water. “I give him a nice bath, a little cornmeal, and that’s all,” she told us. “I have to ignore him for the rest of the day because you don’t want to spoil the thing, he’s already quite a nuisance.” 

In late February, the gander began to disappear for long stretches of the day, Daphne had no idea where. She tried to find him out, walking along the canal and over to the local pond, but he was never there, and no one had seen him. In the evenings, he’d wander into the pottery, and she found herself relieved.

This went on for several weeks, and then one night the gander didn’t come home. Our nephew was pleased to see him off, but for Daphne the gander had been a good and companionable pet. There was a period of mourning, and then she put up his box and invited the ravens back into the yard.




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