Goose Landed by Monica Busch
“Ma’am, your husband was a hero,” the chubby police chief said.
The sun was high in the sky and his badge glimmered against his matte blue jacket.
Katie looked at him, into his sallow face beady brown eyes. The skin around them was puffy and pink, pulling away from the sockets.
He took his hat off and wiped the sweat on his forehead with the back of his sleeve.
“A real loss. Gimme a call down at the station if you need anything. You take care.”
He shook her hand and took off down the hill, hat under his arm. Katie watched the way his heavy frame smashed all the neatly cropped grass.
She turned to her sister, who was standing in the shade a couple yards away, watching as she said goodbye to the guests.
“About how often do you think they mow this place?” Katie asked her. “It looks okay now but I wonder if that’s just because they knew we’d be here.”
Her sister looked around at the headstones. Almost all of them were white and gray marble, and were surrounded by bushes and flowers in various repair. One close by said “Reading” and in front of it sat a toy firetruck that hadn’t yet started to rust.
“I’d say often. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“If you want, I can stop by the groundskeeper’s little hut and ask. Or call the proprietor. We can make sure he’s taken care of.”
Katie watched a flock of Canadian geese land in the little pond at the bottom of the hill. One dove headfirst, just his feathered bottom sticking out of the surface.
Susan looked at her sister and, for the first time that day, noticed that she was starting to go gray. Her little baby sister, eight years younger, had salty strands mixed into her straw-blond braid.
She turned to look Susan in the eye.
“Do you want me to check with the groundskeeper?”
“No, that’s all right. I’ll call on my own in a couple of days.”
“Yes, it’s fine. I’ll do it.”
“Okay. How are you feeling? Do you want to get something to eat?”
“Oh, I think I’m okay. I just want to go home and lay down.”
Susan looked at her sister. She had railed against wearing black that morning. She looked quaint, the way she had a habit of doing, in her white dress with tiny little blue birds printed all over. It was his favorite, she had insisted.
So, there she stood, looking like an add for housewife’s blight, tan shoulders glowing in the early afternoon sunshine.
“Well, that was the last person. Shall we head to the car? Do you want to say goodbye first?”
Katie hadn’t looked at the casket since people had started leaving. Underneath the overhang the funeral director had set up to shield close family from the sun, the glossy wooden case was suspended over the gap in the earth.
“You know, they said they’d leave everything alone here for an hour or so if you want to take a minute,” Susan said.
Katie turned to look at her, but said nothing. Susan’s grey eyes were lined with crows feet in a way that made her look more and more like their mother with each passing year.
Katie wiped her eyes, more out of habit than anything, wishing she could deflate her swollen eyelids. Unlike Susan, her eyes were green and her skin was still young, taut and stretched firmly over her bones.
Katie took a deep breath and looked back at the pond below. The birds were still there, swimming around each other in ways that made no sense to her. They’re probably following fish around, she thought, imagining the schools careening away from the masses above them.
She could feel Susan staring at her, still, and it was then, fish in mind, that she took off down the hill, following the same path the police chief had taken.
Almost immediately, she could hear her sister following after her, feet padding against the ground. She didn’t turn around. Instead, she followed the trail of crumpled grass footprints. She thought them careless. It felt good to be careless, she thought as she grew closer and closer to the geese in the pond.
The landscape whirred by in a rush of blues and greens. The sun was beating down as gravity pulled her, faster.
She hadn’t realized how far behind her sister had fallen until her voice rang through the cemetery from half way up the hill behind her.
But by now she was running. She ran right to the water’s edge and stopped, wobbling. The geese flew away in a crescendo of honking and splashing as they ascended.
Their brown and white feathers cascaded water drop bullets. A few fell on Katie’s face. She watched their wings beat the air around them.
Susan’s feet met the gravel walkway and pebbles skittered in her wake. Her hand met Katie’s shoulder. She panted.
But Katie was looking at the ripples left behind from the flock’s sudden take off. Little fish she didn’t know the name of swam in rapid figure eights just inches away from her feet. A tiny frog leapt into the water. The cattails swayed to her left.
“Katie. I need you to say something.”
“Who left? The guests? The geese?”
The honking of the disturbed fowls had faded and the pond slowly returned to its original stillness.
Katie curled her toes inside of her ballet flats and looked down at the little mounds that formed under the creme colored canvas.
“Why do you think they fly away like that?”
Susan studied the angular tip of her sister’s nose and the way it mirrored her chin.
“Because they’re afraid of us.”
“How do you think they know to be afraid of us? Afraid of us, and not a squirrel or something with claws and sharp teeth?”
Susan considered this. She sighed and pulled a loose strand of mousey hair behind her ear.
“I suppose there’s something to that. Probably the whole dominant species thing.”
Katie exhaled sharply.
The sun shone on the pond and a motorcycle flew by across the street.
Katie opened her mouth but was cut off by loud honking overhead. Both sisters looked up to see a single goose aiming for the pond. They’re relentless, Katie thought.
Together, they watched the bird grow closer and closer. Katie stared hard at its wings, trying not to blink - trying to see if she could separate each flap from the other like a child’s flipbook going page by page. Just as she thought she saw the distinct outline of the goose’s wing, it crashed into the water, a wall of waves around it.
“It almost looks like cupped hands. When it first hits the water and the surface folds like that,” she said.
“Like the water is holding it,” Susan replied.
“Remember when we were little and on the weekends when mom and dad would be taking a nap, we’d sit in the backyard all bored, and we’d play that game that most children play with clouds, but we’d play it with all sorts of things?”
“The oak tree was a giant stick of cotton candy.”
“And the house was the face of a giant stuck in the ground who wanted to eat it, but couldn’t because it’d been caught in an earthquake and was buried forever.”
“Or the driveway was really a river and the shed at the end was a dam built by a beaver who didn’t want the cotton candy tree to get wet and melt.”
Susan started to smile, but stopped when she looked at Katie, who was still staring at the goose, biting the inside of her lip.
“What made you think of that?”
“The way the goose landed. It looked like the water pulled back to catch the goose. It was okay with being landed on. But just for a moment.”
Katie looked away from Susan.
“Look,” Susan said, pausing to gather her thoughts. “I don’t want to push you. I know that you’re being pulled and tangled and cut up in all of these pieces so that everyone in your life can digest what happened. They’re telling you to see this therapist and to box up all his clothes-”
Katie snapped her head back to look her sister in the eye.
“I need you to stop,” she said. “I can’t listen to this.”
Katie balled her fists and looked back over the pond. The goose had swam to shore on the opposite side and slowly climbed out. Waddling, it took a few unsure steps before steadying into a swaying gait.
“I’m sorry,” Susan said.
“That’s no bluebird, that’s for sure,” Katie said, still staring across the water.
Susan exhaled sharply.
“You’re right. It isn’t.”
Both sister stood in silence, watching the bird toss its weight from side to side. It threw its head to the side and hissed.
“Can we go back to the car? Do you want me to bring it down here so that you don’t have to walk back up-” Susan gestured toward the tent at the top of the hill.
“It’s fine. It doesn’t make sense any other way.”
The two turned and looked up the hill, the glint of new headstones shone in the afternoon sun.
© Monica Busch, 2015
Monica Busch is a journalist and recent college graduate living on Martha's Vineyard with her two cats. She holds a B.A. in Writing and Literature from Emmanuel College, and her work has appeared in Chicago Literati and Down in the Dirt Magazine. She spends most of her free time plotting outdoor adventures.
Goose Landed was read by Kristen Calgaro on 3rd June 2015 for Born & Bred