This is the story of a girl who became a goose.
It began with a broken heart. Eloise found herself crying in unexpected places at unexpected times. In the grocery line, when a clerk with kind eyes asked with such sincerity, How are you today?, her eyes brimmed. The answer swelled in her throat. She had to look away and mutter Fine, I’m fine. She was not.
She cried on the drive home, streaking tears that turned into ugly sobbing and her chest heaved and she hoped the other drivers waiting in traffic did not notice her.
She walked down hallways and over sidewalks and across the parking lots that made up the map of her daily routine. With each automated movement she felt a pang, her shoulders slumped in defeat. The loss of him was too big to be endured. Her insides collapsed each time a memory of him came back to her. Things like the smell of him on her skin in the morning, and how she didn’t want to shower, but instead, wanted to keep him permanently in her pores. Skin soaked with him, like ink from a tattoo. The sinewy clasp of his arm while she dozed. A tingling memory of them tipsy and dancing in his living room, laughing when he spun her too hard and she ended up ass first on the wood floor. The thought of him was like touching a bruise.
She remembered his tiny kitchen with the old gas stovetop where she cooked grilled cheese sandwiches for him and late night omelettes with fat mushrooms and Swiss cheese, her own invention. The secret to both, she had whispered to him, was butter. She leaned close and explained how Julia Child said you could never have too much butter and he smiled at that and they devoured the contents of the plate together, in half dark, between kissing and jokes. She was happier than she could have imagined possible.
Now he was gone and thoughts of him were like locusts, eating through her gauzy skin which no longer smelled of him. She worked, she slept, she tried not to cry in public. This daze of sleeping and waking punctuated the passing of time.
Sometimes she gazed outside her office window at the geese swooping down to the green lawn. They waddled and pecked at tasty grass, seeming to savor the sweetness of each long afternoon. She wondered if they were happy or if they suffered tragedies in their secret lives, unknown to the passing frenzy of people. And if they did suffer tragedies, how could those heartaches survive when sky and sun and wind were only a rustle of feathers away? Surely, it must be good to fly. So good that sorrow could not keep its dominion for very long. An act so transcendent that tragedy could be erased by it and forgotten. Yes, she thought. It must be better to be a goose than a human girl with a broken heart. It must be lovely to have a simple purpose, to belong to the sky, to belong to your flock and nothing more.
There must have been something inside of her as she thought this, like a wish. A longing so powerful it began to manifest.
It started with feathers, embarrassingly with feathers. A few in her back, which she, astonished, plucked and watched fall into a trash can. Odd, she thought, really damn odd. Was she taking the wrong kind of vitamins? Then, she remembered that she didn’t take vitamins. Should she start taking vitamins?
Her legs darkened, her toes transformed into webbed impossibilities, her neck elongated. People stared. Soon, feathers overtook her body. A sheen of black along her increasingly elegant neck. A brilliant patch of white beneath her eyes, which were a deepening onyx now. Her mouth became a protruding bill. Words came out as honks sometimes. They sent her home from work, they told her to see a doctor. She didn’t go. She felt fine, all things considered. More feathers grew until the last patches of skin disappeared. People really stared now and pointed and made loud comments like, What the hell is that that thing? She hissed and charged at them with her giant feathery body, until finally her arms stretched into great broad wings, silver and brown. And with a cuff of wind, she flew away.
She was a giant bird, comical and clumsy. Her oversized body struggling mid-air, gravity clawing, crashing her into tree branches, toppling her above their green, voluptuous crowns. Human words became impossible, her voice erupted as honkish howling. She slept crumpled in feathers under bridges and in parking lots and parks. News crews followed her like an uninvited shadow. #GooseLady became a hashtag on Twitter. Men with tranquilizer guns stalked her, no less a nuisance than eager fans who surrounded her holding phones and offering breadcrumbs for a selfie. She searched their faces hoping to find his face among them. But he was never there.
After a while she stopped trying to escape the crowds. Instead, she took great pleasure in charging at them with feathered fury, snapping at them with her giant beak. Life contained few pleasures anymore and this was one of them. #CrazyGooseLady replaced the old hashtag.
She cried, but tears wouldn’t come. And what is misery without tears? A kind of being stuffed alive feeling. She slipped away to a dark thatch of trees where no one could find her and waited for whatever was going to happen next, to well, happen. Life, it seemed, was a great deal of waiting for the next thing. She wound herself tightly into a ball and willed herself smaller.
Winds cooled, leaves crisped and bled rusty colors. Her body shrank with each straining bit of determination until one day she was perfectly the appropriate heartbroken-girl-turned-goose size. The news vans went away and the crowds, too. She was forgotten. Not just forgotten by them or by him but by herself most of all. Little things at first, like the taste of pizza and her middle name and favorite color. It had been green until she read that geniuses favored green. That made her feel pretentious. Purple took its place. Not that anyone knew because no one, not even him, had ever bothered to ask. So really, the forgetting of a thing like that didn’t mean much.
Then she forgot bigger things, like how words felt on her tongue, what she did for a living and the memory of things like casual Friday and the mortgage. It was too late for the mortgage.
Skies filled with v-neck formations of geese passing the great bright sky. A sound that reached into her soul. Get up, they begged. Come with us! She ran and caught the wind. High above the faceless buildings she joined her flock, her wings alive.
Days and seasons came and went. She feasted on tall summer grasses, meandered over the soft green hills of golf courses and parks, napped in warm sunshine some days and leafy shade on others.
Each day the canvas of sky repainted itself. Sometimes there was rain and she sloshed in mud. The wind was good and strong. It carried her high above noisey cars and people. The world was a map of unnamed fields and mossy patches, shimmery lakes and deep ponds. She loved her flock and they loved her. They nuzzled together on chilly nights and honked great exclamations of delight as they traveled the skies. It was a kind of happiness she had never known, one that would not betray. She was so happy in fact that she didn’t notice one evening, a familiar face among the crowd of diners at a lakeside patio. It was him, sipping a gin and tonic only a few feet from where her flock grazed.
She heard him first. It was that voice, his smooth Texas drawl. He was telling a story, talking too fast, animated. Her long neck twisted in his direction. Her heart clamored in her chest. A pretty girl sat at the table with him, smiled and laughed at his story. He kissed the girl on the lips and stroked her ear.
Everything returned to her in sharp, painful clarity. Not just the sweet memories but the bitter ones, too. Bile and sugar. Her insides roiled. She saw him hold a stranger’s hand and it felt obscene. She saw him smile at the pretty girl and a terrible rage shook her body.
Look away, look away! Her flock cried as they ran to console her. A few charged at the couple, hissing and snapping with their beaks. But it was too late. Her bones were grinding, bending and twisting her insides painfully back into those of a heartbroken, human girl.
Minutes later she was a mass of shivering skin and tears. Someone threw a tablecloth over her naked flesh. Someone else exclaimed, It’s the crazy goose lady! She heard the snap of cell phone cameras.
The frightened geese took to the air. Come away, come away! They cried as the wind carried them above her. Helplessly, she watched them swallowed up by the purple sky, feathered specks, fading with the memory of tall summer grasses.
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