December 17, 2009

The Goose with the Blue Ribbon, Spring, 2009

Placing a row of seashells along the bottom of a cliff and walking away. This is full. This is where I go when clocks chime and when bows are tied. This is how I render myself weak in the knees and full of grace and immune to the fancy of memory beyond modernity. The now exists only as it is in purest star child, the moment of conception it becomes the past, wisps of vapor all at once longed for and neglected; projected and exiled. I cannot wander as though forgotten, adrift on a wide sea of mirth for the sake of mirth and nothing more. Tell me; what is there to laugh about?
She opens the small leaded window above my potting bench. The light of late spring, having escaped the confines of stained antiquity falls with a creamy density on the upturned pots and dried soil littering its worn pine surface. Through the window I see the rough lane, on the right the meadow, a sanctuary for the birds and butterflies lacking in our little museum, sloping down to the wood and on the left a short row of houses, joined at the hip, the only differentiating feature their colors; rose, canary, butter cream, robin’s egg, like four buxom ladies dancing down the road. Our house sits at the end of the lane, alone beneath the umbrella tree, the great canopy of which provides shade during the hot days of summer and shelter from the tempests of the winter months.
Coming up the lane we see two small figures, the sun glancing off of their hair, they shine like knights. It is a man and a child and they stop, the man stooping to adjust something that the child is carrying. As they approach we see that the man is tall, with pale, reddish hair and similar skin. The boy has his father’s hair, though it still has the downy softness of childhood. He is wearing glasses. In his arms I see that he is carrying a goose. The Goose is wearing a blue ribbon about its neck and does not struggle.

* * * * * * * * * * *
The man and boy sit at our table. They seem comfortable, as though it is every day that they find themselves guests in the home of others, and perhaps this is true. Perhaps being seated at a table, the windows steamed from the hot stove, their dusty jackets hanging on the pegs by the door, they are home. I cannot help but notice, in the new presence of these travelers, the way Giovanna’s hips sway as she sets the table, the flush of her cheeks as she leans over the stove. The man is not watching her. His eyes are scanning my books, shelf upon shelf, up to the ceiling. The boy’s eyes however follow her movement with the utmost attention. He looks hungry. He looks like he would benefit from a bath. He looks like he could use a mother. I go to Giovanna at the stove and inch my fingers across the front of her dress, rest my chin on her moist shoulder. She serves the rice, and the stew and I the wine. It is a good, thick meal, the wine tasting of the earth and we sop our bread in the remaining juices of the stew pot.
The man speaks in short, abrupt sentences, jumping from topic to topic like playing a mandolin, but he is not unassured. He tells us of the danger of fortitude when it comes from the mind and not the soul and wonders aloud at my collection of seed--pods piled high on the window sills. There are over ninety different varieties and while some have begun to sprout, others lie as empty shells, brown and dry. The boy watches everything with a stillness very different from his father’s thoughtful agitation. The boy picks at his food, eating grains of rice in twos and threes until it is gone. The goose snaps up bits that have fallen to the floor.
Later Giovanna makes up a bed in the sitting room and we listen to our guests’ quiet murmurs as we climb the stairs. Beneath the comforter, our cold feet nestle, and I bury my face in her neck, the guinea rooster of my hen--house. I wonder how long the pair will stay with us. Friday morning Giovanna and I are to go abroad. It has been twelve years since we came to live here in the little house and for this we will climb the highest mountains, traverse the harshest land, we will sail the sea in a little red boat, lie back on the soft white sand.
After brief deliberation we decide to let the man and his son keep our house for us until our return. There are, after all, chickens to be fed, spring onions harvested and sometimes the delivery--man comes up our little road and something must be signed for. And so it is that I pick up our suitcase, Giovanna our lunch and we take our leave, a yellow warbler singing his sweet-sweet-sweet from the umbrella tree. In our lunch basket are two medium sized zucchini with which our guests have bid us farewell. We had not expected to be so lucky, for these will serve as the bulk of our lunch, each cooked into a small lasagna. One zucchini is short, about the size and shape of a ball jar. The other is slender with a thick stem. They are both a brilliant shade of green and on such a spring morning this is thoroughly unremarkable. The zucchini is, however, a summer squash. This, on the other hand, is remarkable.
The walk is long and we arrive at the runway moments before takeoff. The ticketmaster accepts our tickets and we present him with our zucchini. He weighs and measures them quickly, urging us ahead. The propellers are already in motion. Looking back I see that he has placed each in its own ceramic dish, stacked high amongst others on a tiered trolley. I stop to be sure that he has added our names and seat numbers to the card recording their other statistics. He has, in a blocky script, and so we climb the steps and stow our suitcase in the overhead bin.
It is around 1:30 when the first smells of roasting zucchini and tomatoes begin to waft into the cabin. Our fellow passengers look around expectantly and I do the same, my stomach suddenly reminding me of that morning’s neglect. A steward enters the cabin pushing a cart with four or five of the terrines I had seen earlier, now steaming. He begins passing them out, they are being delivered in order, someone must have made sure that they were prepared in this order as well. He soon retreats to the kitchen only to return moments later, his cart refilled. He makes his way slowly, serving only four or five lasagnas at a time. We sit back and look out the window. Giovanna has her legs tucked up under her and her long skirts fall to the floor in a cascade of crimson and teal. Having boarded last we do not expect our meals to be among the first and so I wrap my arm about her shoulders and we watch the clouds take shape. This is when the first signs of discontent begin.
Low grumblings come from behind us and quickly fill the cabin. I look around, it seems that some of those who have already received their meals are displeased with the product. One complains that his lasagna is smaller than his neighbor’s, while another’s is too flat. Still a third does not seem to have received any lasagna at all! Giovanna, who had drifted into sleep, wakes at the noise. She rubs her eyes and smoothes back her hair, which is braided on top of her head, wrapped about like a wreath. She asks me if I am sure that our zucchini met the weight minimum and assure her that they did. We remain seated, watching as people begin to get up, out of their seats, peering over those in front of them, calling for the steward. How could we be expected to provide a zucchini this time of year? They ask. Why was there no alternate vegetable? How about an artichoke? I’ve got plenty of artichokes, enough to go around! I’m telling you, when my lawyer hears about this… But what will happen we never learn, as at that moment there is a startling crash and tomato sauce drips down the wall of the cabin, shards of china submerged in the juice. There is a moment of silence and then an eruption as though all that had come before was only the warm--up and now that the starting gun has been fired, the race is on. Then our meals arrive. The steward balances them on one hand, fending off the bombardment of crumpled napkins and magazine pages being pelted at him from all sides. It is mayhem. His face is terrified and I quickly take the dishes from him, covering them with a blanket. Our lasagnas are among the plumpest, the most golden brown, they have, by far, the most zucchini per square inch. The steward is crawling up toward the cockpit on hands and knees but the passengers leave him alone, they are focused instead on us and on our food. Giovanna is trying to explain that our zucchini were not any larger than anyone else’s, that she would be happy to share, to give her lasagna away in fact, as she is not very hungry, but the mob presses forward. That is not the point! One man shouts. It is the nature of the state! What will our race come to if the fuel of survival is based on tricks and money? Giovanna looks like an animal. Her face is hard, her eyes ablaze, but she does not speak and has become, like an animal, mute. I take up the reins; There are no tricks! I shout. Our zucchini came directly from our garden! This was a lie. It is strange indeed the maturity of the squash, but so much is strange these days!
* * * * * * * * * *
The bus is small but piled so high with bundles and crates of vegetables that it looks like a giant, dusty tinker, short on knives. We rattle up the road and with each turn I imagine her sliding across the luggage compartment below. She has a strong pine box and a pillow of eiderdown, yet when I close my eyes there she is, zucchini and tomato sauce all over her dress, limp across the armrest. I sit with my cheek pressed against the window-glass. We pass on our left the walnut grove, the school. On our right the overhang of the cliff swallows the sea. Soon we are climbing the hill and I see our little lane. The bus comes to a wrenching halt and the driver helps me lug the coffin out from its belly. Should be a beautiful day! The driver exclaims as he climbs back into the bus. I turn away from the road, away from the umbrella tree, a beacon of welcome in the distance. I heave one end of the box into my arms and begin a slow, backwards climb, Giovanna bump, bump, bumping along behind me.
The house is lit, each window a delight, glowing yellow like a mammoth firefly in the rising darkness. I begin to move with more purpose, no longer the damned husband of a poor, stubborn woman but the master of this cottage, returning home from war. And it is at this point that I see; though I cannot believe my eyes, a curving queue of people streaming down the doorstep and out into the lane. Who are these intruders, what is this parasite slowly squirming its way into my home? There are children in the line and adults, male and female. They stand on tiptoe and peer around one another, the adults as excited as the children. There is an old man with a cane that becomes a stool and he bacons when he sees me. Leaving my load at the base of the umbrella tree, I approach. You here for the goose? The old man asks in a trembling voice. Because of the noise all around us I am forced to lean in closer. He smells of Vicks and cigarettes. Did what get loose? He is shaking his head, and points to a poster nailed up beside my front door. Incredible, Musical Goose! Twenty-five Cents to be Astounded! And from the living room, though the curtains on that particular window are drawn tight, I hear the unmistakable crash of cymbals, punctuated by a honk when appropriate. It is a spectacular sound and for a moment I stand, entranced. But just as suddenly as the spell took hold I am released and I am furious, indignant. What is all this doing in my home? Where in God’s name has that caretaking man gone, the crook! My wife lies lifeless, just beyond these jostling people, my only request is that they possess the decency to let me mourn in peace. I push my way into the front hall. A small boy drops his ice cream cone and his mother scolds me. I throw back the curtains that have been tacked up to conceal the sitting room. My writing desk has been cleared of ink and papers and there is the goose, cymbals strapped to its webbed feet, stomping a mazurka on top of my blotting pad. The man with sandy hair stands beside it, tapping along with his foot. He sees me but looks unconcerned. Home so soon? He asks. I lunge at him, my mind electric, abuzz. The people at the front of the line, who can see the action, begin to shout and I am pulled back, onto my feet. I turn quickly, looking frantically around for a familiar face, but these are strangers here. Then I see in whose grasp I am held. Able our neighbor looks down at me, his bearded face so familiar that I am struck with crippling relief. Able, what… I begin, but am cut off. As he drags me from my own home, faces turn and stare. There is a small gathering beneath the umbrella tree and I see that these are people I know, these are my friends. They are grouped around Govanna’s box, some with their hands over their mouths, others a blank look in their eyes. They see Able and me approach but make no move to greet us. Please. I say, through a thick, confounded fog. All I want is to be able to bring my wife home. I want to sit in front of the fire and read to her. I want to lie upon her box and dream of making love to her. Please, help me dispose of that goose! No one moves. Then someone begins to speak. I cannot make out who it is in the dim light. In the past day, she says, we have seen more gold in our lane than most of us have seen in our entire lives. I do not react so she continues. This goose they’ve been keeping in your house, it is truly a miracle brought by that man and child, we’ve received this miracle in order to better our lot. Already I have sold my jellies to innumerable visitors and I have about a dozen orders for more. Francis here has begun work on a mechanical musical goose to sell in his shop. Kind neighbor, I am eternally sorry for the loss of your wife, but you cannot truly think to take this from us! Your internal meanderings do nothing to better the community. Think outside of yourself; look at the future of our little lane! She finishes with a deep bow. I look back down the lane and see what I had not noticed at first; that indeed each doorway is now equipped with its own little stall, its own hand painted sign. Goose Feather Poufs! Reads one. The Musical Score of the Magical Goose, Custom Bound While You Wait! Reads another. And a cry rises up from the people standing in my garden. Save the Goose! Save the Goose! With purse strings loose, we’ll Save The Goose! Later, I sleep with Giovanna beneath the umbrella tree. I push myself as hard as I can against the splintery side of her box and weep.
In the morning my garden is a patch of mud and bits of paper and food scraps litter the path. I go to find the goose. I want to destroy it. I spot it in the kitchen but the door has been bolted. There are wooden beams across the windows to prevent anyone from getting in. Peering around one beam, I see the goose picking through a basket of molding chestnuts. I pick up a pebble and throw it at the goose. It flaps its wings in displeasure but I throw another and another until I am pelting it with a battery of hailstones. It is flapping its wings, running flat-footed about the kitchen, feathers adrift. The goose is flustered but generally unharmed. Not satisfied I run for my saw. The shed is how I left it and I find the saw on its nail on the back of the door. At the kitchen window I saw away the wooden barrier. Giovanna, honor, those damned zucchini. And at last I am in the kitchen. I cast the saw aside and strangle the goose.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Later I bury the goose. I dig a deep hole between the roots of the umbrella tree and drop it in, unceremoniously. The man and his son must have gone to town to spend their new wealth for I do not see them all morning. Our lane is still asleep and the only sign of life is the arrival of a few salesmen, apparently intent on taking their own advantage of the Musical Goose. I bury Giovanna on the other side of the tree, overlooking the forest, and then, beyond, the sea. I pick up our suitcase, still unpacked, and head back down the road. That summer, the best zucchini in the county were harvested from beneath the umbrella tree.

No comments:

Post a Comment