Talk To Me, Goose

The gander didn’t have a name. Geese don’t bother with them. Theirs is a simple life: one of wind under the wings, of murky water, bugs, weeds and sex. Until recently, the gander hadn’t realized there was any such thing as a name. But then his flock had landed in an office park behind an animal research lab during its annual migration southward, and the gander ate a sandwich crust left abandoned on the ground. The gander noticed a funny taste as he chewed, but paid it no mind (after all, there was no sense in wasting anything edible). Later on, when he looked into the pond as his flock prepared to take off again, he noticed his reflection. Something shifted in his head.

That’s me, the gander thought.

He had never really noticed his reflection before. But now, suddenly he did. That particular black speckle on his left wing– no other goose had that speckle but him. He noticed his beak– was it really that big and ungainly?

Then, the gander thought, Why am I thinking about this?

Why am I thinking at all?

From that day forward, the gander was changed. He had an awareness of himself as separate from the rest of the world, something that lived behind his eyes. He became aware of abstract concepts– of not just geese or ponds or bugs, but the concept of goosehood as distinct from other things, such as pondness or bugosity. And then there were the related behaviors: goosehood came with goosely behavior, the actions that all geese performed. These seemed to be: eat all you can, avoid getting eaten, and make sure to have sex and make little goslings while you’re at it. This left the gander with a funny taste on his tongue. Not that it wasn’t nice to eat and have sex, but somehow he needed more.

Observing goosely behavior led the gander to looking at other things’ behavior. He noticed that everything had its proper behavior– from rockly behavior (mostly to act as an impediment and to sink into ponds) and carly behavior (being loud and fast and hard and frightening geese), to squirrely and duckly behavior.

The gander slowly began to understand that ducks and geese were the same in a lot of ways. Once the gander understood this, he looked closely at squirrels, and made a shocking breakthrough: the squirrels would gather and eat nuts. This revelation made the gander rethink his questions of what food was (originally, just bugs and plants, as well as crumbs and various scavenged trash). It dawned on the gander that, if squirrels ate nuts, then squirrely behavior was essentially the same as goosely behavior!

The gander began to look at the other animals again. He noticed that the other birds that flew in the sky with the birds, from the seagulls near the coast to the pigeons in the cities, all acted according to the goosely laws of eating, avoiding being eaten, and having sex. As time went on, the goose made it his mission to classify all animals, and find any evidence of non-goosely behavior among them.

So began the gander’s tenure as the first goose taxonomist.

The gander’s first self-imposed assignment was to create a nomenclature that would be easily remembered, and easy to communicate to other geese. He decided to label things with vocal utterances, various honks and squawks and other noises that he could communicate easily to his fellow geese. So one day, at a pond in a foggy coastal town, he named everything around him and committed it to memory: an avian Adam in a foggy Eden. Soon, the goose realized that, though his system worked, it was a little lacking in subtlety. So he hit upon the idea of modifying his new taxonomic terms only slightly, to create new meanings.

“Goose,” he said. Then, changing the pitch of the honk a tiny amount, he said, “Geese.”

The gander realized that he couldn’t just use this new nomenclature for animals and things: he had to use it to describe the abstract concepts that he’d invented. He continued to ponder, and knew he needed terms for actions like flying and eating, and terms to tell where and when things happen, and terms for things like colors and sizes and shapes, which weren’t exactly animals or things but were connected to things, like feathers were connected to geese. And on and on and on…

Finally, after a long day of work, the gander said, “The gray geese fly in the blue sky.”

And thus it was that goosekind discovered language.

He tried to teach his new nomenclature to the other geese. They listened attentively and politely for a while, then went back to practicing the normal goosely behaviors. After all, what did they care for language? They were geese.

# # #

As time went on, the gander realized that there was a certain kind of animal that didn’t fit into the typical pattern of goosely behavior: humans.

The first time that the gander realized that humans were different was in a park in a sprawling mega-city in the south. He saw several human children throwing and catching a plastic disk. The gander tried to figure out how this behavior fit into goosely behavior patterns, but couldn’t. It had nothing to do with eating, or avoiding being eaten, or having sex. In fact, the children were throwing the disk around for no discernable reason. So why did they even bother?

The gander pondered this for a while, eventually coming to the conclusion that these human children were throwing the disk because it had no purpose; that in its purposenessless the action of throwing the disk around became something special, something other.

Finally the gander had a concept of humanly behavior, so different from goosely behavior or anything that other animals did. He realized that humans did useless, pointless things, and in doing them made the action itself the point. Once the gander realized this, he noticed pointlessness in nearly every human behavior. A group of human females in bright, stretchy clothing would run by with nothing chasing them, seemingly just for the joy of running. A human man would sit at the observatory, painting a picture of the city below him as the sun rose over the horizon. Two human youths would sit on a blanket and kiss. The gander continued to ponder this, and realized that humanity was essentially a species of animal that made things for the sheer joy in making, who did things for the pleasure of doing.

The gander experimented with humanly behaviors. After seeing the human man watching the sunrise and painting, he tried to make a picture himself, taking a stick in his beak and making images in the thick mud next to the pond, pictures of himself and his fellow geese, of people and trees and landscapes.

When the visual arts bored him, he turned to music, inspired by the example of a concert he’d seen in the park. He listened voraciously to every kind of human music he could. For some reason, he enjoyed the energy and viscerality of eighties and nineties hip hop, and started to rap in his own private goose language. His spontaneous performances attracted attention from humans, who would gather to watch him. Some of them filmed him, and the gander quickly became a YouTube celebrity, dubbed “the Rapping Goose” by the internet community.

Eventually, he even tired of music. As the winter months wore on, the goose followed humans around, trying even harder to decipher their fascinating behavior. As he listened to the funny-sounding vocalizations that humans made, he hit upon something shocking: the humans had their own language. Once he discovered this, the goose decided to learn and catalogue the human tongue. He started with the basics, phonetics and phonology, and moved through the disciplines of morphology and syntax, culminating in semantics and slang. He stored a huge database of human words in his head. The gander even tried to pronounce human words, but every attempt he made failed. He came to the conclusion that human mouths were very different on the inside than beaks.

As spring approached, the gander spent most of his time following humans around and listening to their conversations. He listened to the conversation of two teenage girls, and tied to understand their obsession with one “Robert Pattinson”, a human male who the girls believed to be “super cute”. He eavesdropped on a conversation between two music industry executives, and discovered the concept of “money”, which he had never known about before. He decided that it was basically food or sex in a different form, proving that goosely behavior existed in humans, even though they still did things just because they could. He listened to men complain about their wives, and women complain about their boyfriends, and came to a conclusion about human sexual behavior from the conversations (it mainly involved a complicated mating ritual called “romance”, and seemed far more intricate and interesting than goose sex).

With every attempt at studying humanly behavior, the gander became more and more interested in them. And as his interest grew, he felt his goosely identity slowly slipping away. As his goosely side became less and less normal, he found himself being ignored more and more by his goosely flock. The flock took off for their migration back north, and the goose decided that he’d have to create a new word to describe how he felt.

Lonely.

# # #

It was in a rainy northern city in late spring that the gander first saw the woman.

He was swimming in a pond in a city park, enjoying the cool slimy water on his feathers as he paddled (for all his intellectual advances, occasionally there were some goosely pleasures too strong to resist). Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her sit down on a bench.

It may have been that he was lonely. Or maybe it was a newfound ability to see the beauty in the strange and ungoosely. For whatever reason, he looked at her, and instantly his heart pounded.

She was beautiful. Her hair was the red-gold color of a sunset over the ocean. Her eyes were the color of the sky on a clear summer day. She wore a coat the color of fog, a top the color of young grass, and faded, tatty blue jeans. But what struck the gander about her most was the intelligence in her eyes. There was something brilliant and sad in her expression, as if her face was a mirror of the gander’s deepest desires. She was like everything he’d ever dreamed of and nothing he’d ever seen.

The woman opened her messenger bag and got out a thick textbook and a loaf of bread. Birds of all kinds– geese and ducks, pigeons and starlings– flocked around her as she broke off chunks of the bread and tossed them the crumbs.

The gander didn’t come any closer than about twenty feet. He simply stood there, watching her read, enraptured.

Soon she ran out of bread, and the other birds moved away, uninterested. The gander still watched her, marvelling at the way she pursed her lips as she read her book, her brow furrowing in intellectual contempation.

Eventually she noticed him.

The woman looked at the gander, and smiled faintly. “I’m out of bread, you know,” she said. “I haven’t got anything else.”

The goose didn’t say anything. He was shocked that she’d spoken to him.

She laughed, and her voice was like the sound of wind under his wings. “Why are you staring at me?” she asked.

“I just think that you’re the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” said the gander.

Of course she didn’t understand him. But she laughed again, more brightly this time. Her smile widened, and a light came into her eyes. “Listen to you!” she exclaimed. “You don’t sound like any goose I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of funny, actually.”

“I made up my own language.” Even though he knew that she wouldn’t comprehend, he still spoke to her, as if he could pretend to have a conversation with her. “That’s why I sound funny. Because I can talk.”

“It almost sounds like you’re talking,” said the woman. She stroked her chin thoughtfully, and crossed one perfect, jean-clad leg. “Here. I think I might have something.”

She reached into her messenger bag and pulled out an energy bar. “I was saving this for a snack later. But you know what? I just might split it with you.”

The gander brightened at that. He came over to her, self-conscious of his goosely waddle, and hopped on the bench next to her. She laughed, and unwrapped the energy bar, breaking it in half and crumbling it up into small pieces for him.

The gander looked over her shoulder at her textbook. He couldn’t read– even though he knew that the ink sqiggles on the page were words, he’d never learned to decipher them. There were a lot of pictures on the page. Pictures of the insides of animals. Dogs and cats.

“I’m studying to be a veterinarian,” said the woman. “I’m go to college here. Actually I’m from Yakima originally, but I like it here. It’s a big city. Yakima’s beautiful, but it’s kind of boring.” She bit off a piece of energy bar. The gander saw a lump in her neck bob up and down as she swallowed. He’d never noticed how smooth and pretty human skin could be. Easily as pretty as feathers. “I miss my dog, though. I would talk to her like she was a person. None of that stupid baby talk. Kind of like I’m talking to you right now.”

Then she paused, and shook her head. “Ahh, I’m probably crazy. You don’t understand what I’m saying. You’re just a goose.”

“Of course I understand you,” the gander said. “I learned human language a while ago. I can understand it– I just can’t speak it. It’s something to do with how my throat’s shaped.”

She laughed. “You sound so funny!” And she put a hand on the gander’s back and stroked it gingerly.

The gander tensed. He’d never been touched by a human before. But her hand was warm and smooth, and soon he controlled his instincts and grew to enjoy it.

“Is this okay?” said the woman. “I mean, you’re a wild animal, and this is probably a little… uncomfortable for you.”

“I love it,” he replied. “It’s better than flying.”

Eventually the woman went back to her book. The gander read over her shoulder (though really he just looked at the pictures), wondering about what the word “veterinarian” meant. After a while, he decided it meant “a human who is a friend to dogs and geese”. He wondered why she needed to study to be that.

The sun sank lower and lower, and the unlikely couple drew odd glances from passersby. But the gander didn’t care. He may have been sitting on a park bench with a human, but in his heart, he was soaring.

A blast of tinny, low-fidelity rock music cut through the silence. The woman looked up from her book and pulled a cell phone out from her messenger bag. She opened it and put it to her ear. “Hello?” the woman said. “Oh, hi, Connor.” A pause. “I’m at the park right now, studying.” Pause. “Really? Come on, Connor. Does it have to be now?” Pause. “Okay, fine. I’m on my way. Love you.”

The woman turned to the gander and smiled bashfully. “I’m sorry, buddy. My boyfriend just called me. He’s got a big paper due tomorrow, and he needs me to write it. I’ve got to go.” She gave him a pat on the head, and stood up, taking her messenger bag and textbook with her.

The gander watched her walking off, her movement so smooth and perfect, like the waves on the sea. He knew the word “boyfriend”: it meant a mate. A committed relationship, part of that elaborate human mating ritual called “romance”. That made him sad, of course. The feeling of soaring that he had earlier was replaced with a feeling of sinking, a feeling like he was falling from the sky. But he’d still shared that moment with her. Besides, this was a big park. Humans came back to this place regularly.

The next day, the woman was back on the same park bench, her messenger back next to her, her textbook out. When she saw him, she smiled, and it was like sunlight.

# # #

Their relationship, if you could call it that, progressed over time.

The woman always brought bread for the other birds, but she saved something for him. Something special. Maybe it was something like a freshly-baked focaccia, or a cranberry muffin, or something else delicious. Whatever she brought, it was always perfect.

Everything about her was perfect.

She would talk, and he would listen. If humans were good at anything, it was talking. And since the goose never had anyone to talk to in his language, he just listened. He slowly became good at listening over time, and she shared more and more with him.

At first she talked mostly about her boyfriend, the infamous Connor. They’d met at a freshman mixer, back two years ago. At first she wasn’t interested when he hit on her. But as time went by, she started to see something in him. They hooked up one winter, after a basketball game. Then they started dating, and things went on from there.

Connor and the woman apparently had incredible sex. The gander’s one-sided sex discussion with the woman of his dreams was, to be honest, a little uncomfortable. But he gained a certain knowledge of human sex from her. He’d had good sex in the past, but to be honest, it was goose sex. There was no emotion involved, just lust and honking. When humans had sex, more than just bodily fluids passed between them. There was something else, too. In fact, the woman had a word for sex that he liked: “making love”. It was an idiom that he liked, as if humans could create love out of nothing.

However, things were, as the woman put it, “on the rocks” between Connor and the woman. Ever since the summer of sophomore year, Connor had been drinking pretty heavily. It started out innocently enough, a little beer or some cocktails at a frat party. But then Connor began to drink more and more. He began pregaming, and then drinking earlier in the week. Eventually Connor would go to bars and get plastered even on weekdays. He’d drink before class. And when he drank, he’d get angry.

“Sometimes he scares me,” said the woman. “And sometimes, when I see him drunk and angry, I say, ‘That’s it. I’m done with him. No more.’” And she smiled, faintly. “And then suddenly he does something that reminds me of how I fell in love with him. Something that lets me see the real him.”

The woman sniffed, and the gander realized that she was crying. He was startled– the only humans he’d seen crying were little children, and they cried in an unashamed full-on klaxon wail. The woman was just making little sniffling noises, and her eyes were leaking. She pulled a couple of tissues out of her messenger bag and blew her nose.

The gander decided to comfort her. But how? He didn’t know what to do in this kind of situation. Eventually, he slumped somewhat confusedly against her, pressing his weight into her side.

Somehow, that seemed to work. The woman smiled, and her eyes were shining like moonlight on a wet street. “Thank you,” she said. “Somehow you always seem to know the right thing to do.”

The woman put an arm around him. “The funny thing is, I don’t have any friends outside of Connor.” She snuggled in closer to him, warm against his feathers. “I know Connor’s friends, and his teammates, and his friends’ and teammates’ girlfriends, and that’s it. I don’t ever talk to my roommate from freshman year. I only talk to my roommate from last year once or twice a month. So I guess that makes you my only real friend.”

The gander decided to try something he’d never done before.

“I’m in love with you,” he said. It took all his courage to say it, but he managed somehow.

Of course she didn’t understand him.

“I wish I could talk to you for real,” the woman said. “Somehow you always know what so say.”

# # #

Spring changed into summer. The world grew warmer and brighter.

It rained a lot in this particular city. Even if it wasn’t raining, the sky always seemed to be on the verge of raining, with gray, looming clouds that were ready to spit at any moment. When a truly sunny day broke out, with white fluffy clouds and a brilliant blue sky, the park would be crowded with people.

On those days, the gander and the woman would move from their usual park bench. The woman would lie in the sun on a beach towel, wearing sunglasses and a bikini as she talked with the gander. And the gander would listen to every word.

Occasionally the gander would have dreams where he was able to speak the human language, that he could tell the woman how much she meant to him. Sometimes he dreamed that he was a human male, and that they could be together. When the gander dreamed, he felt happiness for a while.

When he awoke, the dreams would melt like fog, and he was an ordinary goose again, with a ridiculous walk and an oversized beak.

The woman told the goose that she was staying in the city for the summer to take more classes. It was the first time that she spent the summer away from Yakima. “I feel pretty nervous,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to staying over the summer. Besides, Connor’s living in the city now. We’re sharing an apartment.”

The woman’s relationship with Connor wasn’t going well, despite their cohabitation. He was getting sullen and angry. One day she told the gander that he’d come home at two AM and punched the wall in their apartment over and over again. He smashed a gaping hole in the sheetrock and broke two fingers.

Another time, the woman said that Connor was drinking even in the middle of the day, that he would go through an 18-pack of Coors in two days, and that he was saying things to her. Abusive things. Hurtful things.

One day in the middle of summer, while the woman was talking with the gander, she suddenly burst into hot tears. Later on the gander realized that she had been talking about one of her favorite coffeshops– a place where the woman and Connor went on one of their first dates.

The gander knew that the woman was dependent on Connor. And soon the gander realized he was dependent in a similar way on the woman. He found that he needed to be around her. Every moment of every day, when she wasn’t there, was simply a gap. There just wasn’t anything there. Every day she didn’t come to the park was a day that didn’t happen. She defined his life.

The summer slowly faded away into autumn, and the rains came again to the city.

# # #

One day in early autumn when the sky was the color of rain, the woman came to the park. She wasn’t alone.

The gander realized something was wrong when he heard the woman’s voice. She wasn’t talking– she was yelling. And she was angry.

“–Connor, you son of a bitch, why the hell are you following me?”

“You think I don’t know?” yelled an unfamiliar voice. The gander’s feathers prickled, and he looked in the direction of the woman’s voice. There was a man with her, a big human male, with close-cropped brown hair and hard muscles under a tight t-shirt. He was chasing after the woman. She was walking fast, trying to ignore him, but he was right behind her. “You’ve been meeting a man here,” said Connor. “Don’t think I don’t know. You’ve been going to the park for weeks, always at the same time. Are you gonna tell me who it is?”

“Connor, please–”

“Katie, I swear this is it. If you don’t tell me who you’re meeting right now, then I’ll dump your skinny ass. I’ll kick you out of my apartment. You’ll go onto the street. How do you like that, huh?”

Your apartment? Connor, I pay the rent for both of us! I pay all the bills! If anyone’s getting thrown out, it’s you!

“I’m not moving,” Connor said. “And once this guy shows his face, I’ll beat the shit out of him. Nobody screws around with my girl–”

Your girl? You’re sleeping with Bryan’s girlfriend!”

“Who?”

“That blonde bitch with implants. You think I don’t know about it? You think I’m stupid? Of course you do– all those times you called me a dumb bitch, all that abuse–”

“Well, if you put out more maybe I wouldn’t sleep around!”

The woman slapped Connor across the face. It wasn’t a hard slap, but it was a slap designed to sting. Connor blinked, startled, then he punched the woman in the face. It was a full-blown punch. It was a drunkard’s punch, a punch designed to break noses and split skin.

The gander’s world went blood-red.

# # #

There was an English playwright named William Congreve. The goose had never read his plays, but in one of them he’d written, “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, / Nor Hell a Fury, like a woman scorn’d.

William Congreve was, of course, wrong.

The fury of a woman scorned is a pittance to the wrath of a sentient nine-pound male Canada Goose who has just seen the woman he loves get punched in the face.

# # #

After a moment, the gander realized that he had flown at Connor, wings flapping like clubs, angry beak snapping as he swarmed over him. The gander could feel rage coursing through him, but somewhere deep within his mind, he watched himself fighting a human twenty times his weight with something akin to mild interest, as if he was watching through the eyes of another goose.

Connor cursed as the gander attacked, grabbing out and trying to get ahold of the gander. His clutching fingers grabbed only feathers, though. The gander dodged and weaved. Huge clumps of his feathers came out with every blow as he pecked Connor in the face and neck and chest, leaving sharp bloody marks. At least he was putting that huge beak of his to some use for once.

Finally, Connor yelled, a deep-throated hoarse shout, and grabbed the gander by the tailfeathers. The gander snapped at his hand, leaving a deep gash. Connor spun around like a hammer thrower, and pain screamed through the gander’s body from his tail up. The gander screamed wordlessly. Connor released him, and he went flying. He flapped his wings instinctively to steady his landing, and landed unceremoniously in the pond. He was dazed, confused, unable to think straight.

When he was finally able to clear his head, both Connor and the woman had gone.

# # #

The gander didn’t see the woman again that year.

After the gander had attacked Connor, the woman didn’t come back to the park. The gander missed her, of course, and still thought about her all the time, but her absence was present at all times to him. Without her there, it felt like there was something missing. There was a permanent gap in the universe, as if something as elemental as the sun, or water, or flying had gone, leaving nothing but a dry numbness.

The gander spent time with his flock. Their goosely behaviors comforted him. He didn’t want to be cursed with this strange intelligence. He wanted to sink into the state he was before, into a world of food and flight and sex and sleep. But it was impossible. He was irrevocably changed. He was different from the rest of the geese now, and there was no going back.

Still, there was still an underpinning of gooseliness underneath his humanly behaviors. And as fall continued, and rain and leaves fell over the city, the goose felt the magnetic pull of the south, the land of eternal summer. When the time felt right, he and the rest of his flock took to the sky, flying south to where it was forever warm.

They soared above suburbs and highways, over farmland and forests. Every goose took its turn as the apex of their flock’s formation. They kept the sunrise on their left and the ocean on the right. As the flock flew south, farther and farther from the magnetic tug of the north pole, the weather grew warmer and warmer. They left the rains far behind, and flew over parched blond hills of yellow grass. The air grew hot and dry, and they soared in a blue autumn sky, over pastures of cows and wild brown scrubland. Eventually they passed over a range of chocolate-brown mountains and into an urban jungle of cars and lawns, palm trees and strip malls, parking lots and swimming pools.

The gander spent the winter with his flock in the urban sprawl, living in a duck pond in a massive hilltop park. The flock would hunt in the pond, and rely on the kindness of passing humans, who would sit on benches– like the woman– and feed the birds.

The gander spent a lot of time away from his flock. He would watch the pretty girls sitting in the sun, but he didn’t feel for them what he felt for the woman. He tried to keep himself occupied with intellectual pursuits. He had been neglecting his work– after all, he was still a taxonomist, and there was always something to classify.

He took time to study human writing. It was hard, because humans never read aloud to him, so he couldn’t compare it to actual spoken language. Eventually he managed to puzzle out enough of the writing to understand which letters made which sounds, but he was tripped up on full words, mostly because words were never spelled the way they sounded. And, to be perfectly frank, his heart simply wasn’t in it.

He tried creating a writing system for his goose language. But he slowly realized that there was no point. His language had one speaker only. That was all. It made no sense to create a writing system for him alone. Besides, he had no medium more permanent than mud and rocks. Eventually he gave up on creating an alphabet.

He went for flights around the city, looking down at people from above, observing their behavior and studying it. But he tired of observation. Eventually he just wasted long hours at the observatory on the hilltop, watching the sun go down and the lights go on in the patchwork matrix of the city, until the sky was alight withthe purple-brown urban glow and darkness shrouded the world.

Winter slowly turned to spring, and the gander’s flock felt the pull of the north again, the urge to leave the baking heat of the southern summer and travel back to where it was green and cool. The gander’s flock left the city behind, flying again over the chocolate mountains and blonde hills back to the pine forests and cool rivers, keeping the ocean on their left and the sunrise on their right.

# # #

It was a cloudy day in late spring. It had rained the night before, and the ground was dark and slick with rainwater. The gander was in the pond in the park where he’d met the woman, lazily swimming around and feeling the cool, slimy water against his feathers. He occasionally looked over at the bench where he and the woman used to sit, where she would talk and he would listen. The gander was tired: his flock had just completed its flight from the south the previous night. The gander didn’t know whether they would stay here or keep flying northward, over the deep old-growth forests and snowy mountains, towards the tundra at the top of the world. The geese never really thought about the decisions they made. They would either do something, or they wouldn’t. There was no voting, no debate. If they wanted to go north, they’d do it, as one body and one mind.

The gander wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay. The park was a pleasant place, with grass and weeds and bugs and friendly people with bread. But there were too many memories here. He still remembered the woman, her smooth skin, her sunset hair, her sweet smell. Sometimes it hurt to remember.

As he swam, feeling the slime between his toes and remembering the woman, he caught a glimpse of red-gold hair. And in the time it took to think, there she was.

The gander’s heart pounded. He flapped his wings, propelling himself quickly across the pond. His feet barely skimmed the surface of the water as he ran, his mind racing, filled with thoughts of her, her, her. The pond ended, and he ran over concrete. She came to meet him. Her face was covered in a smile. They came together, and her arms were around him. She laughed, a pure laugh of joy.

“Hey, you!” she exclaimed, stroking the goose on the head. “You’re here! I’ve been coming to this park for weeks now, hoping to see you. You were gone for so long.”

“I missed you too,” the gander said.

“And I have to thank you,” said the woman. “Because of you, I broke up with Connor. You somehow showed me what a jerk he really was. And I have a new boyfriend. Someone much better.”

The gander looked over the woman’s shoulder, and saw for the first time that she was with another person. A male person. He was tall and muscular, with a tight long-sleeved T-shirt and skinny jeans. He had close-cropped black hair and a beard. As he looked at the man, the gander’s heart felt like it turned to stone, closing up and becoming small and hard. There was something in this new man’s eyes that made him seem like Connor. It was obvious to the gander that the woman’s new boyfriend was basically the same as her old one.

“Goose,” said the woman, “this is my boyfriend, Skyler.”

“Um, hi,” said Skyler. “Katie, why’d you drag me out here? I know you love animals, but this is more than your usual amount of crazy…”

And the gander could feel his stone heart slowly breaking.

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