This story is inspired by the Canadian Geese who are wintering on a lake in Greeley Colorado. It also draws from Aesop’s fable “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg” with its moral that too much greed results in nothing.
Brenda loved to run. When she thought about it she could feel her legs moving, feel the repetitive motion, and savor the exhilaration of movement, the wind in her face, her feet pounding on the earth, the dampness under her arms, and finally the joy of knowing that her tired muscles had been worked, oiled, and readied to do it again. Her love of running was in contrast to the rest of her mundane sedentary life. She lived with her mother in a rented basement apartment and worked part time as a driver for a shuttle between Greeley and Loveland. Even with her mother’s disability check, they had a hard time making ends meet. This didn’t seem to worry her mother who was morbidly obese and seldom went out. She had low expectations in life and was happy as long as her daughter kept her in food and shelter and the television worked. It didn’t worry Brenda either as she could have found a better paying job; but she didn’t want to work full time she wanted to be able to run during the day and, if possible, to experience her exercise high twice daily. She could have found less expensive accommodation, but she liked their neighborhood with its park and lake forming an attractive place for her to run.
During the winter of 2012 – 13 a gaggle of Canadian Geese wintered in the park in Brenda’s neighborhood. I’m not sure if gaggle is the right descriptor as it implies a small noisy group but the flock of geese in the park was by no means small, although it was boisterous. You could hear distinctive goose honks several blocks away from the park, even as far away as Brenda and her mother’s basement; they resonated oddly in the otherwise quiet streets of the surrounding residential neighborhood.
The geese were there for two reasons. First for water, because the park had a stream and man-made lake with two bubblers in the middle keeping enough of the water moving to ensure that a central patch of water did not ice over. Second, for food because the land around the lake and lawns of the surrounding homes provided good goose feeding grounds. Geese feed on things in the sludge in the bottom of lakes and on grass and seeds.
The Canadian geese looked so plump and healthy that a casual observer might have questioned whether they could ever get their twenty-four, or so, pound bodies into the air. But Brenda knew otherwise as she had seen them become airborne, seen them flapping their large wings to rise ponderously into the air accompanied by loud honks to their companions. When they took off she would pause to run in place and watch them fly in orderly fashion to circle the lake ever going higher and higher. She found their flight comforting; and, in some obtuse way, she thought of their flying as being akin to her running and rejoiced in this linkage. She would also pause to watch them return with feet extended like aircraft landing gear, and she smiled as they to slide across the ice at the end of their giddy descents.
At the lake the geese spent the majority of their time standing or sitting on the ice often sleeping on one leg. Brenda wondered if they got cold feet standing on such a cold surface and was glad that her running shoes and socks kept hers warm. During the day small gaggles could be seen on shore foraging for food. Sometimes a group would venture across the street circling the park to visit the lawns of the surrounding neighborhood. They crossed in goose formation, one behind the other. Seeing them do this reminded Brenda of Beatrice Potter’s description of the goose step in Tom Kitten “Pit pat paddle pat; pit pat waddle pat.” They were always quiet when feeding; perhaps, like humans, they couldn’t talk and eat at the same time.
Brenda circumnavigated the park several times on each run and knew all the park amenities – the grandstand, the playground, the reeds along the water’s edge, the island and the paths which traversed crossing the stream with small bridges. She recognized the different users along the path. She made it a point to greet each with a cheery “good morning” or “good afternoon” depending on the time of day. There were numerous people walking their dogs each carrying a discreet paper bag which they apologetically used to remove their dog’s deposits. Brenda thought it odd that goose droppings were acceptable (and numerous) but dog deposits had to be removed. There were always several other joggers who generally looked intense as though they ran as a chore rather than for pleasure. And there were mothers walking their children and feeding the geese stale bread.
The geese looked alike with black heads, white neck rings and brown feathered bodies except one day Brenda noticed there was one pure white goose in the flock. Brenda paused and ran in place as she watched this white goose which she speculated to be domestic. She felt a strange communion with it. The white goose frequented the east side of the lake near a pontoon which stretched a few yards out onto the lake and soon Brenda made it a point to carry crusts of stale bread in her pocket. Each day she sought out and fed her white goose. The white goose came closer than any of the Canadian Geese who seemed to ignore her. Brenda couldn’t help wondering what one white goose was doing with this flock of Canadian birds that didn’t look remotely like her.
Even when snow fell, Brenda ran. She enjoyed the brilliance and quiet of the snow blanketed landscape; and, although some of the geese seemed to have disappeared, the white goose was still there. While she was feeding it, the goose came closer and eventually jumped ashore. Then she stood and stared at Brenda with her little black eyes. She occasionally jerked her head downwards. Brenda followed her movements and started in wonder when she saw a glitter of gold among the reeds next to the goose’s feet. Was it a golden egg nestling in the fresh snow?
Brenda got off the pontoon and walked through the snow towards the gold. The sun sparkled on the snow which glistened, but Brenda only had eyes for the egg which also shone in the sun. It wasn’t until she stooped to pick it up that Brenda realized that the white goose’s treasure was not a golden egg, but a woman’s wallet. She glanced around to see if anyone was close, but on that snowy day there were no other people in the park. She picked it up and without taking off her gloves to open it she thrust it into her pocket. As she ran on she kept patting her pocket and speculating on the treasure that fate had brought her. She knew that the right thing to do was to find the owner and to return the wallet but, even as she ran, she couldn’t help but speculate on what she might do with a windfall, or more accurately snowfall, of extra cash.
When she got home, she sat at their small table and pulled out the wallet. She opened it. Inside she found five hundred dollars in a mixture of dollar bills, a Visa credit card, and a business card with a name and address. For some strange reason she didn’t mention her find to her mother. Perhaps even then she feared that her mother would insist that she return it immediately. But returning it was not completely out of her mind and so she looked up the address and found it to be somewhere in the more affluent side of the neighborhood. She told herself that she would make a detour in her run the next day and deliver it. But later that evening when her own wallet lacked the right change to pay the Pizza delivery person she dipped into the wallet and used one of the twenties to pay for their food. She thought of it as her reward for returning the wallet and rationalized that the owner had so much money that she would probably not even miss twenty dollars.
The next day more snow fell, but Brenda braved the falling flakes, put on her running clothes, and went out. She detoured and ran past the address in the wallet. She found it with ease, a larger house with the drive already cleared of snow and, not one but, two Mercedes parked in front. Brenda knew that she ought to go up to the regal front door and knock and return the wallet. It was the right thing to do; but she didn’t. She told herself that the place was too grand and that she would have to wear her newest jogging clothes to be presentable enough to knock on the door. She concluded her run with several loops around the lake. She searched for the white goose. She felt an urge to thank it, but on this day it was nowhere to be seen.
Over the next fortnight Brenda ran past the house every day, every day with the wallet in her pocket but she could not bring herself to take the garden path and to knock on the front door. Each day the contents of the wallet decreased as Brenda used some of the cash to meet her minor financial emergencies. At last there came a day when the wallet was empty. Now Brenda knew that she couldn’t return the wallet unless… unless she concocted a story about it being open and empty when she found it. The more she thought about this approach the more she liked it and so she continued to run past the house with the Mercedes and continued to argue with herself about whether she should brave the path and knock on the front door. She managed to reconnect with the white goose, but to her horror it had developed a limp and stayed far out on the ice of the lake. Brenda took hard rusks in her pocket to throw to the goose, but was seldom able to pitch far enough to get them to it.
Now that the wallet had run out of bills and Brenda began to feel the pinch, it seemed as though she was constantly short of ready cash, so when her car’s battery had to be replaced she proffered the credit card from the wallet. The dealer accepted it, and she had a new battery. Brenda worried a little about this transaction. She asked herself if she was a thief, but she rationalized that people with Mercedes probably didn’t even balance their accounts and certainly wouldn’t miss so paltry a sum. She still ran past the house on her way to the lake, still carried the wallet; but now she hardly paused to consider whether she should return it for in the moments that she was honest to herself she knew that her greedy use of its fountain of cash was what she wanted. Meanwhile the white goose continued to decline. It sat on the cold ice without attempting to reach Brenda’s rusks.
Brenda became increasingly overt in her use of the credit card but her increased affluence didn’t buy her happiness. On the contrary her life became more and more miserable as she began to lose her pleasure in running. She still forced herself to run past the house with the Mercedes, but doing so made her feel guilty and then when she got to the lake she anguished over the decline of the white goose. Her mother who was generally only immersed in her life of food and soap operas began to question whether Brenda was sick.
Brenda had mixed emotions on the day that the credit card bounced. She was on line buying a bracelet which she didn’t need. After the rejection she decided to put on her running clothes and go out. She dragged herself to the door and went outside. Immediately she knew that this day was different for the sky was filled with honking geese. Their formations swerved and rose like mighty waves, and their cacophony filled the air. Brenda assumed that something, a dog perhaps, had sent the geese into the safety of flight. Feared for the white goose she ran the shortest route possible to the lake.
At the lake she saw two boys on the ice and knew that they were the cause of the uproar. Subconsciously she wondered if the responsible adult thing for her to do was to get the boys off the ice but she could only think of the white goose. She could see it lying immobile near the edge of the unfrozen section of the lake. Then she saw one of the boys approach it and poke it with his foot. It didn’t move. He poked a little harder and then gave it a sharp kick. The body slid over the remaining ice between it and the open water and slipped over the edge into the water and disappeared. The ice gave a moan to match Brenda’s and the boys retreated to the edge of the lake to scramble up the bank and run away. They were hardly off the ice before the first goose landed. They came down fast and soon the lake was covered with geese. They stood in rare silence while Brenda silently sobbed and watched. She was devastated and cut her run short and began to walk. First she walked to the house with the Mercedes. When she got there she stopped and drew the wallet from her pocket. She lobbed it into the snow bank piled along the side of the drive. It sank into the snow and disappeared from view. Then, still crying, she made for home. She was still sobbing when she entered the house.
As she closed the door her mother lumbered up out of her chair before the television and approached Brenda with a bear hug. She asked Brenda what was wrong, and why she was so unhappy and depressed that she had stopped running. Brenda tried to explain in gasps that
she had befriended a white goose on the lake and that the white goose had given her a golden egg, but that she had abused he gift and now both goose and egg were gone. She elaborated that she knew that it was all her fault, her own greed, and kept repeating that the white goose was dead.
The tale about a white goose and golden egg made no sense and so Brenda’s mother, fearing her daughter’s very sanity, made an appointment for Brenda with a female doctor renouned to be good at treating depression. Two days later Brenda mustered up her strength and drove over in her car. The doctor was late and so she sat in the waiting room looking out of the picture window; watching the snow fall. In each flurry she imagined a white goose. Just when she thought that the doctor would never arrive a Mercedes drove up and parked next to her car.