A Gaggle of Geese

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                                                              A Gaggle of Geese

                                                             (2,060 word count)

 

     When Marne arrived home at seven a.m. dangling a goose by its orange feet. I knew it was going to be a brilliant day. She clicked the garden gate too and inspected her catch, I pretended not to see and carried on folding my sheets.

     “Now goosey gander, don’t be stubborn, I have plans and if you won't cooperate, you be for the copper pans, got it?” The goose hung limp having given up its struggle, now slightly cross eyed and steaming mad.

     Marne jutted out her chin out and tapped the goose gently on its head. Knowing that she would have her work cut out with this one.

     I can't resist and I clap my hands remembering my first catch.

     “Marne, get it upright quickly and get the net over,  She's a beauty girl!”

     “OK Ma, hurry down, I need you to pass me the blue rope?”

Placing a rather plump goose on dusty ground and gently covering her with a half moon net, her hands tremble, sweat forms at her brow which she wipes it away with a shirt sleeve.

     Her first catch from a moonlight trip and her first time at training a goose for the parade. She has to get it right or Fatty Fart-Face Flo, who was a whole year younger, with two catches under her belt, will take the piss.

 

    

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                                             A Gaggle of Geese.

 

 

 

Looking it dead in the eye, just as papa had taught her as a small girl, she coils blue rope around her small wiry arms and cocks her head side to side, loosening her neck, gearing up for the battle.

She catches sight of balmy Gertrude in the barn window sewing trim on a cotton bonnet.

     “Best get out the Nottingham lace Gerty, I’ve got a real contender here.” She watches the woman brush aside her comment with the flick of a tiny hand and huff. Marne scrunches her freckle dotted nose up and pokes out the end a pink tongue. Now she is even more determined to get this right. I'll show you, you bloody old witch.

     “Screw you, Gerty-giant-big-gob!” She mutters pulling the rope tight around her palm with one hand and holding the loop with the other. Pony-tailed hair swishing about in golden and lemon fresh slices.

     “Ma, can you get the net?” She whispers. Papa had said calm was the most important thing, no sudden movements and no raised voices. She draws a deep breath,almost closing her nostrils.

     The goose eyes her and is now bouncing on its feet, ready to run and bite, and boy they could nip you all right.

     Gertrude lets out a hearty laugh and tosses corn-bread into the pen under the window. A gaggle of cloud-white geese and two long-necked swans screech and clamber over one another making a horrendous racket, flapping huge wings.

    

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                                            A Gaggle of Geese.

 

 “Shit - she did that on purpose ma  - bloody-bonkers-bitch!”

She is just having fun, concentrate, you don't want to lose this one.” Grandma Gerty was indeed bonkers, but boy could she sew.

Her heart fluttering with frustration, Marne sat for a moment and thought about last nights river trip to calm her down, she would have to wait again until all was quiet.

     Pumpkin lanterns were fastened to garden sticks, one in each  rowing boat, scattering light across black water, reflecting a thousand golden suns. Occupants huddled low, nets at the ready, it was so peaceful, sat there under the milky moon. At one point she almost drifted off, the air was so warm it felt like a spring afternoon. Her first boat, painted in pale blue and vanilla cream stripes, floated along, creating docile ripples. She loved the sound.

     Bobby's cough broke the silence from his red and black pirate-flagged boat and giggles started from the younger more inexperienced, annoying the older folk who were eager to get done and off too bed, long shot of any excitement.

     “Shush up, you bloody fools, there'll be no parade without any ruddy geese!” Big old ray scolded with a deep hushed voice. Everyone listened to Big Old Ray!

     It fell silent again. I watched a million stars glide by and one shooting one whiz across the black. Lengthening shadows from willow trees forged monsters on serene star-speckled water. I looked through my perspex peep hole, I'd drifted quite close the the river bank.

 

 

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                                                   A Gaggle of Geese

 

A white-wing flashes spanning feathers, and a gold circled eye glints at me with a wink. My heart starts to beat as fast as a humming bird.

     I hold my breath and reach for  the net that lays next to my thigh and slowly grip it tight. She is right next to me, preening and ruffling feathers, messily splashing her huge orange feet. I bolt up, quicker than I ever remember moving, lightening speed, I swing the net over and under just as papa had shown me. She is bloody heavy and splashes around like a gobbling crazy turkey in my soft net. I let her settle into her defeat and calm before I haul her in.

     Noses appear and eyes peep over the side of boats watching my first catch. I beam bigger and wider than the moon. Sweat pouring off my face my chest soaked, I stare at my dazed prize.

 

“Gotcha!” I whisper.

 

     It is important not to gloat, or make to much noise, others still have a long night ahead. I secure my goose in her trunk, punctured with penny sized holes. She watches me, blinking, as I stand and lower my punt into the water. Pushing into reeds and mud I use all my muscle power to turn me round and take me home, were not allowed paddles. Too noisy. I make my way back through a sea of well done, to thumbs-up and silently-waving triangular flags in high salute!

 

                                                              5

 

 

                                                    Gaggle of Geese

 

It took me two hours to get back to the boat yard And a further two hours to drag my home-made pram-wheeled contraption back to the farm.

     My ma was at the bedroom window, folding white linen and humming to herself. White painted shutters pinned back by iron hooks resembling captain hooks hand, placed my mum in a farm-style picture frame. Birds in the cherry-blossom tree sang just under her. I stared up, standing by the gate waiting for her to spy me .

   She looked and then looked again, I grinned showing my entire set of sparking teeth, sticking up a triumphant thumb.

     She clapped and clapped and jumped about. She pointed a finger to the floor gesturing she was coming down. I heard her thump thump. And she was at the door hair in a bun, belly behind an apron. eyes as round as gob-stoppers. It's the first time I seen her smile since papa died.

 

     “I think she's ready ma?” I whisper and she nods back and starts to bring the net up . I hear my goose breathing through her tiny nostrils in quick spurts, she senses the dance we about to do, as generations before have done. She looks directly at me and hisses and bounces.  I throw the rope around her neck and quickly tug it so it stops at the knot and doesn’t strangle her. Now she runs around paddling dust out behind her like road runner, she has the strength of The Hulk and I struggle to hold on.

 

    

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                                              A Gaggle of Geese

 

I hear Gerty splitting her sides, I almost trip.

     “You balmy old fruitcake!” I shout, She laughs harder at my fury, the goose has my gangly legs tangled in a web of blue. Round and round we go, I have to wait until she gets tired, number one rule, she has to stop before I can start. Relentless she whizzes about me, I let out more rope, she looks as if she is eager to take a bite at me, she's really pissed.

     My arms ache and she shows no sign of stopping, she is screeching, hissing snapping her orange bill. We DO-SI-DO and we eye each other in a battle of wills. The rope is so tight around my palms my fingers are blue.

       All of a sudden, she flops to the floor exhausted. I thank my lucky stars and I place the silk bag over her head and carry her to the pen. Her heartbeat is strong, Papa said that’s a good sign.  She can't go in with others yet, she could attack them.

I sit with a rope-burnt hand and swig down a glass of coke letting it spill down my chin, feeling bloody marvellous.

     “Bloody hell, she's fiery Mar.”

     “Hows' your hand?” she nods at it.

     “OK I guess” I rub at my fingers willing the blood to come back

     “ You best get her food prepared, its only two weeks till the parade, she has got to trust you yet.”

Gerty is clapping her hands and holding up a piece of lace with skin sagging under her bony arms.

   

                                                            7

                                                

 

                                            A Gaggle of Geese

 

“Well done short arse, didn’t think you had it in ya.” I see yellow ribbon and cream lace being on the table. My favourite colours. Silly old bat.

     “Just in time for your tenth birthday mar, your dad would have been so proud.”

   She strokes my sweat-soaked hair and plants a kiss on top of my head. I look at the goose and imagine her in her bonnet among gaggle of geese, waddling her way to a glorious victory.

     “I hope so ma.”

    I remember my Pa used to sit on top of the wooden fence  surrounding the  bird pens, he used to hand feed them corn bread , crumbled into silver buckets. He would grab handfuls and offer it to the birds who seemed to trust him enough to come up close and peck, I also saw him chased out of the pen only once by an angry old goose who simply refused to wear a bonnet. That old goose ended up on ma's kitchen table surrounded by baked apples and roast potatoes.

     “Lets do some dancing Marne.” He would sing, through a crooked smile. He would ask me to pick a goose for him to train and I would watched as he had it walking alongside him turning any way he wanted,  all it takes is a stick and a voice. He told me. It doesn’t look so easy now. I hope he's watching. I bet he's laughing.  I think I see him sometimes, leaning over the fence, chewing on a piece of straw and smiling at me. Maybe I don’t see him, may I want to so bad I make myself see him.

 

 

                                                           8

 

 

                                            A Gaggle of Geese

 

 I sometimes wear his hat. It hangs on a rusty nail in the cow shed,  when ma's busy collecting eggs, I watch the Walton’s in it on Saturday mornings, that's how they got their names: Ma and Pa. My Grandma Gertrude hates it. I say it as often as I can when she's around. Silly old goat.                       

“Marne, you better get your leathers on, it's time to start training her with the stick. You ready?”

I look at the goose, after feeding her up with corn bread she seems to trust me I little, I’m sure she would rather be back on the river. She will be soon. She just has to win the bonnet parade first.

Opening the gate, clad in leather and shaking like a leaf, I walk straight over, just as my dad used to. confidence he would say, let em know who’s boss and he would tap his stick at the floor like he meant business.

I look at her and before I can raise my stick, she is pecking at me and flapping so furiously I run and leap over the gate. My Ma looks at me.

     “Well, I gotta say Mar, you did batter than your pa, he was so scared after the first time it took him a whole month before he tried again, You are so alike.”

She laughed so hard I thought she would fall over.

I started to laugh too.

I bet he's laughing now!