Cold Feet

Along the edge of the ice, where the water is not still and will not freeze despite the winter, stands a goose and her mate. All around them are small, familiar mounds. The night snow has settled upon these mounds like white hospital sheets. Each morning there are new mounds along the edge of the ice where the frigid water laps at them. The mounds are the dead bodies of the Canadian geese who have come to rest overnight, but who will not be leaving in the morning. As winter grips the pond and the occasional goose, the ice becomes a fowl burial ground.

Each morning my wife steps onto our balcony and points out another still goose, “I can’t tell if that one is alive.”

It is, but the goose has not moved from her place all morning. It seems her feet froze to the icy subzero night and while the rest of the flock rose with the sun in the morning, she could not follow.

She is alive, but the two geese stand forlorn in the cold day. And though the sun’s rays, like warm fingers, melt the snow and ice they touch, the wind bitterly whips at her. She stands, but does not walk. Her mate encircles her and in their silence they seem to cry her finality. There are no other living geese on the pond. In contrast, the ducks move franticly about, dipping their heads into the chilling water, shaking off the pellets as they form onto their feathers. In a flightless flock, the ducks rush about the ice, waddling desperately for warmth. The gander moves with the ducks to the shore from time to time and he stops to look back as if still encouraging her to keep trying.

We all stand solemnly together as if attending the funeral of a loved one. I think back to the morning and picture her flock rising into the air while she frantically flaps her wings, but does not rise. I recall a dream I had once as a child where my family could fly and flew away and I remained stuck to the earth crying out, “wait, I cannot fly like you”. I shudder and shake the thought from my mind.

Throughout the day, I watch the afternoon push the sun to the west and pull a cold shadow over the goose. All her energy has gone into the ice that now bonds her to the pond. Eventually, she rests her head upon the ice and seems to sleep. She is still alive, but there her body will lie until spring melts winter and ice turns to water. Only then will she sink into the belly of muck that lies beneath her and only then will time devour her.

My heart goes out to her mate whom I watch return to her over and over from the shore. The ducks waddle along the ice; web prints stamp the fresh snow all around the imprisoned goose like the steps of mourners at her wake. Her mate is by her side, despite the icy consequences to him and they are still very quiet unlike geese. Though habit has tuned their noisy flight out of my sleep, their silence makes me strangely weary. They make no squawks to one another, as they must have done on so many migrations, speaking to one another as they flew over countless lakes and foreign lands. Now they are silent and I’m saddened that he cannot tell her comforting words. Perhaps they need none; perhaps their loyalty to one another through the years is enough.

I’m looking at my wife’s sad face, rosy with winter’s kisses. I think of her feet, her little feet so vulnerable to diabetes, the feet I tenderly massage from time to time to stimulate the warm blood’s circulation. They, too, may one day become stuck in an icy debilitation. I try to summon the words that I might say should the sun’s afternoon shadow slide upon her as I stand by her side; strangely, I fall silent too.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Fast Forward.

Bryan Jansing’s Flash Fiction was included in Fast Forward Vol. 3, The Mix Tape (2010), which
was the finalist for the Colorado Book Awards. He has also written for BeerAdvocate, Celebrator, Primo and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His book Italy: Beer Country is the first and only book available about the Italian craft beer movement. Learn more at https://www.italybeertours.com.

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