My parents used to have a Leadbelly record. My favorite song was The Grey Goose. You should listen to it sometime.
When I was a lot older I learned that the grey goose in the song was an allegory for the struggle of the black race in America. Each time they tried to kill the goose he escaped, broke their teeth out, flew across the ocean with his family laughing the whole way.
Last night we met Lucy the rescue goose. Her previous owners had starved her and regularly beat her with a hose. Animal services had removed her and given her to Andrea, who works at the bait shop.
“I like animals a lot more than people,” she said. “Animals, you know, are good.”
Lucy began shrieking at us the moment we arrived. “She is nervous and scared around strangers but don’t worry. She will settle down.”
The next day Lucy woke up when we did, cackled a bit, then waddled over. I put out my hand and she bit the fuck out of it. Geese have ridges on their beaks, deeper the farther back on the bill, and I let her bite me a few more times. Then she grabbed my finger and started to work it back in her bill where the deep ridges were. I pulled back my finger in pain and made a fist. She started hammering and biting on it hard. After a couple of minutes I took away my hand. “That’s enough, Lucy. That hurts.”
She sat down in front of me, satisfied, and tucked her head under her wing. She wasn’t afraid of me anymore. I reckoned that a lot of people are that way. They have been hurt bad and they don’t trust anyone, and if you try to get close they drive you away. But if you can take a bit of pecking without striking back, sometimes they turn out to be good people and not so scared as they once were.
We pedaled a couple of miles into town for breakfast burritos. They were huge and our hunger was, too. We sat on the cement while the grackles gathered, waiting for our inevitable crumbs. I broke apart a french fry and tossed it to them. They scrambled for it. I tossed some more. There was one grackle who couldn’t get a piece of fry. Every time I raised my arm the others would head for where they thought the fry was going to land, but Little Billy always went the wrong way because he thought I was trying to hit him. That is like a lot of people, too, who can’t ever see the real direction of things because they are so afraid of getting hurt.
I started trying to toss pieces to him but that doesn’t work in life, either. People can’t receive what you have to share until they are ready.
We pedaled to the grocery store for supplies and ice cream. As we sat there a woman pedaled by. She was wearing furry white boots and didn’t have any teeth. “Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” she said back, sizing us up instantly with the friend-or-foe eye of the hard living.
“Come talk to us.”
“I suppose I will.”
“I’m Seth. What’s your name?”
“Pretty fancy day.”
“Those are pretty fancy bikes.”
“We rode a long way yesterday and are recuperating.”
“So I see.”
“Want some?” I offered her the ice cream and the spoon.
“Sure.” She took a bite. “Ooh, that is good.”
“What are doing today?”
“Same thing as every day. Wondering where my next dollar is coming from.”
I reached into my pocket and gave her one of Dave’s ten spots. “Here.”
“Well hell, thank you.”
“Nope. Thank Dave. He gave me $300 in tens before I left town and told me to pass it on. Then another Dave sent me another $100 and told me to do the same. It’s on them.”
“They must be nice people. Tell them I said thanks.”
“They are. I will.”
“I been on the streets since I was 13. I’m 50 now. Been n prison, used to be a crackhead and a heroin addict.”
“Damn,” I said. “How’d you quit?”
“Prison got me started but you know what?”
“You can’t quit nothin’ and you can’t get nothin’ til you are ready.”
“Do you have kids?”
“I had eleven miscarriages. I guess the good Lord knew I wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ever gonna be.”
“Where do you live?”
“Here in town. Just down the street. They cut off four of my toes two weeks ago.”
“I’m a diabetic.”
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
“Life hurts, Seth.”
“You live alone?”
“No. I got an apartment full of rescue dogs. Thirty of ’em. It’s how come I’m hustling for money all the time.”
“They are all little. Animals, you know, people throw ’em aside like trash. But they have souls, big as any president or movie star. I don’t have nothin’ but they don’t care. They love me anyhow.”
“Here,” I said, and peeled off two more tens. “From the Daves.”
“You are nice folks. God bless you both.”
The goose, the dogs, the gentle lady on the bike… I wondered who was really helping whom.