Sunday Scribblings--Bedtime story--Geese and the girl
Another long story--a fairy tale about a girl who makes friends with some unruly geese, on a journey that takes them all far from where they started. This is, as always, a rushed first draft, so forgive the areas where it makes less sense. Luckily, fairy tales come with their own sense.
Once upon a time there lived a girl, who spent most of her time in a perch overlooking a high walled garden. Branches from tall trees spilled out from the top, over laden with heavy, lush fruit, which seemed forever ripe, regardless of the season. The air that wafted from above the wall carried hints of luscious scents, perfumes that beckoned and beguiled her. Is it any wonder that she spent most of her day just sitting in her perch, ignoring the workaday cares that surrounded her—the clanging of rusty pots, the scratches and yawlings of the neighborhood cats, the sharp-edged voices which always seemed raised in anger and frustration. She recognized these voices, unwillingly. She knew one of them was hers.
One day the Master of the house gave her an errand—she was to walk over to the garden with three obstinate geese from the pond and deliver them to whoever first answered the door. Only that person would know the way to make the geese more docile, and thus tastier. Everyone knew that angry geese made a bitter, tough meal.
"Why have you chosen me?" she asked, a little afraid. On occasion this Master would amuse himself by creating impossible tasks for the members of his household—watching in satisfaction when they failed and were turned out of the house. The girl did not want to lose her place, her perch, her home. She liked being near the garden, knowing it was there. What if she walked in and was disappointed? Better to continue to visit it in imagination, where all things could remain perfect, and perfectly still.
"The geese asked for you." He said. His smooth face was implacable, unreadable. "And we must do what the geese say.”
Unable to argue with his logic, the girl went up to her perch one last time and wept, knowing that this was goodbye. The golden hue of the garden, which had always spilled generously over her, seemed to retreat back behind the wall, leaving her quite bereft. And for the first time, she looked down. The garden which had seemed to be next door, a mere thought away, was actually miles and miles away from her, and between them was a gray, dismal forest. But there seemed no way out, so with a heavy heart she packed her meager belongings in a small rucksack—a tattered notebook left to her by her mother, a pair of ripped black stockings, and a cracked flowering can.
The next morning, she walked through the house, saying goodbye to her favorite things. Goodbye silver teapot, goodbye fireplace, goodbye library. But among the people, she remained silent. They had never cared for this odd girl with the gray dreamy eyes, and she had always been afraid of their sharp demeanor, even as it ignited her own occasionally fierce one.
"Are you sure?" she asked the Master one last time. "I will miss my perch and my home." The appeal was there in her soft voice, but the Master chose to ignore it. He was very busy this morning, with no time to indulge the fears of household girls. "Yes," he said. "We must do as the geese say.”
So she walked to the pond, wintry and stark, where the geese lived with their gooseherd, a sour faced, frightened little boy who longed for things he could not name.
"Oh, so its you, then." He said. "I heard the geese asking for you. But I could not be sure, for I don’t always speak their language.”
"I have never been here before. How do the geese know of me?" This was a reasonable question, she thought. It was important to understand the logic of the thing.
"The geese know." The gooseherd did not like to remember that they had also chosen him for this task, which had as yet brought him no happiness. "All we can do is listen.”
The three obstinate geese flapped forward, eyeing the girl with their beady eyes, before they nodded their approval.
She was afraid, but knew she needed to appear brave, so she said in a loud voice, "Well, then let’s go on to the garden. I believe they are expecting us.”
Could that have been a gleam of respect in the geese’s eyes? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But they certainly trudged alongside her easily enough, as the gooseherd watched, in bittersweet envy.
They all walked until the looming house became a speck in their vision, but still the garden was out of reach. They had only the fragrance of the flowers, and the molten glow of the sun, to let them know they were on the right track. Meanwhile, the geese amused themselves by picking fights with the tree frogs, who harrumphed at their progress, and by teaching the girl the intricracies of their language. At night, while the geese slept by the crackling firelight, the girl wrote their words in the blank pages of her notebook. She turned the pages back and read her mother’s messages to her.
What you have may not look like much, her mother had written. But used wisely, it will bring you whatever you need. The girl couldn’t see the sense of that, but her mother had been a noted wise woman, and so the girl put her trust in the words, believing that, like the geese, they would teach her in their good time.
They continued their journey, the geese now beginning to lag behind her, walking more and more slowly. "We should be making more progress." She rebuked them. She really wanted to try and return to her perch. "Would you want to go so quickly to your death?" They asked her in return. "We know we shall be eaten once we are tamed. And we don’t want to die.”
The girl considered this, acknowledged that it made sense to her. "So don’t allow yourself to be tamed, then. Just remain your angry selves.”
"It’s too late for that." They replied. "In teaching you to understand, we have given away our anger.”
"So why did you do that?" The girl asked, puzzled. "It wasn’t necessary for our journey, was it?”
"No," they admitted. "But we get lonely too.”
And with that, they saw that they were almost at the gate of the garden. The girl grew faint with excitement, while the geese trembled with dread.
In spite of her violent longing to see the garden up close, finally, she said, "We don’t have to go in, you know. You geese are very wise, and I am sure we could all make a living somehow, even if we never went in and never went home. We could live in the Inbetween Forest.”
"We cannot hide so from our destinies," the geese replied, stoically, even as they patted her arm with their great white wings.
Somewhere, a trumpet revellie began to sound and the gate opened with a stately flourish. But no one was to be seen, except a kindly looking old woman.
"My supper is here! And look, they are tender again—all their unruly nature gone!"she said with genuine satisfaction, and proceded to swallow the geese whole, one by one. When she finished she said to the girl, "Can you sing?"Again, not unkindly. Like all fairy tale maidens, the girl could sing very well indeed, and sang a song to the old lady to show her. "Oh, this will never do at all, my child. See, it is my song that keeps the garden flourishing, that keeps the sun glowing, that keeps it spring forever. If you also sang, you might confuse things. So…I give you a choice. Allow me to cut off your tongue, and remain here with me, or be swallowed with your geese friends.”
The girl remembered her mother’s words—she was sure that she didn’t have much, but she wanted to keep what she had. And faced with a life without her simple songs, she knew she would not want to live.
"I grew fond of them. I should like to live with the geese, even if it means I'll live inside you forever.”
"Very well," the old lady replied, and swallowed her down, but she was a clever old lady, and so she took a sizable bite of the girl’s tongue on the way down.
Down the girl tumbled, until she landed with a thump inside a barren field. The geese honked their indignation at her treatment.
"You have been our friend. You have learned our language. We will be your voice until you heal.”
And they rubbed feathers on her tongue and hissed rhymes to her, and time passed over them and under them.
One day, the old lady opened her mouth to sing her song, but what came out was a melody unlike any other, a passionate tune that merged the hissing of the geese with the pent up fury of the girl, with a poignant note of longing for the spring which lived outside of her, and for her home with the Master. The flowers bloomed riotously, leaning towards the old lady as if she were the sun. The sun itself lagged in the sky, and listened. And the song grew stronger, and the old lady began to melt from the inside—even her barren innards were flourishing. And finally her mouth opened wider and wider, until the girl and the geese were able to pull themselves out, using the girl’s ripped stockings as a sturdy rope.
The old lady sighed, and said, "Thank you for giving my mouth one final song, and one so beautiful at that! But you can sing your own songs now." And with that, she turned, one last glance at the wonders she had helped create, maybe one last sigh, and vanished.
The geese and the girl stared at each other, blinking in the sudden light, confused. The garden door creaked open once again, and the Master entered, with two large vines, one wilting and the other flourishing.
"I knew my faith in you was not misplaced," he said, smiling. "But there is one more task I need for you to undertake." And he held out his two vines. "If I water one, the other languishes with need. If I water the other one, the first one withers and dies. And I need them both.”
The girl was puzzled. After the old lady left, she had assumed she would live in the garden with her geese friends, and never see the Master again. So why was he here, requiring still more work of her?
But then she remembered her old flowering can. Pulling it out of her rucksack, she filled it with cool water from the stream and ran over to the vines—the crack meant that it could water both vines at the same time, and as they flourished, they wove themselves around the Master and the girl, dressing them both in gorgeous bridal clothes.
"But wait…you never asked me!" said the girl, even as she looked at herself in all of her wedding finery.
"Well, we must observe the customs," she replied. "I would have married you as a simple girl in my household, but I could not keep you from your destiny and your garden and your song. Now, you are ready for me, as I have always been for you. Will you marry me?”
Joyfully, she said yes, and married him underneath a rainbow’s arch. Through magic, the garden and the Master’s house became one, and the ever flourishing vines continued to shower them with riches and blessings. The geese lived a long, happy life, no longer bitter, no longer angry. They played with the Mistress and Master’s many children, and finally taught the gooseherd their secret language.
But that is a story for another night.
For more sleepytime stories, go here.
Labels: sunday scribblings