Portraits of Fowl Women

by | Dec 13, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Thirty

~ Swans and geese hail from the same branch off the duck family. Over time, they, too, drifted apart.

Lynne’s father said they could trace ancestors all the way back to the Mayflower. Fishermen and servants leaving an old land for a new land where they became fishermen and servants. Now they hardly recognized each other as kin.
“Are we fishing folk or serving folk?” Lynne thought to ask in second grade.
“Neither,” her father said. “Not since grandpa sold fish to a Harvard professor who paid for his schooling.”
Marilynne pushed away her tuna sandwich. Relieved. She had never liked the smell of fish.

~ Swans and geese prefer fiber-rich, low-protein, vegetarian diets.

Sara’s mother said the trouble with you millennials is you march to save sea turtles, then buy exorbitantly expensive vegan salads in single-use containers.
I’m not judging, she’d say. Just facts. Nobody cooks anymore.
Sara caught her sister’s eye. Not judging, they mouthed, swallowing the acid laughter creeping up their throats.
It was enough to remind Sara they really were sisters. Sometimes, frequently, every day, she wondered how they could be related with nothing in common. Nothing, that is, but a shared loathing of steak. And a tendency to forget to pack their bamboo bento boxes.

~ Swans are usually pure white. Sometimes black. Their long, thin, bills are usually fully black. Geese are many of shades of gray and their short, stout, thick bills are sometimes vibrant pink-orange.

In Natalie’s family, nobody looks the same.

Her mother’s arms jiggle when she kneads dough and her stomach folds over her middle when she checks Natalie’s homework. Dad is hunch-backed from ducking at doorways and forever hiding from the sun. And grannie is so thin she needs pillows for her seats, even when they go out.
Maybe that’s why Natalie didn’t understand Sara’s doubt.
“She really is my mom,” Natalie insisted.
“How?” Sara said. “How come you have green eyes like mine when your mom’s like that?”
“Family can have different colors,” Natalie said. But that night, during dinner, she stared into her mother’s deep dark eyes wondering how they’d sprouted the green in her own.

~ Swans start their families at around twice the age most geese mate and procreate.

Florence loved to dance. She didn’t much care for boys. But she loved to dance.

“I was an old bride,” Florence told her granddaughter.
“Twenty-three isn’t old.”
It was then.
She didn’t want to lock herself to just one boy. Especially if he didn’t dance.
Joseph didn’t dance. He hid behind his guitar and kept his mouth and legs still while he watched others move around the dance floor. He watched Florence. He waited.
He was almost an old man by the time he asked for her hand. Almost twenty-seven.
She said yes.
He never stopped playing guitar. And he loved watching her dance.

~ Geese have shorter, thicker necks, and a voice they are not afraid to use. Swans have longer, S-shaped, sinuous necks and are often mute.

“Find your voice. You know this, but if I can’t hear you, you’ll be disqualified from this week’s spelling bee!” Lilybeth’s first-grade teacher wore pretty dresses with flower prints and had a voice full of honey and rainbows, but even she couldn’t cajole more than a whisper from Lilybeth.
She knew how to spell.
D-I-S-A-P-P-O-I-N-T-M-E-N-T.
But week after week found her at her desk, arms wrapped tightly around herself as she silently spelled out the words her classmates were given. It’s not that Ms. H didn’t notice. She did. She was just too sweet to push.


~ Swans have few natural predators, while smaller, milder, more social geese find a measure of protection in communal living.

Esther’s godmother helped with the lace dress, the chignon, the make-up, the blue borrowed earrings.
Father arrived to walk her down the aisle.
“You look ridiculous! Go wash that mess off your face!”
Her sisters looked down, hiding their own glossed lips and teased hair.
“Don’t listen to him,” her godmother said, loud enough and stern enough to give him pause.
Blinded by mortified tears, Esther never saw the groom’s face. Never learned how beautiful she was.

~ Geese forage anywhere, adapt, and are well versed in hybridizing and expanding their ranks. Swans forage almost exclusively in water, prefer colder climates, and stick to their own. There are only seven species in the world.

Growing up, Lucia was fed a steady diet of public demonstrations of pity and furtive, guilty joy. The poor and the weak were to be cared for, pitied, used. Her mother believed that which could not be shared by all, should not be enjoyed lest it be perceived of as flaunting. No parties or dancing. No hippie flared blue jeans or skirts short enough to raise eyebrows. No Birthday cakes. No Christmas presents wrapped under a tree. No lounging mornings or afternoons wasted away with books.

Lucia didn’t mind at first. Her thrills could be folded into an envelope, slipped into a pocket, or swallowed in one gulp. She taught herself to feast on crumbs.
Then she gorged. Grew. Flew.
Her daughters never learned the need to trim a laugh down to a hum or compress a grin into a toothless smile.

~ Swans are loners. Like the social geese, they mate for life, but though they co-parent, even mates frequently live apart.

Lyla was hiding in her room. Again.
“It’s your birthday!” Eileen chastised her daughter. Again.
Lyla inhaled with the deliberate slowness perfected by teenagers and Pilates instructors.
“Reading again? Really, Lyla…” Eileen tried not to let her impatience show. It was a party. All their friends were here. The cake had taken three days to make.
Eileen started to open the curtain, but Lyla, already taller than her at thirteen, stayed her hand.
“I’ll come out, mom. But leave the curtain. I like it a little dark. It’s cozy.”

~ Goose population is on the rise. Swan population is in decline.

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