AUTHOR NOTE: The following short story was published in the 2015 spring/summer anniversary edition of The Write Place at the Write Time literary journal.
A ghostly fog hung over the wetland. Two unblinking inky pools looked out of it.
The asphalt road beneath my feet gave way to gravel, but my focus didn’t waver from the goose’s head, shrouded in slender reeds.
In the cool May morning, stillness prevailed.
I stepped around a clump of wheat-colored grass for a full view of the goose. Her visibly quick heart told me to hold my distance. We stood fifteen feet apart in uncanny communication. The goose remained virtually frozen in one spot while I ran an early-morning errand. Both times I passed, I felt her piercing eyes, silently summoning me.
The wetland served as Wildwood Preserve’s entrance. Within Wildwood’s borders, homes were tethered to a string of preservation covenants.
Twenty-plus years ago, as a young wife, I moved from my father’s house to this home. In all that time, I never knew a goose to wander this close to the road.
Satisfied the Canadian Longneck wasn’t injured, I headed back toward the pond to look for her mate.
“Wait for me,” I said over my shoulder to the feathered sentinel. My words caught me mid-stride, as natural as the habitat surrounding me.
I pushed down the beaten-dirt lane, remembering the day I bounded into my father’s study. He wasn’t its only occupant. The interruption brought both men to their feet. In the sacred moment that passed before Drew Nelson and I were introduced, a bond at a level we could never explain sealed around us.
Daddy sensed it instantly. He slid nervous eyes from me to Drew and back again.
“Anna,” he said, his voice the bearer of reason.
I’d upended their business discussion, so, with a wave of dismissal, Daddy agreed I could show Drew the grounds.
That day, I uttered the same three words to Drew. “Wait for me.”
They were not a plea, not for that place, not for the five steps he gained on me while I stopped to latch the corral fence, but for the future rushing at me so quickly, I feared it would run me down.
Coming back, he let his dark eyes search mine. “I don’t believe I have any other choice,” he said.
I spent the next few weeks persuasively countering Daddy’s arguments. “Yes, Daddy, I know Drew is twenty-four and I won’t be sixteen for two months. Yes, Daddy, you’re his boss, but remember—Mother was eleven years younger than you.”
I was raised in a home filled with abounding love and intelligent conversation, where my parents spoke to their only child as an adult. Maturity came early, and Mother’s sudden death months after my twelfth birthday set that maturity on an accelerated course.
Until I came of age, Daddy would only approve an old-fashioned courtship. His watchful eye assured all was the pentacle of propriety through the two intervening years. Drew and I played tennis on the backyard court. We rode the chestnut mares out, then walked them back along the bridle path.
Every day, I prayed that Drew would wait.
And he did.
The path to the pond ended at a flat boulder. I stepped up to look around a young willow and into the shady cove sheltered by a perimeter of tall pines. Cattails stationed at the hidden inlet’s mouth stood soldier-straight like a platoon of armed guards. I stared hard into the misty gloom. Through that span of seconds, the sun struggled through breaks in the trees.
I knew a Canadian Longneck would stay behind to nurse its mate while the flock moved on, but defused light showed an empty bank, and still water as unyielding as glass.
When I turned to step down from the rock, I saw the scattering of evidence: bloody feathers and animal tracks in the dirt. My chin dropped. Nursing could not prevent the course of nature that led through thick underbrush into the trees. The goose and I, both new widows, shared the same endless days hollowed by the loss of a mate. My Drew was taken, too. In his case, the predator was cancer.
I plodded back. The Canadian Longneck had not strayed. She watched while I eased as close as I dared, then bowed her head. An unbearable longing was all that remained.
Carrying that mournful image, I walked out to the road. There, I spoke my heart’s relentless question. “How long will this hurt?”
The words caught on a breeze and hurried away, along the immeasurable stretch toward home.
Wait For Me