December 7, 2020

The Snow Goose, by Rebecca Fung



Editor’s note: The “angel” in this story is unexpected, and Nadia, the protagonist is very lovable. I loved the imaginative approach Rebecca took. A great holiday fairy tale!

Nadia had never seen snow, certainly never at Christmas. Christmas was never like what she had seen in greeting cards or in pictures in her favorite books, with fir trees topped with white, houses nestled in layers of happy soft snow and people inside merrily eating and drinking hearty meals together by warm fireplaces then going out to make snowmen.


If it couldn’t snow, thought Nadia, at least it could be a fine warm season with sunshine and flowers, and she could go for a walk and enjoy Christmas in a different way. But no, where Nadia lived, Christmas was always the same: a sort of grey and muggy time. Often it rained or gray clouds hung over, threatening to storm at any moment. The paths were thick with ugly brown mud. The forests weren’t blessed with greenness or flowers nor hidden under a blanket of elegant white. Their stark barrenness was on display day in, day out as it got closer to Christmas and Nadia became more depressed.


“Snow is the least of your problems, my girl. Just be thankful your mother is putting together a Christmas feast,” her father reminded her.


Nadia knew she ought to be grateful as her parents were trying very hard and everyone in the small village struggled at Christmas time. She watched as her mother put aside a little bit of food each day in her “Christmas store,” trying to build up a stash and yet not affect too much how much she served up to the family each day. Her mother was very clever at this; she’d been doing it for years. An extra potato, several biscuits, extra tea or dried fruit. All the villagers did this and tried to share a little with each other to make sure everyone got some treats. Nadia’s mother always had a good store and was clever at exchanging for things like flour or sugar.


She would try to make a cake or pudding, even a small one. There would be a stew with more potatoes than a usual day. It wasn’t very lavish when Nadia compared it to the pictures in her books of people sitting down to meals of massive puddings dripping with brandy sauce, huge stuffed turkeys and hams, fish and chicken, overflowing trays of roasted vegetables and bowls of fresh fruit, stockings stuffed with lollies and chocolates, plates upon plates of gingerbread and mince pies. Still, it would be a feast compared to their usual meals.


What would really make a difference would be whether they could manage to get any meat for the meal. Of course, they couldn’t buy any meat, that would be far too expensive and nobody else would have meat to trade. But sometimes Nadia’s father would bring home some meat he caught. He had caught a rabbit once and sometimes he went fishing. Nadia knew her father wanted meat too, but he had a job in the factory so that didn’t leave much time for going after rabbits or fish.


Each day Nadia hoped her father would return home, clutching a rabbit and calling out that he’d brought home Christmas dinner. Each day he came home empty-handed and she wanted to say, “When will you look for a rabbit, Daddy? When will you go fishing?” But his face looked so tired. She knew it was hard work in the factory and his body was already bent over from all the days, pulling levers and packing boxes.


One day her father came home and told them all that the factory had just fired ten more workers. He was very lucky it wasn’t him, because then they’d have no money at all. But it did mean he had to work extra fast and hard now – pack more boxes and work even later, to make up for the others who had lost their jobs. Her father sighed, as if his back and arms and legs didn’t ache enough as it was.


Nadia understood. There would be no rabbit and there would be no fish. If the chance for time to go fishing was slim before, it was nonexistent now. She could feel a little ache in her stomach.


She watched as her father came home each day and he seemed a little bit thinner. Nadia held out her arms to him and offered him a hug. She rushed to make him a cup of tea and get his slippers which she had been warming by the fire. (Even if it wasn’t snow season, the air was getting cold and muggy.) Nadia’s father smiled and held her close. “I’m so sorry,” he said. But he was too tired to say much more. Nadia decided not to say anything about the empty feeling in her stomach because she wanted to keep him smiling.


She worried sometimes that her father was turning into a wisp of air that could so easily float straight out of his fragile body, and she wouldn’t be able to catch and keep him with her, no matter how hard she tried. She suspected he was feeling a little ache as well.


One morning, Nadia looked outside. The ground was still grey, and she could see it was looking kind of muddy. Then she saw something white and fluffy hit the ground just outside her bedroom window.


“What’s that?” she cried out, and she and her father both went out to look. On the ground was a large goose, covered in white feathers.


“As if it had dropped from heaven,” said Nadia.


“More likely it was flying from the lake and it hit itself on a tree or something. Unlucky but it happens,” said her father. “Well, look who’s having a Christmas dinner fit for a king! Yosemite, your mother will stuff that goose fit for a king.”


Nadia could taste the goose on her tongue and right down to her stomach as her father said that. Then she put her hand on the soft whiteness and she felt something move. She could feel its warmth, and the thud-thud of its heart.


“No, Daddy. The goose isn’t dead – it’s just hurt. I think it’s hurt its wing. We can’t kill it – we should take it inside and look after it.”


As she said that, the goose turned its head upwards to her and blinked.


“We’ve got lots of things to do before Christmas and our own three mouths to feed without adding a goose in,” said her father.


The goose looked up at Nadia. It did not beg, but Nadia could see its wing was crushed and its eyes met her as though it could trust her. She could not betray this beautiful bird. She might feel a little empty now, but how would she feel if she did the wrong thing by this goose? She didn’t like to think about it.


“Please, Daddy,” said Nadia. “For my Christmas present.”


Her father looked down at the goose and it gave him a steady blink as well. Nadia looked at him with a wide-eyed, pleading stare. He relented, and helped Nadia carry the goose inside and place it on a pillow in front of the fireplace. Nadia’s mother prepared a bowl with some corn in it for the goose and Nadia cut a length of bandage for the goose’s wing.


For the next few days, the goose stayed in the house and sat on the pillow in the living room. Nadia’s mother gave it a bowl of seeds and bits of vegetables each mealtime with a bowl of water. Nadia enjoyed watching the goose grow stronger. Instead of flopping to one side, the goose managed to sit up and its white feather began to glow shinier. It began to move and stretch itself more easily, not slowly and with groans of pain. Most of all, Nadia watched as a glow of happiness began to sparkle in the goose’s eye as it grew stronger.


Nadia still had her chores to do, but she stole moments to stroke the goose and assure it all would be well soon. In the evenings, before she went to bed, she sang it a little song. She was sure she could see the goose wink at her as she did, and she liked to wink back. Sitting next to the goose made her feel peaceful. It seemed to radiate a calm aura that made Nadia forget how tired chores made her or that her meals were getting smaller as her mother scrounged further for bits and pieces to put in the Christmas store.


She was sure she wasn’t the only one feeling a change. Her father came home each day and went out of his way to pat the goose before he did anything else. When he did, his shoulders seemed less stooped and Nadia thought he didn’t even look so thin.


They hadn’t told the neighbors about the goose, but people began to talk. It was clear that Nadia’s little house had changed. Nadia didn’t come out to play very often and when she did come out to collect firewood or to take out the garbage, there was a light skip in her step and a glow in her face that even a casual neighbor noticed.


“Her mother, her father and Nadia too,” said the neighbors. “Her father used to drag his feet as he came home from that old factory, and now he runs up the steps like a mouse to cheese. What’s got into them—or into their house, for that matter?”


“I think the whole house is glowing like the moon,” said another villager, but everyone shushed her for having far too much imagination and not enough sense.


Still, their curiosity grew and grew. What were they hiding there? It must be a treasure. Something for Christmas Day, thought one old neighbor.


The old neighbor knocked on Nadia’s door as she was singing to her goose.


“Merry Christmas Eve,” said Nadia, answering the door.


“Merry Christmas Eve,” said the old neighbor. “I haven’t seen you so much, Nadia. You’ve been spending a lot of time indoors.”


Nadia realised she had been so preoccupied with the goose she had barely gone out to talk to her neighbors or play with her friends at all the last few days.


“There’s just so much to do coming up to Christmas,” she said.


“Now, you can’t fool me. You have something inside, don’t you? You’re storing up a Christmas feast. Is it a pig or a chicken or a turkey? Tell me! I won’t tell the others. I just want a taste.”


Nadia tensed. She could see the old neighbor licking her lips. “We haven’t got any special food to eat this Christmas,” she said truthfully. “Just the usual. We have extra potatoes.”


“Bah! I’m not here for potatoes! Don’t hide from me Nadia, I’ve worked it all out …” The neighbor plucked a bit of white from Nadia’s jumper. “That’s a goose feather. Goose! It’s a long time since I’ve had goose but I’d recognise it anywhere. I’ll come by tomorrow. Sharing, Nadia. It’s the Christmas spirit.”


The goose couldn’t stay, Nadia realized. She held it close that night and pressed its warmth into her. When her father came home, she told him about the old neighbor. They had to get the goose out of the house, for Nadia was sure that if their goose was home the next day the old neighbor would manage to get herself into the house and find it. She might bring others and they’d force it from them. People were desperate for meat.


But they were not going to get Nadia’s goose. She would miss it. She took the goose to her bed and held it close, as her father said it was best to let it go at dawn when the bird could best see its way.


Early the next morning, Nadia and her father checked on the goose’s wing again. It looked healed, and the goose gave it a confirming flap, so they removed the bandage. The feathers were extra soft and silky underneath. Then Nadia walked into the front yard, gave the goose a kiss and tossed it into the sky.


The goose soared. It flapped a wing towards Nadia as if to say goodbye. Nadia waved back. Then she saw the shiny white wing beating again and the goose was circling, above the village.


Little tufts of white began to fall to the ground, and the goose kept circling, Soon the village was layered in white. The branches of trees were touched with little specks of the delicate shiny glow, the houses and roads were snuggled under white blankets. The little place in Nadia’s stomach which felt hunger was silent now. All of Nadia’s body felt peace as it watched the goose climb higher in the air to freedom. Then Nadia was dancing, holding out her hands, letting the little flakes of white fall in her fingers, fall between them, so she could make the miracle feel like it would last forever.


***

Bio: Rebecca Fung is from Sydney, Australia. She loves mandarins, owls and chocolates and can often be found on the sofa with her face buried in a book. She has written several short stories for Christmas anthologies as well as many speculative fiction short stories.  She has also published a chapter book, “Princess Hayley’s Comet” (Christmas Press, 2018).




7 comments:

victoria dixon said...

Lovely and fairytale-ish.

Ellie Goss said...

A beautifully told, traditional fairy tale.
I feel especially inclined towards this story as my own hometown has a gaggle of five geese that wander the towns centre lake network plus as a Tasmania,n I can appreciate the sentiment of those white Christmas's being much further afield.

Maxine said...

A sweet tale with a lovely ending.

Unknown said...

A wonderful, heart-warming story! Perfect for Christmas.

HulderMN said...

Now THAT'S a Christmas goose!
Kindness rewarded in beauty & surprise! ❤❄

Maggie said...

Such a lovely fairy tale .... and so delighted the neighbour didn't get her way!

jason said...

A lovely story Rebecca, and beautifully told!

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