It all began innocently enough with a simple conversation between me, my neighbour and my husband along these lines:
Bruna: ‘You should get some geese, they’ll keep the grass down.’
Me. ‘That’s a really good idea.’
Alan: ‘No, it isn’t.’
GEESE FOR SALE
The birds on the poultry stall were packed tightly into crates. Bought and sold by the handful, they were held up by their necks, their meal-making potential assessed, then they were pushed into brown cartons and carried away to their fate. I peered into a crate. Could these be geese? No, they had webbed feet. But then maybe geese had webbed feet? The stall-owner approached. ‘Can I help you Signora?’ I found myself asking for two geese. He lifted a pair up, and two tiny yellow squawking creatures had just won the goose equivalent of the national lottery.
‘Are they male or female?’ I asked. He shrugged. So into the brown box they went, and cried all the way home.
‘Did you get the rug?’ asked Alan.
LEARNING GOOSE WAYS
Over the next few weeks I watched their antics with total fascination. They chattered and twittered to each other incessantly, sticking together like Siamese twins. To our farming neighbours’ intense amusement I bought them a paddling pool, which lasted until they learned how to pull the bung out. I named them Poppy and Fluffy. They grew into their names. Poppy acting as if on a permanent opium induced high and Fluffy, well, you know, Fluffy by name, psychopath by nature.
Their feathers grew glossy and white. Bruna told me that as their wings had crossed over at the back they were ‘ready for the pot.’ I ignored this advice, although I think Alan was keen. Poppy developed a little crown of feathers – she was a tufted Roman goose, renowned for their good nature. Fluffy wasn’t a tufted Roman goose.
We had the builders in, who joked about celebrating the end of the project with roast goose, yet in their lunch break one parked his car so he could watch them and another fed them scraps from his sandwiches. I pleaded with Leonardo, their boss, for an old bath so that the geese could have a proper swim and he laughed his head off, but produced one anyway and then spent two hours (unpaid) helping me to set it in the ground. Very happy geese did complete somersaults underwater. I noticed that three burly Italian builders were standing watching them, spellbound.
One day, while cleaning their house, I found a huge nest containing one gigantic white egg. I took it feeling deceitful and ate it, feeling cannibalistic. Eventually, guilt made me leave five for Poppy to sit on. Two hatched on Alan’s birthday in June and he was quite speechless with emotion. (I think that’s what it was.) Despite dire warnings from locals about the male attacking the young, I left them to it. Nature didn’t separate them so why
should I? I saw Bruna watching dewy-eyed as Fluffy became quite the goose equivalent of a New Man, leading his brood across the grass and fussing around them in case one fell over or hadn’t spied a rock or a hole in the ground. Poppy, on the other hand, was a terrible mother, eyes always skywards in her ‘hello sky, hello sun’ kind of way.
Fluffy escaped one day and started attacking the car as we pulled into the drive. Alan was furious, but I just thought how touching it was. This bird was so protective of his offspring that he thought he could take on a huge lump of metal.
So what have I learned? That their eyes are azure blue. That they turn their heads to the sky when a plane passes. That they sigh when they’re happy. That males will protect their family by attacking anything: paper, stones, cars, dogs, rakes, me; that a peck hurts and gives you a bruise the size of a dinner plate. That incest
isn’t an issue for geese. That they can’t see their feet and trip over a lot. That they like fennel and dandelions, and are not that keen on grass. That they can live until they’re 30.
And that they understand things.
On the morning after my dog had died, Fluffy advanced as usual, neck extended, hissing wildly.
‘Not today, ‘ I said. ‘Please.’
And I swear, he looked at me and then turned and walked quietly away.