It’s the morning after they decided she was an albatross and Collette can’t remember what color Lee’s eyes are.
She could draw, with perfect detail, his hands: the shape, the shadows, the precise oval of his nails, the exact length of every single finger. But she absolutely cannot remember the shade of his eyes. This is how she knows it’s actual love of the transcendent variety. Something about this makes her realize which animal he is.
“You are a buffalo,” she tells Lee later.
“I’m not a goddamn buffalo,” he says. “Come with me.”
The winter rain stings as he guides her to the parking garage. In the car they are quiet. She drives, he directs her but won’t say where they’re going. She wants to tell him she can’t see very well at night, in the rain, but it seems like a significant weakness.
They arrive at the high desert and the rain stops. She had romanticized what it would actually look like based on his descriptions after he escaped here the week before. It’s actually not anything other than a regular desert marked by sagebrush and emptiness, dejected in its regularity. They get out of the car and walk to the edge of the sea of dirt. Fog hangs in angry wisps across the barren landscape.
“Can you see them?” He asks.
She can’t, so she says nothing. She hears the faint honking of the geese.
“Over there! See?”
The honking grows louder but she still can’t see them.
Collette’s eyes start to feel tired from all the looking. She remembers how, when they walked on the winding paths towards coffee shops and garages, the geese regarded them with deference. She understood then that the geese knew everything — they could see past the gap between them and see past the thinly veiled attempts at normalcy and into the deceptions and the wants that existed in those spaces. Now, the geese are right in front of her. She can hear their breathing and the soft chuffs they make. She knows that seeing these geese is of utmost importance, but she’s not sure why.
After a while, the desert chill has seeped into her bones. Lee unstiffens beside her, draws her to him. As his chest rises and falls in a pace to match hers, she thinks (not for the first time) how they don’t belong here. They are not of this world. Perhaps they belong to the moon, or to one of his galaxies. His arm tightens around her and she knows he heard all of her thoughts. She knows he has the same thoughts. Her sudden intense hatred for the unfairness of it all smothers everything else.
Lee starts to walk away from her, towards the goose sounds. The clouds part and moonlight tries to cut through the fog. He seems to be pushing through something, fighting to take a step. He struggles, then gets free and continues out into the vast, unending desert.
Collette tries to follow but smacks into an invisible barrier that knocks her back. She slips a little on the ice as the honking surrounds her. Indistinguishable creatures scream at her, and she knows what they are saying, they are urging her to hurry, hurry! She runs back and forth pounding her fists, jamming her toes against her boots as she kicks and shoves against the wall.
She hammers at the barrier and searches for an opening for hours. The geese take breaks from their screaming and sometimes hiss, but the quiet is unacceptable then, so she calls his name until she grows hoarse. Finally, her frozen hands crack and bleed and she can’t move them anymore. She slides down to the cold, hard ground and cries tears that freeze on her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
A lone goose, head held high, approaches her. She stares at its sleek black neck, the texture of its back. It spreads its wings wide and arcs its neck back for a moment before inching closer and looking into her. She knows those eyes, those kaleidoscope, indeterminate irises. The remainder of the moon’s rays escape the fog, illuminating both of them and the shimmering dust beneath.
“You are a goose,” she whispers.
EMERY ROSS is a writer and graduate student living in Boise, Idaho.