STIFF-LEGGING UPSTREAM, he calls out to the geese, who come, who follow him to a low spot on the shore. He’s bringing them a bowl of Cheerios. Acorns pop underfoot. The female’s wing is broken, he says. She’s been trapped on the river for months. Falls rush white with foam above and below but in this stretch—this one-quarter mile—the water is mirror calm. Where once lumbermen floated logs to the mills, the swimming birds etch the surface in Vs. The male comes and goes, he says, but the female stays. She has to. You cannot set and splint a wild bird’s broken wing. Naked oak and hemlock right up to the water’s edge: he rattles the Cheerios inside the bowl, makes kissy sounds, rattles the bowl while against the current, necks bobbing, the geese kick faster for the shallows. They like to watch the sunset together. That’s something else he says. Every day, two birds facing west. But it’s easy to mistake coincidence for devotion. At the river’s muddy lip, he pours out some cereal, two piles, his and hers, and between shoreline rocks, at last: they are here. Sun dissolving behind the tree line. A promise of frost in the air. Pink clouds and purple sky. December will be here soon.
Douglas W. Milliken is the author of the novel To Sleep as Animals and several chapbooks, most recently One Thousand Owls Behind Your Chest. His stories have been honored by the Maine Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and Glimmer Train, as well as published in dozens of journals, including Slice, the Collagist, and the Believer, among others. www.douglaswmilliken.com