“The Plight of the Red-Feathered Austrian Goose”—our New Voices story for this week—ponders the fragility of existence, of our relationships. Would you recognize the significance of the extinction of a creature you didn’t know existed? Smith’s careful narration in this fabulist tale leads us to an inevitable but remarkably quiet conclusion. Read on below.
It could break so easily, he said. And that’s the beauty of it. Wouldn’t you want something to last? I asked. He shook his head. No, where’s the beauty in that? It’s the absence of eternity that makes things attractive.
Here’s a story that you don’t hear every day: I once knew a man who owned the last red-feathered Austrian goose. He said that it came from a wintry mountainside, where the lakes had just about frozen over, and now he was adapting the goose to the winters of the Bronx. Well, I said, it just about makes sense that the poor thing would die off, seeing as geese can’t survive on mountaintops. Their feathers freeze and they can’t huddle together close enough to sustain the heat. But my friend shook his head. No, he said. It’s the people that do it. The geese’s feathers can withstand the snow and the ice, but the people can’t seem to stop hunting them. Anyway, said my friend. You should come and see the goose sometime before it’s too late. I think you’d like him.
I told my friend all right, but I didn’t go over that night or the next. Instead, I spent my evenings out with friends at this jazz club, where some solo saxophonist played lounge covers of the nation’s top 50 hits, and we laughed and drank martinis with dark green olives in them and we spilled over ourselves. One night I even brought a man with me. He was a tall, strong man with big arms and a good laugh—the sort of laugh you might’ve recorded for a laugh track back in the nineties to really drive the joke home. An earnest laugh. The sort of laugh that you couldn’t fake.