Short fiction by Donal Mahoney
Ginny didn’t know if it was a large pond or a small lake in the middle of the beautiful park where she had been hired right after high school to help with maintenance of the grounds. Now, however, her duties had been expanded beyond cutting the grass and weeding the unending flower beds. Now she had been tasked with collecting goose eggs from the nests around the pond. None of her co-workers envied her getting this assignment. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded.
Years ago migrating Canadian Geese had begun stopping in the park and some of them liked it so much they stayed, establishing homes, if you will, around the water. They built nests, laid eggs and produced quite a large flock of beautiful geese.
In the beginning, the people who used the park recreationally or ate lunch there to get away from the office enjoyed the geese. But now the number of birds had grown so great and their droppings had become so numerous, people began to view them as an aggravation. Stepping in all the droppings had become a problem. And during nesting season, protective ganders would sometimes attack anyone who unknowingly wandered near one of the nests.
Various efforts had been made at times to get the geese to leave but nothing humane had worked. Hunters were quite willing to come to the park and take home dinner but animal lovers, a large group, made this impossible. And even those who were not active in animal rights didn’t like the idea of killing the geese. As a result, putting poison in goose treats was another option never considered.
So the geese stayed and their numbers grew. The local government council, facing another election, knew they had to do something but had no idea what to do. So they called for a public meeting of their constituents, hoping it might lead to some consensus as to what should be done to reduce the number of geese—if not all of them.
The meeting was very well attended. The hall was packed with people quite willing to speak out.
“Smash the eggs before they hatch,” a fellow in bib overalls and a plaid shirt said.
“Don’t bother the geese,” a librarian said.
“Don’t smash the eggs,” a young girl pleaded when she got her turn at the microphone.
It became obvious that consensus as to what action to take would be difficult to reach. The citizens were sharply divided in two groups—those weary of stepping in droppings and being attacked by ganders and those who wanted the geese left alone because they were so beautiful.
Before the meeting ended, however, a compromise was reached. A member of the park staff—and that would be young Ginny—would be assigned during nesting season to collect the eggs as soon as possible after they had been laid. She would then bring them back to her work bench and use a special light bulb to candle them and determine if life had begun. If it hadn’t, she would throw the eggs out. If life had begun, she would hurry the eggs back to the nest so the goose could sit on them until they hatched.
Collecting the eggs, Ginny discovered, was not as easy as it might sound to someone who had never done it. Angry ganders were a problem when she approached a nest even when the mother-to-be for a moment wasn't sitting on the eggs. Just trying to determine if there were any eggs in a nest would often bring Ginny in contact with a gander determined to bite her.
Eventually, Ginny would manage to get to the eggs when both parents were gone, however momentarily, from the nest. She would hurry back to her work bench, candle the eggs to see if life had begun, throw out the infertile eggs and then dash back to the nests with any eggs that showed life. It wasn’t difficult to know which eggs had life. And clear eggs were easy to detect as well.
Fellow workers would often tease Ginny about her job, asking why she threw out the clear eggs, suggesting instead that she save them to make a giant omelette for lunch.
Ginny hadn’t thought about that and she really didn’t know if it would be possible. But she had often thought about how much trouble it would have been at the clinic if the staff had to candle her—since Ginny was a big girl--three months after her senior prom. It would have been an even bigger problem if Roy, her steady boyfriend for three years, had been as protective of his offspring as a gander.