Adaptations for Midwestern Winter

Lindy Biller

The Canada Goose: Elongated neck, black wing feathers, noisier in flight than on land. In autumn, they coalesce into arrowheads and trace their bloodlines south. They mate for life. When one goose is shot down, its partner follows like the tail of a comet. (Remember that viral news story, the goose in the strip mall parking lot? They scraped her partner off the pavement in front of Q Nails. Used a hose to blast the leftover blood and feathers into a storm drain. Flows to creek, no dumping. The goose drank from puddles and pooped everywhere and honked from deep in her belly. Weeks of this. Months. The Quiznos manager cried when she explained the situation to animal control. The next morning, an ice storm. Half the employees slipping or stumbling in the parking lot. They filled styrofoam cups with salt and poured it over the ice like the spreading of ashes, like warding off ghosts.)

The Eastern Cottontail: Rabbits know when to freeze and when to run. They vanish, until you learn how to unvanish them. What was our record last spring? 15 sightings in one morning, or was it 16? We wandered the neighborhood, you pushing the stroller where Quinn napped, me drinking lukewarm coffee from an enamel mug. Our eyes skimmed over plastic flamingos, gaping-mouthed fish sculptures, hummingbird feeders. By July, I could spot the twin spires of rabbit ears at fifty feet. I felt like a hunter-gatherer woman, except without the hunting or gathering. Later, I learned that rabbits shake their whole bodies after confrontation, shedding trauma like a fir tree sheds needles. (Will we ever bring home a tree without fighting? The one we chose ended up being too tall for the room, its highest boughs starfished against the ceiling. Nothing a hacksaw couldn’t fix.)

Red Fox: She wraps herself in moonlight. Wears a crown of icicles. That’s an exaggeration, but only slightly. Red foxes are one of the few animals that don’t hibernate or travel south. Their coat thickens. They curl up in the snow, their back and ears heaped with powdered-sugar mountains. Hunters call them furbearers. Their pelts are used to trim scarves, earmuffs, the insides of jackets. It infuriates me, the idea that a man could kill a fox and think he’s bested it. I want to show you what I’m writing, but you’re sitting by the fireplace. You’re reading Wendell Berry, drinking cider, wearing the wool socks I got you for your birthday. How warm you must be. I put on my coat and go outside, where the moon spills like milk over fresh snow. 
Offspring: Did you know I only stopped biting my nails because I noticed Quinn biting hers? Instant motivation. After 25 years of peeling off thin crescents of keratin with my teeth, I stopped cold turkey. Our daughter will grow up with claws. 

Wood Frog: This is completely true, according to Google: Frogs hibernate underground, but sometimes they don’t dig deep enough. Ice packs their hollow places, hardens their organs. They don’t breathe or move. In spring, around the time when robins start probing at backyards for worms, their hearts resume beating. Scientists aren’t sure how it works. There is, apparently, a slim chance of death by overchill. There is the danger of an ice crystal puncturing a vital organ. They might wake up only to bleed out. But at least they’ll wake up. 

Him: His dorm room, freshman year. The casual way he pushed the door shut. Let’s lay down together, he suggested, and tugged me to the floor. When he climbed on top of me, I felt: blackstrap molasses. Eons compressed like layers of sediment. When he reached down the front of my jeans, rooting around as if for vegetables in a garden, the hard “no” caught against the slamming trapdoor of my throat. I left an imprint of my body, all its joints and rungs and notches, embedded in his cheap polyester rug. One thing I never told you: Last year, I looked him up. He’s a psychologist out on the East Coast. He has received honors. A splinter of ice between my ribs. It hurts—an encouraging sign. The soft tissue has started to grow back.  

Us: Quinn is sleeping over at your mom’s house. I make banana bread and tell you about the foxes. You make coffee and it warms me, but only for a second. We crawl like furbearers into our burrow. Goose-down pillows, sheets that need changing. When I touch you, you’re feverish with desire, and I worry my cold hands will feel like ice melting. When you touch me, I stop moving. I forget to breathe. It’s nice, I reassure you, because I want it to be. When we’re done, you pull up your boxers, massage my back, kiss the stacked-up knots of my spine. There is still banana bread in the kitchen. We each eat two more slices.

Canada Goose (Part II): I just can’t stop thinking about it. Poor thing, they said on the news. As though she was waiting for her partner to come back. As though she didn’t understand what it meant, his carcass splayed out, hollow bones protruding like carved flutes. That’s not a metaphor, so don’t look for one. I just thought it was so goddamn sad, how they couldn’t even acknowledge that she was in mourning. Anyway, more about geese: They eat roots, grass, seeds, and berries. They will eat bread, but it’ll kill them. Their unhurried wing beats make them appear to move in slow motion—you can fire what looks like a perfect shot and only hit the air behind them.

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Lindy BIller grew up in Metro Detroit and now lives in Wisconsin. Her fiction has recently appeared at SmokeLong QuarterlyOkay Donkey, and Bending Genres. She owes this story to her 6-year-old son, who spent last fall obsessed with learning about animal adaptations.