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There are no more geese in the lake by the orange house on 59th Street. The exact words of an old woman who lived down the block had been, The geese? Long gone. Fewer and fewer returned each year… they stopped coming altogether. You could come back next summer. You could always come back. Lara had set out for the lake then, wanting to see for herself. Lara remembered when she had gathered goose feathers and tried to make quill pens, and when she would go with Henrikas to the goose with the crushed wing to feed it shreds of ham. Ugh, Lara. Don’t you know that’s going against nature? Henrikas would laugh. Lara hadn’t thought much of those words until recently: they had discussed natural selection briefly in bio last year, and she remembered the crude illustrations, one of a living finch, one dead. She had stared at her textbook for the whole class, at that one picture. It wasn’t a pleasant thought but, hey, why hide the truth?
Lara had left Hinsdale for a couple years now, and nothing was the same. She wondered whether things had actually changed, or whether she had simply forgotten them. Still, how could she have missed the Sullivan’s large front yard full of plastic flamingos? Or the small shaved ice stand on Elm Street? Both had disappeared in fewer than four years. At least she still remembered the state song: By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois, O’er thy prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois…
The words came back to her as she approached the school. People had called her a freak or a genius when she came here, either one. When things are average, be crazy. Read every book. Climb every mountain. With amusement, Lara thought this self-advice sounded like something Des'ree would sing, or that abbess from The Sound of Music. Her voice teacher had made her watch that film. A voice teacher back then was strange. Back then was before anyone desired fame, before Hannah Montana and related stupidities targeted at children. She had begun to crave knowledge about the world instead. Had she not adapted, she would still be in Hinsdale, reading books with names like Ten Ways to Tap Into Your Inner Willpower.
Through the window of the school, her old teacher read The Tale of Despereaux... The parents had often grumbled about his tattoo or his bizarre jokes. Lara had loved Mr. Jezuit for reading this story. It had entertained Lara temporarily, which was not an easy thing to do when she was a child. Entertainment for Lara was watching Henrikas throw eggs out the window, or sitting in the library reading random books pulled off of shelves. She had been blamed for the egg crime. Heck, Lara didn’t remember if she was personally involved in that anymore. As far as she was concerned, she had just laughed and nodded while Henrikas dangled out the window, aiming eggs at the red pick-up truck in the parking lot below. Whatever. She had grown up in a world of normal. Lithuanian Henrikas had fueled Lara’s desire to learn, especially about places where people walked to reach their destinations and lived up mountains and didn’t eat bread with all three meals.
Her proximity to the city had sparked something in her. Till upon the inland sea,
Stands thy great commercial tree, turning all the world to thee, Illinois, Illinois,
Turning all the world to thee, Illinois. She adored Chicago, and it had to be the most beautiful place on Earth, even though she knew little of Earth. She had toughened up while her peers refused to ride the subway because the people on it where “gross”. She enjoyed riding the train, or going to Navy Pier to eat midnight ice cream on the Ferris wheel, listening to secret conversations:
Mommy, If I was president, I wouldn’t let anyone cry ever in the whole world and I would make things happy.
I made some fillet mignon, would you like to try it? I made it with some...What do you call it? Exotic gravy?
I’d go to New York and become a rockette, but did you know every one of them must be within 5 feet 6 inches to 5 foot 10 inches? Maybe I could be a dentist, instead.
Lara wished she could fly away on the Navy Pier Aeroballoon until Illinois was a speck in the world, a speck in the universe. Bye Bye, small world.
I’m still here, though. I don’t need to leave. Ever.
This place has taught me another lesson.
There are no more geese in the lake by the orange house on 59th Street.
There is a single swan.