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SINGER, Isaac Bashevis

Why the Geese Shrieked

My father’s voice became hoarse. It was broken as though by sobs. “Well, can anyone still doubt that there is a Creator?” he asked.

“Rabbi, what shall I do and where shall I go?” The woman began to croon in a mournful singsong. “What has befallen me? Woe is me! What shall I do with them? Perhaps I should run to one of the Wonder Rabbis? Perhaps they were not slaughtered properly? I am afraid to take them home. I wanted to prepare them for the Sabbath meal, and now, such a calamity! Holy Rabbi, what shall I do? Must I throw them out? Someone said that they must be wrapped in shrouds and buried in a grave. I am a poor woman. Two geese! They cost me a fortune!”

Father did not know what to answer. He glanced at his bookcase. If there was an answer anywhere, it must be there. Suddenly he looked angrily at my mother.

“And what do you say now, eh?”

Mother’s face was growing sullen, smaller, sharper. In her eyes could be seen indignation and also something like shame.

“I want to hear it again.”

Her words were half pleading, half commanding.

The woman hurled the geese against each other for the third time, and for the third time the shrieks were heard. It occurred to me that such must have been the voice of the sacrificial heifer.

“Woe, woe, and still they blaspheme …. It is written that the wicked do not repent even at the very gates of hell.” Father had again begun to speak. “They behold the truth with their own eyes, and they continue to deny their Maker. They are dragged into the bottomless pit and they maintain that all is nature, or accident ……

He looked at Mother as if to say: You take after them.

For a long time there was silence. Then the woman asked, “Well, did I just imagine it?”

Suddenly my mother laughed. There was something in her laughter that made us all tremble. I knew, by some sixth sense, that Mother was preparing to end the mighty drama that had been enacted before our eyes.

“Did you remove the windpipes?” my mother asked.

“The windpipes? No …. ”

“Take them out,” said my mother, “and the geese will stop shrieking.”

My father became angry. “What are you babbling? What has this got to do with windpipes?”

Mother took hold of one of the geese, pushed her slender finger inside the body, and with all her might pulled out the thin tube that led from the neck to the lungs. Then she took the other goose and removed its windpipe also. I stood trembling, aghast at my mother’s courage. Her hands had become bloodied. On her face could be seen the wrath of the rationalist whom someone has tried to frighten in broad daylight.

Father’s face turned white, calm, a little disappointed. He knew what had happened here: logic, cold logic, was again tearing down faith, mocking it, holding it up to ridicule and scorn.

“Now, if you please, take one goose and hurl it against the other!” commanded my mother.

Everything hung in the balance. If the geese shrieked, Mother would have lost all: her rationalist’s daring, her skepticism which she had inherited from her intellectual father. And I? Although I was afraid, I prayed inwardly that the geese would shriek, shriek so loud that people in the street would hear and come running.

But alas, the geese were silent, silent as only two dead geese without windpipes can be.

“Bring me a towel!” Mother turned to me.

I ran to get the towel. There were tears in my eyes.

Mother wiped her hands on the towel like a surgeon after a difficult operation.

“That’s all it was!” she announced victoriously.

“Rabbi, what do you say?” asked the woman.

Father began to cough, to mumble. He fanned himself with his skullcap.

“I have never before heard of such a thing,” he said at last.

“Nor have I,” echoed the woman.

“Nor have I,” said my mother. “But there is always an explanation. Dead geese don’t shriek.”

“Can I go home now and cook them?” asked the woman.

“Go home and cook them for the Sabbath.” Mother pronounced the decision. “Don’t be afraid. They won’t make a sound in your pot.”

“What do you say, Rabbi?”

“Hmm … they are kosher,” murmured Father.

“They can be eaten.” He was not really convinced, but he could not now pronounce the geese unclean.

Mother went back to the kitchen. I remained with my father. Suddenly he began to speak to me as though I were an adult. “Your mother takes after your grandfather, the Rabbi of Bilgoray. He is a great scholar, but a cold blooded rationalist. People warned me before our betrothal .

And then Father threw up his hands, as if to say: It Is too late now to call off the wedding.