The memory returned with the speckled goose twenty yards long and a huge raised goose’s bill and face in profile, from the childhood nightmare in the house with no insulation and windows that leaked, so every rain, my mother sopped the sills with towels to keep the water out.

Along its white side, the great circling bird had a row of blue spots that resembled stained-glass portholes.

I was living on the Central Coast of California and my cousin in a little town in Iowa: we’d both moved away from the San Joaquin Valley when the farm went broke, and fairly late, we were trying to start new lives.

My cousin and I talked often on the phone, about the ranch that existed only in sad recollections, about the trail of small defeats that had led to our leaving and about our strong-willed parents and how, like magnets, they’d seemed to draw strange friends.

Maybe the rain brought with it the old awful story and the goose.

After a long drought, a chain of storms had blown in from the Pacific, the piled clouds letting go in what began to feel like Noah’s forty days before the rainbow and the white dove returning with the olive sprig and I’d remembered the fall harvest rains three times spoiling the raisins. The brown mountains had turned green and dormant seeds of wildflowers were blooming, the hills orange and purple with poppies and lupine and everywhere new grass sprouting under the dark sky.

When you farmed, you lived in weather, your life depended on it, but now I was just an observer.

“A weird thing happened two days ago,” my cousin said last week. “For a second, I thought I’d seen a ghost.”

“What do you mean?” I asked as I watched the rain streaking the window.

“You remember that weird guy always hanging around, the mean know-it-all with the pestered, pretty wife? He was a coach and kept harping on what slackers we were.”

“Which one?”

Once, my father had been a football coach at a local junior college, and for a while his fellow coaches would come to dinner.

“The sourpuss know-it-all,” my cousin said. “Always bragging how great he was, what great shape he was in?”

“You mean Ray Osborne?” I asked. “The one married to Rose?”

“I couldn’t remember his name. Just his face. His wife was nice and he always put her down. He said people couldn’t understand why such a handsome man would marry such an ugly woman.”

“She wasn’t ugly,” I said. “She was beautiful.”

“He was awful.”

“He was,” I said as I saw him again, same arrogant posture, heard the same pleased timbre to his voice, the endless tales of self-congratulation.

“So how’s the weather back there?” I said. “It’s been raining here two weeks.”

“The other morning, someone pounds on the door. It’s this guy about thirty, real handsome. I mean, the guy was a dead ringer for Osborne.”

“Well, there’re a lot of people who look like people.”

I remembered a remark an ex-friend made once, that everyone in the world had a near-double, who looks almost identical but is ugly. I didn’t mention I’d seen two or three people on the coast whose appearance and manner resembled Osborne’s and I’d looked away.

The week before, in the credit union, I’d caught a glimpse of a man who could’ve been Osborne’s brother—if not his twin—and for a second I’d thought he’d returned like a bad penny the color of the rain.

“The guy was a census taker and plops down and starts asking all these questions. Man, he was rude, like some cop. Everything was the same, how he’d been a great basketball player, in the summer was on three baseball teams. How he’d just got divorced and was going to marry this ex-beauty queen, some woman who’d seen his picture on the Web and fell all over him.”

“Well, maybe there’s some type, like a breed of dog or something.”

Like the giant white goose, circling overhead in my kid’s nightmare…

The rain had picked up and I could hear it pounding the roof and the window ran with a blurred sheet of water, as if the house had entered a car wash.

“I mean the guy wouldn’t stop. Kept bragging about his kids, how they were sure to make the big leagues.”

“Sounds awful.”

Through the wall of rain, I could make out the street turned almost to a river and the gutter’s drain backed up and pouring like a hydrant.

“Didn’t he play basketball down south near L.A.? Always going on about it? That and all his women?”

“I think he did,” I said. “His story was that all the coaches loved him. He was some sort of pet. Always grooming him for something—”

Then the rain stopped, like it had never rained at all, it was a different season.

Dazzling sun lit the house and street and I remembered, as if I’d climbed the stairs of the smokehouse at the farm, in the attic room found some heirloom that like a door opened to a forgotten world of pain.

As if I’d seen again the awful bird that like an omen of bad weather hovered above the vineyards in my ten-year-old sleep…

Now there were faces at its dozen round spots of windows that glinted blue and went clear.

“The guy you saw could be his kid,” I said.

“No way. He had two boys. They lived in Fresno. What would they be doing back in Iowa?”

“Remember him talking about the hard time he had in college, hardly enough money to get by?”

“Yeah, he was a spoiled only child.”

“I don’t think you were there. One night it rained—it was the second rain on the raisins—he started in, about how the basketball coach asked if he needed extra money, if he’d like to make some easy dough.”


“The coach was saying what a wonderful physical specimen Osborne was. Turns out the coach was hooked up with some clinic. They’d asked him to refer athletes.”

“For what?”

Now again, it was dark, the rain started, at first tentative whispered drops against the soaked shingles and then, for an answer, a quick harder downpour, as if in the low clouds the lifted buckets of cement trucks were dumping all they had and I felt my stomach turn over again.

“He got twenty dollars a time. Every week for a year.”

“Doing what?”

“I’ll let you guess,” I said. “I just remembered.”