Eric Bosse

Mo might not have been all the way awake when she told me to cut the coughing or she'd kick me out of the damn bed, but it irked me, so I went downstairs, stepped out the back door, climbed the fence, crossed the neighbors' yard, and hoofed it up 29th Street to Walgreens, which was closed. So I kept going north past the air base they converted to a medical campus to test the toxicity of beauty products on the skin of paid volunteers. At the corner of 29th and Pine, I met a duck.

He was a mallard. He looked dazed, standing in a cone of light under a street lamp like a foreigner in need of directions but without the words to ask. He had a crooked lower beak.

"Hey there," I said. "Are you all right?"

He took a some steps toward me, and his shadow grew. I knelt and he waddled over to my knee. His crooked beak wasn't broken or bloodied, just askew. He let me pick him up. His breath puffed into little clouds. I wrapped my sweater around him with his head through the neck hole then carried him to the pond at 6th and Gage. He rode along under my arm. His head bobbed with each step I took. When I set him down and unwrapped him, he tottered onto the grass then turned to watch me.

"Go on," I said. "Go find your family. Or your tribe. Or your flock. Or whatever."

He looked at the pond then back at me.

I put on my sweater and walked past the cemetery. The Walgreens at the far end of 29th was open 24 hours. A clerk with glitter in her hair directed me to a shelf of nighttime cough suppressants. I bought the one on sale and walked home.

The lights were on upstairs and down. When I walked in, Mo apologized to someone on the phone for the inconvenience. When she asked where the fuck I'd gone, I told her I met a nice duck. Her lip curled. She cinched her bathrobe and took the plastic sack to the counter.

"Aw," she said when I told her about the crooked beak. When I described carrying the duck to the pond, she wrapped me in a fleece blanket and spooned grape cough syrup into my mouth. I liked the way she tipped the spoon and pulled it from my lips, as if it weren't so much the dose that would relieve my lungs but the love.

"You smell like duck," she said.

"Quack," I said.

She tucked me into the sofa and shut off the lights. I could see her standing by the stairs, watching me. After a while she went up to bed.

The shapes in the dark transformed from shadows to picture frames, lamps, a chair, and a grandfather clock. I hatched a plan to fly to Tucson in January, provided I not die of pneumonia first.

In the morning, I drove past the cemetery pond. The duck was still there, shuffling from foot to foot on the grassy bank, watching the street, surrounded by geese.

Eric Bosse's debut collection, Magnificent Mistakes, is due out this winter. He teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma.

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Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Sheffield Tiger.

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