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
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.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201012mallard.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Sheffield Tiger.
w i g · l e a F