The Fate of the Rouen Ducks
“Are you my Mother?!' I read out loud to my class when I was a 7-year-old girl who possessed a limitless imagination. My classroom was my bedroom, and the students were a bunch of my dolls lined up and hunched over.
“No, I’m not your mother.' I read regretfully to the cotton stuffed students, captivating them again with another one of my favorite Dr.Seuss stories. I was always adamant about flashing the illustrations to them after each page I read.
Now, four years later, I sit here by myself on the short dock, in a daze about this recollection years ago. I'm hoping to catch another catfish so I can run and show my parents back at our campsite. My fishing pole is held between my thighs and hands as I watch the bobber remain stationary while the knobby current shuffled underneath it. I sat still with my leg embracing the ball of heat that my two resting baby Rouen ducks were emitting. I let the pole go with one hand and gently stroked their boney hallow backs with my two fingers. With each mindful stroke on their dark brown fuzziness, I hoped more and more they understood how much I loved them, but I can’t stay with them forever. After all, being just 11 years old I’m admittedly not capable of being a mom to anything when I can hardly pass Mrs. Conway’s weekly spelling tests. For now, I will enjoy this very moment to the fullest I can, sitting on the dock with my sleeping beauties, daydreaming over scenes from my favorite childhood book in my head. For now, I will secretly hope that my two nameless and genderless ducks are listening to my sincere thoughts.
That night, I was dressed in my comfortable rainbow pajamas as I zipped up my small personal tent to get ready for another restful night at our favorite camping spot. Mom and dad have their big tent a few feet away. All I can hear around me are the zipping and jingles sounds from our sleeping bags along with the snapping of the dying fire outside. I scooted a big box over to me that housed my ducks so that I could feed them before we slept. It’s incredible how fast they’ve grown. Just four weeks ago my mom brought them home in a shoebox as a surprise. Their tiny bones and fuzz could all fit into both of my hands. Even then, filled with adoration, I wasn’t naÃ¯ve enough to realize I couldn’t keep them forever. They’ve outgrown a couple of box sizes since, and have officially upgraded to a large microwave-sized box. The floor of the box was lined with newspaper, and I put a small water bowl in the corner that they manage to spill constantly.
Startled by my movement of the box they woke from their sleepy somber and started to “cheep' and scurry around. They’re hungry teenagers now, I thought to myself, as I crumbled up a slice of bread and plopped the pieces into their water bowl.
Boy, they were messy eaters! I love watching them peck their bills so fast; it sounded like a woodpecker. I smiled while they made burble noises from the water as their toothless beaks wobbled vigorously, clamping on the soggy bread bits. Even though the thick smoke from the fire has meshed into my hair and pajamas, I could still smell that farm smell they always gave off. Not the kind that makes you think of horse manure or muddy pigs. The kind that smelled like a newly built barn full of fresh cut hay bales inside. I love that smell.
After the ducks ate, they settled back into the corner of their box and cuddled together. Even though I will have to leave them tomorrow, I’m relieved they will always have each other. I watched their charcoal teardrop eyes slowly open and close several times before I decided to lay my head down to sleep. I dreaded the morning and tossed around for a few minutes thinking about the big farewell. After a lively day of water skiing and continually tripping over two single-minded ducks; whose stubborn agenda was to stay by my side at all times, I was able to fall asleep quickly.
Morning came, and mom and I got dressed and fed the ducks some worms for breakfast. We grabbed some water bottles and started for the dock, letting dad sleep in. I carried my precious big box all the way to where we docked our little four-seater rent-a-boat and settled inside. Mom shoved her light pink cancer awareness hat over her morning coffee hair. She started the engine, and we began our way down the channel. I squeezed the box on my lap into my chest and did my best to comfort the curious ducks. I realized that there was no way around it. Letting them go was going to break my heart, just as much as theirs.
Mom slowed the speed of the boat down, raised her arm and pointed towards one side of the channel that had a few thick branches crawling into the edge of the water. It was bright and early, so the mild temperature of the water and the sun sizzling the back of my neck informed me it was going to be another day of North Carolina summer heat. Mom spoke to me in her southern comfort twang,
“How’bout right over there sweetheart? That way the ducks can rest on the wood?'
I paused before answering, considering as logically as my young brain could about the location which I’ll say goodbye forever, to my darlings. I quickly connected the dots in my thoughts and agreed, “Yea' that’s a great spot. It was near the opening of the inlet so that if they swam one way they could go beyond the campground and live in the big open wild, or if they wanted to stay close to the comfort of civilization, they could. I can leave them with a choice that would be theirs to make. That’s the least I could do.
Mom steered the boat towards the spot and cut off the purr of the engine. The boat slowly drifted along until the bow sunk into the muddy floor. Mom stuck her head out from behind the wheel with her hat and big brown sunglasses.
“You need me to help baby doll?' She offered.
“No, it's okay,' I replied, as I stood up with my eyes squinting from a bright sunray that escaped its way through the tangle of trees.
I cradled the two little footballs in the pits of my arms while trying to balance myself towards the edge of the boat. I crouched down and gently lowered the first baby duck in the murky water followed by its sibling. I watched their brown flat flippers disappear into the still beige fog. I kept my hands wrapped around their underbellies with my forearms on their chest to refrain them from swimming towards to boat. Their dilated pupils locked with my baby blues. I have to be strong for them I thought, I don’t want them to think something is wrong. Thinking this made me feel like a liar because everything about this screamed wrong!
“Bye my babies, be good, I love you,' I whispered to them in a quiet, high-pitched voice. Had I said anything more I would have started bawling my salty tears into the fresh pool they were floating in.
The silence was interrupted by the return of the purr of the engine, and mom started to slowly back the boat away. My submerged hands and fingers sluggishly departed from their underbellies while their tiny flippers began to wind up and scurry to me. I gave them a begging look to stay there, but I knew their willful demeanor wouldn’t allow them to do such a thing.
“Mom, go faster!' I called out in a panic. The engine started to roar.
They too began to kick into full speed with their tiny necks and bodies stretched out as long as they could stretch. My stomach clenched hard as I swooped my scraggly hair out of my face that tangled the view of the two disoriented water bumpers. I felt like a monster! The boat sped up even more as the tears began to tumble down my cheeks. The gigantic, 'No Wake!' sign written in big black letters didn’t apply to us at this moment. Nothing mattered except the cracks forming in my heart and the strength it took not to lose my composure.
I never experienced such a big responsibility. I have never had anything depend on me so much. It was exhausting but an honorable badge I wore proudly. Even as the seasons came and went, I couldn’t help but wonder from time to time how much my babies grew. Which path did they take? Did they stay together, or part ways? Little things sometimes send me into trances about my short time with them. Like when the nurses use the finger pulse oximeter at my doctor’s visits, I’m reminded of how my ducks would harmlessly clamp on my pale little finger. I do my best to let the happy memories overshadow the pain of leaving my babies behind.