Rhymes with Duck – Tom Gaffney
“We’ve had a busy day, haven’t we Maggie. A bird day.”
“Yes, Jack, we have.”
We filled the bird feeder and watched the finches and jays and squirrel get all excited. Then we mixed some hummingbird food and filled that feeder.
“Will we get hummingbirds like finches Maggie?”
“That sure would be something, but no. If we get any it will be exciting.”
They tell me the hummingbirds spend the whole winter here. They do not go anywhere else. Hard for me to believe. But there were a couple last summer. They seem to like the hazelnut tree. That weedy thing is good for something I guess. We’d get a lot more hummingbirds at home too. And they were colorful, not the muted ones they get here.
Spring is my favorite time of year, because my forced seclusion is at an end. But here is not home, even if I have found some comfort. Aren’t you supposed to move somewhere warm and bright when you retire? Light seems to be the biggest issue for me. Or is it the rain? Dampness would be more like it. And it never really gets warm. And the colors – green, and gray, occasional blue: a limited palette.
After that we had a snack and decided to take Walter down to the lake.
“Ellie, don’t go too far. And watch that puppy, he’ll pull you over easy as anything. And Jack, you stay out of the street – you hear.”
Maggie. Why do they call me Maggie? Hasn’t anybody heard of grandma? Oh who cares? I guess sometimes I do.
At least I can get these kids out of the house. Not trapped inside by the rain today. The lake is nice enough, and while the birds are different, there are plenty of them. A year ago walking the kids and the dog down to the lake would have taken forever. Those little legs, the side trips, the falls and the tears. But here we are, my third spring here. Jack could find his way to the lake himself now. And don’t even mention a stroller to Ellie. She’ll have none of it.
“Maggie, do you think the duck is here today?
“There’s plenty of ducks here today, sweetie.”
“No, I mean the friendly one – the white one.”
“I don’t know sweetie. We’ll have to see.”
We met a white duck yesterday. Walked right up to the dog. Don’t know about a duck that walks up to a dog like that, or a dog that doesn’t chase it. Walter ain’t smart, but he ain’t that foolish. Could you catch a duck? He doesn’t pull when that little girl is holding him, but when somebody else has the leash he thinks he knows where he might want to go. But he’s too stupid to stay out of the water. Last week he went for a swim and we thought he wasn’t going to make it. Curled up in his blanket for three days. Barely ate. And then it was like he rose from the dead. Hallelujah!
Beth and Henry think the duck was somebody’s pet they did not want to take care of any more. Shameful, really. How do you take on a responsibility like that and then just put it out of the car at the park?
“Maggie, can we go down to the water?”
“Sure sweetie – please take care not to go in. I don’t want you ruining your new shoes.”
I remember swearing that if I had another Spring I’d be thrilled. Three more and I guess I am thrilled, thrilled that there is a chance for more. More what? The kids are great, even if they tire me out and don’t call me grandma. Reduced to food and shelter. No choices or decisions, no worries or disappointment. Waiting and watching.
We have the garden underway. And the daffodils are up. And there are plenty of birds. But I still miss the birds from home. I miss John.
The sun breaks out and I can feel the warmth loosening me up. Pleased to be outside. Ready to make plans. Perhaps I’ll paint my room. Or I’ll get Henry to paint it. The farmer’s market will be open soon. I think if we go with some different varieties we can get more tomatoes this summer.
“Maggie, do you think the duck swam away?”
“No sweetie, she could be anywhere. Ducks swim, but when they want to go somewhere far they fly.”
I hope someone took that duck home. Any duck wanders up to a dog like that is going to have problems sooner than later. That bird was limping too – all I could do not to sweep her up and take her home.
“If we find the duck, can we bring it home? You said it looked lonely. You saw it too.”
“You remember what your Mother and Father said?”
“And Walter is enough. What does Daddy mean that Walter is enough?”
“Your Daddy thinks that one big silly dog tramping around the house is enough. And maybe a duck would not take up too much space, but your Daddy doesn’t want a duck. And it’s his house.”
“Isn’t it our house too Maggie? Shouldn’t we tell Daddy we need a duck?”
“Maybe you should tell him you need one.”
“What does duck rhyme with? Every time I ask Daddy about the duck, he looks at Mom and says ‘you know what duck rhymes with’ and then he laughs.”
“And then Mommy laughs and says, ‘keep dreaming.’ Well, I’m dreaming of a duck.”
“We’ve got the finches as long we fill the feeder. And who knows, maybe soon we’ll have some . . .”
And just like that I saw it. A flash and a zoom by the tree, next to the boat launch. I couldn’t hear it, but it was almost like you could feel the whir. I forgot about everything, almost everything. I gently hushed Ellie, and took her hand, crouched, pointed. We could see the hummingbird hover by the tree. Floating up and down. The three of us standing there slack jawed, watched it hover, then shoot straight up into the sky.
And then miracle of miracles it came back down and let us catch another look. Then up again it went.
Thus distracted, Walter, free, wandered off, his leash trailing behind.
I turned first and saw him rooting in the bushes. He turned, a limp white feathered bundle in his mouth, and he ran.