SAY GOODNIGHT TO ALL THE DUCKS
Aiden, my sister’s kid, saw ducks at the pond and now everything is ducks. I keep him Thursdays when she works the late shift and his white pajamas are lined with yellow ducks. “The doctor said to go full steam ahead with his obsession,” she said when I rolled my eyes.
He takes his pills like a champ, then tells me that my breath smells like medicine. “Did you know that ducks get their legs hurt and then they need shots? It’s called hot leg.”
“Of course I knew that.”
“Did you know if they get too muddy their feathers won’t dry out and then they get sad?”
“Yes. Now, my turn. Did you know that every five years all the ducks in the world keep flying south until they meet at the South Pole?” He smiles like it’s a joke. “You probably don’t remember the last time since you were so young.”
Panic sets in. He insists I Google this new-found information. I type “Ducks in Antarctica” and the first picture I see is of a flock on white snow by the shore of a mirror lake. They’re hunched and cold, their wings pulled into their bodies.
“See? They’re having a meeting.”
“Ducks don’t have meetings.”
“They do,” I said. “They’re discussing all the pollution in the air and water and if they ever want to come back to live with people again. Don’t they look mad?” The snow in the picture is catching some of the blue from the sky. I shrug and sip my drink.
He disappears into his room. My sister’s fridge is mostly empty. In her kitchen all I find is a bag of peanuts. Her dishtowels have ducks on them. When we were kids she held me as I tried to go to sleep. She told me mom and dad would be home any time. She told me that until I was in middle school and I told her to go fuck herself.
Aiden brings me a note written to all ducks. “I hope you come back,” it reads. His S is backwards. It’s going to be a tough life for the little guy, long and lonely.
“Sweet, kid.” I shake my head. ”But ducks can’t read.”
Time for bed. He’s shivering, but it isn’t very cold in the house. I hug him and his heart is going wild, like some frightened bird leaving the human world. Out go the lights. I breathe hard in his face with my medicine breath. “Good night,” I say. He closes his eyes and all the ducks on his pajamas stare up at me as if their meeting is over and there’s nothing more to say.
Abe Gaustad’s fiction and flash fiction have appeared in Camera Obscura, Smokelong Quarterly, New Orleans Review and many other places.