Kelly and I walked along a stream – me with my shoes off, her with them on. The sun was shining. We were just walking in the woods, talking, dreaming aloud . . . happy.
Three girls came downstream giggling, one of them with gym shoes slung over her shoulder, another with hands cupped and held out from her body, the third craning to see and coo over some live creature inside her friend’s (cousin’s? sister’s?) cupped hands. The one with gym shoes called out as she came toward us, “Have you seen any ducks around here? A mama duck? We found this baby – lost – upstream.” There was a worry, an edge to her voice.
I shuddered for the life inside her two hands.
As I slowly picked my way through sticks and stones, Kelly sat on a rock a few feet behind me. I could see the baby – black and white and fluffy, no bigger than a girl’s palm.
“No, we haven’t seen any ducks,” I replied. They worried and chattered. They believed they could help. They wanted to carry the duckling to safety, re-unite him with his family. They didn’t know how. Neither did we.
They decided to set him free. They knelt by the water and the girl with the cupped hands let go. Immediately, that little black and white fluff ball swam out of reach.
Then, he paddled madly, strongly, single-mindedly . . . valiantly . . . upstream.
Where he’d come from.
Before he was carried away.
I ached for him. We all did, I think.
The girls scurried up the trail.
I walked barefoot for a long time with Kelly, mostly silent.
* * * * *
Two weeks have passed, and still, I can’t stop wondering: Where is the little duckling now?