One day, after a particularly stressful meeting at the office, a woman stopped at a fruit stand, and purchased a small duck out of a large, cardboard box. Why? She didn’t know. She just thought it was a good day for a duck. A companion duck. A life duck. Sometimes, a small duck seems like the solution to a bad day. Typically, it’s not.
The woman went home with her duck, and put on the kettle to make that kind of soup that you just pour boiling water into.
Her name was Sofia. The duck. Not the woman. The woman’s name was Jean. So Jean and Sofia fixed their eyes upon each other as the water in the kettle began to sound out a low rumble.
Jean was looking for answers. Looking for peace. She was searching Sofia’s black, beady eyes, hoping to reconnect with nature, and the land, and find some sort of mystical power that would make everything make sense. And as the anticipation in her heart grew, and the kettle water rumbled louder, a small, unobtrusive squeak found its way to Jean’s ears.
“Do you have a cigarette?”
Jean’s eyebrows dove inward in disapproval. Not only had she not reconnected with the spiritual guide she had hoped to find, but she was also, apparently, hallucinating.
Ahem. “Sorry. My voice is scratchy and quiet because you can’t just go talking your head off while you’re in that cardboard box because, in general, no one wants to buy a talking duck.” Sofia the duck, while small and fluffy, was very self-assured, and wasted no time making apologies. “How about that cigarette?”
Jean made an about-face to the decorative mirror on the wall. She checked her pupils. The kettle began with a low moan behind her, but rapidly belted out it’s alarm.
“Might want to get that kettle,” Sofia suggested.
“Sure. Yeah. Thanks,” Jean replied. It had already been a long day, and she decided not to fight against whatever malfunction her brain was experiencing. And hey, at least it was just a small, talking duck, and not an old, naked wizard. Things could be worse. “I don’t smoke, actually. Not for several years now.”
“That’s a shame,” sighed Sofia, “I get cranky without the nicotine. I know what you’re going to say, too, but I’ve tried the gum and somehow it’s not the same.”
“They say it’s a muscle memory thing, actually. Like your muscles enjoy the process of lifting the cigarette and taking a drag, and it’s actually just the process that is so satisfying,” Jean proposed, “Maybe you can just pretend to smoke.”
Sofia rolled her eyes. “One of us should be the smart one,” she quipped, “and it probably shouldn’t be the duck.”
“Just trying to help,” Jean replied. “Do you want some soup?”
“Is it vegan?”
“Of course. For the most distinguishing of waterfowl.”
So Jean and Sofia sat at the dining room table, enjoying their vegan soup made from dehydrated vegetables and grains of some kind. Jean, not knowing exactly which utensils ducks prefer when eating vegan soup, had provided Sofia with a small espresso cup from which to slurp. It worked just fine. Jean wondered what they would talk about, assuming that a 30-year-old accountant and a juvenile duck would have little in common.
“Wanna watch some tv?” Sofia offered. Yes. Television would do.
As they flipped through the channels watching a dance competition; a witty political commentary show; more than five variations of a whitening toothpaste commercial; and a very serious scene from a reality television show in which young teens were embroiled in a fierce debate over who should be the leader of their alliance, a kind of comfortability set in between Jean and Sofia. Sofia snuggled into the crack between Jean’s leg and the couch. She caught Jean’s eye and gave a little shrug as if to say, “I am a duck. We tend to snuggle in small places.” Jean let out a long, tired breath as she turned the channel in time to catch a mean pirouette from a girl with pink hair and strong, thick legs.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Sofia admitted softly.
“How who does what?”
“You. Everybody. People. I don’t know how you run, and fight, and work, and do so much on the damn computer, and…and all of it. It’s like you’re set on going crazy. Wait…is that the goal? Is everyone trying to go crazy?” Sofia puzzled, feeling like she might be on to something.
But by this time Jean had started to cry.
“Oh shit,” Sofia grumbled, “Oh shit. Umm…come on, there. There, there.” Sofia rhythmically patted her wing on Jean’s leg like she was keeping time for the world’s most apathetic marching band. Then she spouted, “Oh look! LOOook! That guy with the dreads is back! And look!—he’s so terrible! I can extend better than that and I don’t even have arms!” Sofia flapped her wings at the screen. “Look!”
Jean looked up, even though she didn’t want to. She wanted to grab the little duck and bury her face in its side, feeling the downy young feathers tickling her nose. Had Sofia not been a talking duck, that’s exactly what Jean would have been doing. And Sofia wouldn’t have the ability to protest. But instead, the duck was somehow prodding at Jean’s dark shadows, bringing out the things she’d rather not feel. Things she’d rather not acknowledge.
“It’s just that I don’t know what I’m doing and, at this point, I don’t think I ever will,” Jean sobbed.
Sofia let out a half-quack, half-laugh, “Is that all?!”
Jean frowned and wiped her nose, her sadness swiftly replaced by fierce annoyance.
“Sorry, sorry,” Sofia recovered. “It’s just that…none of you do. Every day that you all pull through is a true and shocking surprise to me and, frankly, all other wild life. Every day we think you’ll probably all kill each other and take us down with you, but you don’t. You’re all surprisingly adept at surviving yourselves.” Sofia shook her tail as she wedged herself back between Jean’s leg and the couch cushion. “You need to relax.”
Jean sighed. She did feel a little more peaceful. Sofia closed her eyes gingerly and smacked her beak a couple of times.
“And buy some cigarettes,” she added as she nodded off to sleep.