“Pssst! Don’t turn on the lights yet!” I whisper-yelled at my husband first thing in the morning, a hot and cloudy July 4th.
“Why?” he asked as he turned on the lights anyway.
“The ducks will know we’re in here…aieeee, no, too late!”
Peep and her cohort stared at us through the kitchen door. (Hello, Police? Yes, we have a Peeping Tom problem. Er, Peeping Duck. Peeping Peep? Hello, Officer? Officer?) Four of the ducks were on the deck; Gladys was not. Trouble in Duckville. I was still in my robe, my yard shoes were at a different door and it was raining. I would have to go out anyway. If I didn’t, we were headed for a major quack problem at 6:30 AM on a public holiday. I was going in.
The gentle, much-needed droplets felt refreshing but I didn’t have time (or the proper attire) to enjoy the precipitation. As suspected, the Westchester Four were up on the deck leaving their timid sister, the still slightly hapless Gladys, on the lawn. Gladdy-Waddy (as my daughter, Pamela, calls her) was quacking her heart out over their perfidy. I didn’t blame her. Heck, it was sorta OK if they quacked to get our attention when Gladys needed help (stuck on her back, snarled in bird netting or trapped in the pumpkin patch—to name a mere few) but if she quacked because they weren’t playing nice, it peeped me off.
“Get back here and play with your sister!” I barked. “Off that deck right now!” Naturally, they ignored me.
“Alrighty then,” I huffed. “If you can’t beat ‘em, Gladys, you have to waddle up there and join ‘em.” I coaxed her from the hangout spot near the over-nibbled honeysuckle. The little Welsh Harlequin didn’t like it but she managed, inelegantly, to mount the stairs, one to the lower deck and two to the upper, and then the others quickly clustered around like they hadn’t seen her in weeks. (Which, for all I know, may be what it feels like to a bunch of ducks.)
I tried to finish making breakfast (i.e. spilling dry cereal into a bowl, pouring milk, finding a spoon) but every five or ten minutes, the duck posse came to the door looking for action. Andrew didn’t see what the big deal was (“I like it when they say hi”) and Pamela took herself off duck duty to watch Disney Channel. It fell to me to make sure they didn’t make too much racket before 8 AM.
“What do you guys want?!!!!” Not a peep. I directed them to the pile of wilted vegetables I had left the day before then went back inside.
Glancing at weather.com, I noted that we might have a strong thunderstorm any minute and then went on sending email, paying bills, reading stories on Lamar Odom and other things that are Not Writing. Intent on the screen, it took me a few minutes before I heard the patter of hard rain on the metal roof outside my office window. I looked up to watch the predicted downpour but, that’s odd, nada. No rain, no wind so what was that… I jumped up from my desk then slammed to a halt: All five ducks were banging on the French doors, rat-a-tat-tatting like a toy drummer. Good Lord! What the duck did Andrew teach them while I was out of town?
SMASH CUT TO: My HUSBAND, on the couch*, PEEP and PUFF on either side, watching TV. GLADYS plays with Pamela’s old fairy DOLLS. The CAYUGAS are at her desk, watching duck videos on a LAPTOP. We can hear the digital PEEPS and QUACKS from time to time.
Did you see that! What a shot!
Puff and Peep QUACK in agreement. Puff reaches for the REMOTE and SWITCHES to reruns of “Two and a Half Men.”
FADE TO BLACK over my SCREAMS….
At the dining room window, I shake my head and go looking for Pamela.
“You have to do something!” I beseech.
“I’m watching a show, Mama,” she demurs. “You do it.”
Outside in the now rainless but still puddly backyard, I approach the poultry perps and try to lure them off the deck with a nice bowl of duck food (their second—they’d already knocked over the first.) Lo and behold, neither my soft words (“get your tail feathers on that lawn—now!!!”) nor the kibble did the trick. There was something about getting on the deck that was easier than getting off the deck and, finally, slowly, I realized that this might be the reason they were banging on the glass in the first place. Hmmmmm….
I tried to remember Pamela’s much-perfected technique. She had spent weeks herding the ducks around the yard, getting them up on the deck and then “showing” them how to get back down. In the beginning, this involved a duck, carefully and slowly taking each step then stumbling onto the grass in a big rush. A couple of weeks later, to PJ’s great excitement, the ducks figured out what those gorgeous accessories strapped to their backs were and decided to flap/jump off the deck instead. Soon, Peep and Puff and then the Cayugas were getting major air as they practiced maneuvers.**
Only Gladys struggled to master this beautiful birdy thing called flight. On top of her other issues, the little duck had developed what we suspect was a condition called “angel wing” where the flight feathers split in a cosmetically imperfect but not life-impairing way.*** Pamela enjoyed picking her up and “helping” her as needed and I suspect that Gladys didn’t mind a little help from her big friend.
This morning, with Pamela glued to the flatscreen, it was Mama’s turn to play flight instructor. I bent down a bit and scooped out my arms in front of me, using the “pen up” motion that had worked faultlessly up until now. The ducks, suddenly skittish, tried to avoid my arms and resisted leaving the deck even though it was clearly getting hotter and their food and water and now the shade, too, were somewhere else. This would take stronger measures. I semi-lunged a bit at Peep and she flew off the deck and even nailed the landing. The Cayugas quickly got the picture and followed suit, gracefully flying onto the grass. Puff went next, achieving the longest distance, the most air and, later, probably the biggest high five from her peers.
And then there was only Gladys. She gave me a little “who me?” look but I didn’t back off. I couldn’t. As I scooped toward her she launched herself like the Spruce Goose, impossibly heavy, wings akimbo, flapping and running and jumping and fabulously, awkwardly landing.
But, for one small moment, Gladys flew.
*Special thanks to my friend, Christine, who suspected the whole Andrew and the ducks on the couch thing from the start.
**Taking Off appears to be easier than Landing.
***Our vet suggested that she might even grow out of it and, as of today, her wings look pretty darn good.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes