DUCK, DUCK, OWL by Michelle Ross

DUCK, DUCK, OWL by Michelle Ross

The ducks are a pair—Mallards from the pond in the nearby park. Every evening, they claim the shallow end of the swimming pool, float in languid circles. They’re not threatened by the woman watching them from the canvas chair. They don’t even startle when she goes inside the house to pour more prosecco. 

The woman is a divorcée—she’s lived alone in this house twelve years. Her grown daughters transplanted thousands of miles away. Boyfriends have spent the night from time to time, but there’s no boyfriend now.  

The woman notes the elegant (pompous?) curve of the ducks’ breasts and necks. The male duck, with his gaudy, iridescent green head that seems snatched from another body, looks like an Egyptian god. The female, with that snippet of blue sash peeking from her wing: a beauty contestant. 

The woman imagines the ducks are her daughters. Some instinct they don’t understand draws them home each evening. 

Of course, even if this were true, as ducks, they wouldn’t recognize this as home; they wouldn’t recognize the woman as their mother. Ducks know nothing of filial obligations, and this is to be expected. This is an acceptable trait for a duck.

But: duck shit. In the water. On the cement around the pool. The woman worries about diseases. 

Also, on the phone, when her younger daughter calls to say she can’t visit that summer (she offers up excuses like items she’s trying to pawn to pay off an overdue bill—How much for this? How much for that?), she tells stories of duck multiplication. Two becomes fifteen then fifty. When the woman’s older daughter calls to reprimand her for the candy the woman sends her grandchildren in the mail, she says of the ducks, “You’re not doing them any favors, you know. The chlorine is bad for their skin. They’d be better off if you scared them away.”

The owl is plastic—made in China. It doesn’t even weigh a pound. But when the woman walks out the sliding glass door, the owl in her outstretched arms, the ducks fly away before she is even certain she wants them to. 

That night, and for many days and nights after, the woman’s only company is the plastic owl. Even after she hides the owl in the cabinet with the fire extinguisher, she feels its eyes always. They never leave her.

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Pidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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