I’m about to be sick on the front porch. Granddad is at the back, beating his cane against the screen door to scare the Muscovy ducks. The neighbors understand—nobody wants duck mess on the walkway. We’ve split a buttered bagel and yesterday’s half pot. He’s probably finishing breakfast while my first bite slips from my tongue in a string of saliva, landing like egg yolk in the flowerbed. I gag. The neighbors have a hard time with my prolonged presence, though no one seems to have heard my heaving. Drum and bass in the front drive after midnight, and in come the questions via landline. Granddad could tell them nothing they would readily understand—the loss of a wife can only excuse so much noise. Two ducks have made their way around front, three puffy ducklings in tow. The adults are black and white with red growths around the eyes and bills. The little ones are yellow with brown over top, stumbling along, chittering through their perfect beaks. I find it hard to understand how a creature can bear such mutation. Granddad has stopped with his cane. And I am surprised to see that a butterfly casts a shadow. The coffee has gone lukewarm again, which seems to be better, and the sip goes down. More ducklings round the flowerbed, intrigued by my aborted breakfast. A gag sends them off. The older ducks are past the mailbox, crossing the neighbor’s front walk, leading the brood. The neighbor’s door opens a crack, and slivers of gold reach for the lawn. My stomach flips, pulling me to the mulch. The coffee comes up with a burn. Bile sinks in the shade of a peace lily. Out back, Granddad has started with his cane again.
Christopher Notarnicola's work has been published with American Short Fiction, Bellevue Literary Review, Best American Essays, Consequence, Hobart, Image, Southampton Review, and elsewhere. Find him in Pompano Beach, Florida and at christophernotarnicola.com.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower