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  • Ducks
  • Stephen Dixon (bio)

He gets out of his car and is going to the copy place he usually goes to to copy a short story he finished writing today, when he sees a mother duck, or thinks it’s the mother duck—what else could it be? He’s never heard of a father duck leading his brood of ducklings. So that’s what it probably is. A mother duck leading a straight line of eight very young ducklings—they barely have feathers—in a huge shopping center, but walking on a narrow strip of grass alongside a four-foot brick wall separating this end of the center from the sidewalk and main road. York Road. A road that starts in downtown Baltimore and goes north for miles past this and many other shopping centers and gas stations and such, and possibly all the way to York, Pennsylvania, about forty miles away. Or at least, before the highways came, it maybe once did. But that’s not important. He says when he first sees the mother duck and her ducklings following her, all of them walking so close they are practically falling over one another, “Oh, my gosh. Look at that. I can’t believe it. A duck and her ducklings all in a row in this busy commercial strip, but it’s as if they’re in a forest,” and thinks it’s like the book Make Way for Ducklings he used to read to his daughters when they were four or five or six or so. They loved the book. Had him, of course, read it to them many times. One of their favorites. Along with three or four of that author’s books, all of them but Make Way taking place in Maine. Not only in Maine but most in a town around ten miles from where they used to rent a farmhouse every summer for about twenty years. And in fact just three or four miles from the area where he’s rented a small cottage the past two summers and will rent it this summer for four weeks. But that’s not [End Page 377] important either. And that book about ducklings was written around sixty years ago, maybe more, and took place in Boston. So where are the ducks going? In the book he thinks they were heading to a pond in a park in the center of the city. What are they doing here? Where’d they come from? How have they survived? What are they eating and where did the mother duck lay the eight eggs? Or were there more and those ducklings never made it out of their shells or died for one reason or another soon after they hatched? But eight seems a lot. Has no idea how many eggs a duck usually lays, if there is a usual number. And doesn’t remember—can’t quite picture, despite how many times he read the book to them—how many ducklings were following their mother in it, not that a kid’s book has to be accurate. “Look,” he says to a man getting out of his car, ducks still walking south in the shade made by the wall. “Baby ducks. Following the mother duck. Don’t scare them, though.” The man looks and says, “Beautiful, beautiful. What should we expect next, coyotes? Wolves? It’s ridiculous,” and he heads for the stores. Jesus, what a reaction. What would it take to excite the guy? Or maybe he’s always cynical. I don’t know. Ducks have disappeared. Never made a sound, or one he heard. Took his eyes off them for five seconds, and they were gone. Not much there they could be hiding behind. Few shrubs and clipped bushes near the wall and one short tree, but he can see from here they’re not there. Gets closer, looks over the wall to the sidewalk and down York. About twenty feet away from where he last saw them walking is one of the entrances to the shopping center, cars going in and out of it. They cross it? Must be a good forty feet wide. And still...


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pp. 377-383
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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