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Lucky Ducks

by Michelle Mead 5 months ago in Short Story
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What lies beneath the surface of a picture perfect pond

“Let’s get an ice cream!” said Jill brightly, in a desperate attempt to distract her children’s attention away from the pond.

There had only been a split’s second shiny glimpse of slithering flesh, but it was enough for Jill to know the tiny fawn duckling that had just disappeared beneath the water’s surface would not be coming back up again. The mother duck had not noticed the eel’s brazen act of predation on her offspring and, fortunately, neither had Jill’s two youngsters.


Four year old Jodie had learned to count to ten. Having counted five ducklings moments earlier, she might soon wonder why there were now only four.

Dairy treat diversionary tactics were required immediately. Jill masked her anxiety as she gently herded Jodie and her three year old brother Matt towards the kiosk, further up the hill.

The storybook picturesqueness of the pond masked the brutal Darwinian dynamics at play.

The family of swans glided around together with majestic poise in a unit of idyllic perfection - mother, father and two smaller grey and fluffy hybrid copies of their parents, with the same sublimely long curved necks. They seemed like avian royalty the way the whole pond cleared a path for them to pass, but there was a darker truth. The father swan would peck and drown any other bird that got too close to his signets. Jill knew of at least one other male swan that had made his kill list.

Jill also no longer shared her children’s excitement when the pelicans arrived, on broad white wings and with huge orange beaks that hinted at their ancient pterosaur ancestry. She was keeping a much closer eye on them since reading an article in the local paper about one who plucked up and swallowed a still-flapping pigeon in front of a traumatised kindergarten aged audience.

And then, of course, there was the plight of the single mother ducks, trying to keep their duckling broods from becoming eel food. Until recently Jill had loved to sing ‘Five Little Ducks’ with her children without a second thought about what happened to each of the ducks who didn’t come back when mother duck said “quack quack, quack quack”. They sang other songs now.

Her husband chastised her for coddling the children. It was life, it was reality, it was nature. She couldn’t protect them from knowing how the world worked forever.

As Jill and her children neared the kiosk they passed a tribe of teenagers in the playground. They were neatly divided into teenage boys, showing off, shorts sagging from their lanky frames and their perfectly posed audience of teenage girls, sitting in crop tops and air tight jeans, sucking in their bare bellies.

The park ranger’s jeep pulled up alongside them.

The new park ranger was a white haired woman with battle weary eyes. She leaned out of her jeep to tell a group of the teenage boys to get off the Teddy bear seesaw because the piece of equipment was only designed for toddlers. She feared the weight and force they were subjecting it to might break it.

The boys just sneered at her and the girls just snickered. Until she told them it would be a police matter if they ignored her warning and destroyed the playground equipment.

The boys all got off the seesaw then, and the whole teen tribe decided to move on, but not before one of the boys, the defacto leader, called the ranger a bitch.

None of them ever would have dared behave that way towards the ranger’s predecessor. Jill remembered seeing them scramble away from the playground equipment as soon as they saw the jeep coming when he was the one driving it.

The “old” ranger had been forced into early retirement after it came to light that he had been engaging in inappropriate “relationships” with young homeless men in the park, offering them food and places to shelter in exchange for “love”.

Love. What a multitude of sins that word could wash away.

The girls who had just left the playground were still children, but not much younger than Jill had been when she first met her husband. She was sixteen, when he was twenty seven. The chasm in their ages didn’t strike her at the time. Not like it did now that she was the same age as he was then.

She couldn’t understand, back then, why her friends thought his interest in her was “creepy”. He said her friends were jealous of Jill because she was far more grown up than other girls her age. Jill believed that because it made her feel special, at a point in her life when she sorely needed to feel special.

Jill also couldn’t understand why her mother hated him so much. He said all her mother’s objections to their romance stemmed from bitterness because her own husband had left. Jill fell for that, for years, because she fell for him. The wedge driven between her and her mother was only now beginning to rot away.

Jill and her mother were finally in contact again for the first time in nearly a decade. Their renewed bond was a secret she kept from her husband, like some sordid affair.

Ironic, given that he was the one having an actual affair. With a woman in his office who was, predictably, around half his age.

His lust for youth had started to seem vampiric to Jill. Having consumed hers, his passion for her was largely depleted.

At first, her realisation of his infidelity made her sick to the pit of her stomach with rage, but after months of crying her whole heart out she felt untethered from him. Now she was almost grateful he was handing her a reason to walk away, even if she still needed to find the means.

She was no longer the malleable young thing he first met, she was a mother now. A fully grown woman. The truth was, his need to “take charge” just wasn’t sexy to her anymore.

She was embarrassed how easily he’d persuaded her to walk away from her dreams and her education to be with him, on the promise he’d “take care” of her. Now she had her work cut out to figure a way to take care of herself and her kids, but, at least, her mother had offered to help.

Jill’s mother reasoned she had been “easy prey” for him because Jill didn’t have her father around. Her mother said it pissed her off that young girls who seek male attention and approval are the ones blamed for having “Daddy issues”. Not the men who leave them vulnerable, and not the men who take advantage of their vulnerability.

She told Jill she was sorry she didn’t notice what was going on sooner. She blamed herself for the way he prowled his way into Jill’s life because she had been so distracted just trying to keep their lives afloat.

Jill looked back over at the pond. Serenity prevailed, with the ducking brood now gone from view. She decided it was time to wander back with the children and their ice creams. Any minute now the woman they had yet to learn was their grandmother would be “bumping into them” when she came to feed the ducks again.

As they walked past the ranger’s jeep Jodie held her ice cream up to the window for the ranger to inspect.

“Look, we’ve what we’ve got!” she grinned broadly, with her tiny fist clamped around the wooden stick, and a sticky mess melting half way down her arm. Matt grinned and held his half eaten treat and sticky arm up, too.

“My goodness. Aren’t you lucky ducks?” smiled the ranger.

The children nodded, then resumed devouring.

“Life is good when an ice cream is all it takes to keep them happy.” the ranger winked at Jill.

Jill nodded, with a smile that masked all traces of her grief. “Better enjoy it while I can.”

Short Story

About the author

Michelle Mead

I love to write stories so I keep doing it, whether it brings me fame and fortune or not. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t, but that's okay).

I have a blog, too.

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