My father sets a cardboard box on the floor of the kitchen, and crouches beside it. With his hand on the lid, he lays down the rules. We will raise the contents — emitting muffled peeps — until they are full-grown. Then we’ll set them free.
There are two Easter ducklings, one for me and one for Jennifer, the daughter of my father’s longtime girlfriend.
“Can we hold them?”
Through soft down, we feel their toothpick ribs, and, a pulse against our palms.
Our ducklings waddle, shakily, across the grass. We lie on our bellies and marvel.
Some days we race to see our tiny charges. Some days we forget and then remember only to find them just as before.
Not once do they step over the low walls of their cardboard confinement, not even when they have grown tall enough to do so easily.
They wait each day for us retrieve them.
One summer morning, our parents drive us to a local pond.
My father sets the cardboard box on the bank.
We carry our ducks to the water’s edge prepared for the goodbyes we have rehearsed.
We wait for them to swim away. They don’t.
We nudge them closer to the water. They waddle back to us.
We turn and walk away.
A yellow head at my heels.
I look at Jennifer. Her duck has returned too.
We carry them back, and, again, they return.
We giggle at this marvelous game. We’re giddy, giddy at the realization that we are loved. We are in love too.
It is getting dark.
On command, we hurl scraps of bread at the water and while the ducks scramble for it, we run. Long arms push us inside the car.
As soon as we can, Jenny and I return to the pond. Everywhere we see ducks, all squawking, all alike, our own indistinguishable from the rest. We stand on the bank and call out their names for a long time, long after we know we have lost them.
Lynn Ermann writes in New York City.
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