- Vol. 07
- Chapter 05
There’s some whacky legend that the Swanson men once consorted with waterfowl.
So, when Timothy turned up with a duck tucked under his arm, I thought it was a joke. How delightful, dear, they’d say, slurping oysters. No one batted an eyelid.
I’d been unpeeling foil from the dishes when he arrived. There’d been strong demand for birds this year: blackberry-glazed chicken, guinea fowl tagine, stuffed garlicky hen, and a whole duck, the fattest I’d seen, skin crisped and oil-slick. I couldn’t help staring at it and then at Timothy’s duck. At the ridiculous wig on its head. At its eyes – god, its eyes.
I turned to my husband.
Don’t you think that’s weird?
Don’t I think what’s weird?
My husband was a simple fellow who left me mostly to my own devices – except when his family was involved. We had to attend every birthday, wedding, christening, graduation, and he suggested what clothes I should wear. I was on perfect behaviour today: chignon hair-sprayed, nails immaculate, nary a crease on my silk blouse. But I wasn’t good at the Stepford wife bullshit. I hated the kitchen. When I was a child, I had nightmares about being plucked from a vat of oil and slid into a giant oven. I’d blistered both hands taking the potatoes out that morning. The goose-fat had spit and bubbled at me.
My husband looked uncomprehending.
I whispered: Where’s Monali?
It had taken a while for me to warm to Monali. I thought she was one of those brown women who craved exceptionality. I hadn’t known she was from my parent’s hometown for ages, her skin milk-pale, hair bleached lighter and lighter each visit; she could’ve easily passed as a Swanson. My husband mumbled.
It’s just a phase.
Before I could ask what the fuck he was on about, the children ran over, knocking champagne into dishes of game. I watched the spill of fizz and took out my phone to text Monali. I pressed send; something chimed nearby. I caught Timothy’s face glued to a phone screen.
Before he left, Timothy said, Monali sends her regards.
Is everything ok with you two?
He puffed out his chest and grinned. Better than ever.
The bird shifted, a sharp movement. I thought for sure it was going to bite or flee. Instead, Timothy squeezed and moved it closer to the spreading sweat stain on his polo shirt. I shuddered, thinking of his damp soaking into the bird’s neck, and before I could stop myself, I reached forward. Its down was immeasurably soft against my fingers. For a moment, a strange sadness welled up within me.
Then, they were gone.
That night, I scrubbed and washed and rubbed cream onto my hands. My skin, where the baking tray had singed, was calloused hard – and when I woke later and reached for water, I found that I couldn’t spread my fingers at all, as if they were fused with some thin membrane.