• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 05
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The Man Who Carried A Stuffed Duck Everywhere He Went

He’d bought the duck a quarter of a century earlier, from an antiques shop in a town he had visited only once. It had been a choice between the duck and a fox that looked – and smelt – at least five decades older. He normally cited the fox’s musty odor as his reason for going with the duck, but this was invented, and masked something more fundamental. He had felt drawn to the duck, taken by it. He had never needed to put it into words, this feeling, a bond as natural and weightless as air, yet as unbreakable as steel.

The duck was a ragged thing, mottled, stiff, and grey, but had not always been. Newly stuffed when he had acquired it, its feathers had been bright, the bill broad and flat, unshrivelled and proud, the eyes almost responsive. But the years had charged their price, as they do on all things, living or dead. Every week he would take a Polaroid, so he could track the damage done over time by mold, insects, and humidity. Three of his living room walls were now covered by these uniform images, which told a story of incremental decay, inevitability and dust, mildew and ruin. He found this sad, but not overly so. Despite the companionship and security it had offered, he had never needed the duck to be alive, and had never thought that it was.

He’d carried it whenever he went out, nestled comfortably in the curve of his left arm, for about three years now. No one had known about the duck, and he felt it was time to do something about this. He was retired now, so he had no employer to placate, no mornings inviting stares on public transport. Initially, people who knew him asked why he was carrying it. He would deflect them with a jokey “just making sure he gets some air!” or something similar. On the rare occasions he went beyond his neighbourhood, he appeared as someone who was simply in transit with a disheveled stuffed duck. No one had ever taken issue with the fact that he was carrying it.


The Man Who Carried A Stuffed Duck Everywhere He Went

He’d glued the hair on last year. He wasn’t even sure if he liked it, but had felt like he needed to change something, freshen things up. He had spent a week trying different colours and amounts of “hair”, from samples he had spent a few months collecting, before settling on the final style. He had found himself enjoying the boost in attention it had brought. Questions, knowing nods as he passed, even just the slightest recognition of a change in its circumstances, thrilled him unexpectedly. He felt proud of the attention the duck was getting, the impression it was making, even while tucked, neat but unseeing, into his elbow. He felt protected, complete, alive.