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Wildfowl

By Katie Coleman-

 

Maud gasped as a rat skimmed her ankles. She conjured the sound of tiny cymbals and took tight, fast steps around the red roofed pagoda. She drew cleansing breaths like her Reiki Master showed her and ignored the whiff of urine and stinkweed that emitted from a nearby drain. While buttoning her coat she practised the mantra ‘be more duck’. Determined to beat her fight or flight response. Determined to be waterproof like feathers. She watched a stranger scatter crusts in the river, the gluten swelled at the surface. He wore layers of clothing, and his anorak was stained.


Maud smiled and clutched her healing crystals; she made clicking noises to balance her chakras. The stranger shook out the last of his breadcrumbs. Ducks thrust their beaks forward and gobbled.


The old Maud would have judged the man by his worn attire, but today her goal was to be a social being. She dipped her hand in the water and swirled it around.

‘Funny things ducks, aren’t they?’ he said.


She nodded and tried to see beyond their yellow beaks and proud necks. She wanted to experience the ducks in the present moment.


‘They are deeply intriguing creatures,’ she said.


He coughed. A long rattling cough that sounded like laughter.


She stuttered, ‘I mean, they’re the essence of life.’ She flushed, her power was draining, all that work was washing away. Soon the man would joke about her to his pals. All the down-and-outs in Buxton would point her out as that idiotic woman, a fake useless specimen. She lost control of her measured breathing and her cheeks flushed. Starting to panic she inadvertently honked. She pressed a handkerchief to her nose.


‘Tell you the truth,’ said the man. ‘I wouldn’t mind coming back as a duck next time around.’


‘Reincarnation?’ she whispered, glistening with hope. ‘You believe in transformation?’ Books on the afterlife lined her shelves. Past-life visions she could discuss for days. ‘I’ve been told that ducks are my spiritual animal.’


He studied her with eyebrows raised and head tilted.


‘It means I’m meant to lighten up, take life less seriously.’ She nudged a pebble with her shoe.


‘Sounds about right,’ the man said. ‘Ducks sure know how to enjoy themselves, never seen one looking fed up.’ He took a sketchbook from his backpack and began to paint. ‘I love all kinds of ducks,’ he said, ‘because no matter what they get up to, they always look like they’re having the best time.’


He moistened his brush and painted feathered lines with loose green strokes. His brush flickered across the page. Maud felt herself soften. She’d been bullied at school for having webbed toes, she’d moved from town to town, and she had always been the outsider. She dipped both hands in the water, near a patch of duckweed, and watched it slip over her skin.


‘Come, come sweet little ducks,’ she said.


One hopped towards her and landed on the bank. She felt a frisson of excitement. Its feathers gleamed as it strutted close by. She steadied her breathing. A gentle breeze flowed through the weeping willows, birds sang and the sun illuminated scattered blossoms in the mulch.


She stroked the duck’s back. It hissed and lunged at her hand, its beak open. It fluttered. She stepped away. Further ducks swooped down. Others arrived and started spitting. Several opened their wings, created a vast span and flapped. The quacking became loud and aggressive. She squeaked and pulled her hands together into her chest.


‘Stand your ground,’ said the man.


She straightened her spine and willed her aura to protect her. She felt its rose-orange glow. Loud persistent quacking. She visualised soft breeding grounds, nests and piles of blue eggs. Feathers beating around her amidst sounds of groans and growls. They bit her coat and pecked her hair, the lead duck tore out strands. She covered her face and whirled around faster and faster, her coat filling with air like a dervish.

 

Katie Coleman is a British writer living in Phuket with her cats Pocket and Zadie. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Ghost Parachute, The Ilanot Review, Bending Genres, SoFloPoJo, Potato Soup Journal, Bright Flash and other journals. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes. She has a masters in creative writing and works as a teacher.

You can find her on Twitter @anjuna2000.

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