My short story ‘Three Little Ducks’ was published in Le Zapororgue #10.
You can pick up a copy of the magazine here.
I was very proud to be published in this magazine. Not only is its talented publisher (Seb Doubinsky) a great friend of mine, but he is also a brilliant writer and literary activist. I was published here along side great writers such as Matthew Revert, and Arlene Colombe Hiquily – a good friend of the late Henry Miller, Anne-Sylvie Homassel and Jim Greer. Pick through the wonderful list of writers and you see a whose who of avant guard and alternative writers at the top of their game.
Below is a copy of the story that was accepted for this wonderful edition.
Three Little Ducks
The day the girl found out she was their mother was gray; the sky threatened storms with the kind of rain only a parent can save a child from.
Big fat rain. School bags are good for sitting on, waiting on, but not good for keeping out the torrent. Narcissistic children run on fat legs to Darwinian mothers, skipping dodging sky made water bombs.
The brothers walk with their sister sluggishly. They’ve learned to go slow, avoiding the gaze. They are glad to be out and relieved to be under her control. She doesn’t feel release when the school bell tolls. For her, little tiny mother, the bell is the dawn of the second part of the day. Her stomach twitches, her heart races, her skin oozes childish sweat. This part starts with the wait for father. This will take hours yet. And it will involve darkness.
Dawdling from the toilet the three children wander toward the gate, as the rain eases momentarily. Even the drips form the trees have a place to go. The last warm car closes its yellowish light on the school and drives toward a yellowish home. The children are alone in the blue-black air, clinging to their right to be at the school. The girl knows it’s only three-thirty and the father won’t come before six-thirty. She mentally stretches activities between now and then. They have to walk the half-kilometre to the caravan park. This should take them fifteen minutes on childish legs, but she’ll drag it out to forty-five.
The brothers fight; they are petulant children. They demand she look at them, separate them, take control. Pushing her boundaries as if she was their mother. She is, isn’t she? Its good practice for her.
‘Okay you two! Stop that now. Behave.’ Her nine-year-old voice squeaks.
They comply with cheeky eyes. The games have begun. She’s not sure of the rules, but she can copy adults to work it out. The brothers know the rules. That’s all they know, and they want her as the opponent. They want her for kicking against with their little sharp studded boots. They’re safe if they make her mother. If they take her little flat breasts, her closed hole and her bloodless womb, they can make a mother of the raw materials. Then they will be safe. They can grow and be boy and then man and all is well with the world. Greedily, they offer her their helplessness, their childishness and their stiff wounds. They won’t be lost and stuck with her. She will do that alone.
They’ve reached the gate. She plonks her suitcase on the ground and sits on it, legs either side, arms folded across her chest. Closing her eyes she wills the father to come. The boys watch her carefully and do the same. The street is lined with cheery houses and smug snug smiles. The children play their innocent game of hope, eating up time while the light holds. God loves them. It looks like rain again. Cold rain.
‘Why are we sitting here?’ The older boy wants to know. It’s time to ask the question. He’s bored. He wants to tease her for distraction. He wants to see her writhe. She’s comfortable and he’s obedient and that’s dull. Don’t bore a little boy. He’s hungry and she’s to blame. She’s caring for them after all. In his mind the seed well planted grows another root.
We can see the three of them at the end of the road, sitting, forlorn on their wet bags in the wet mud, as we pass by like time. The sun, tired of our earth, sinks. It’s sick of our humble contributions and wanders off, wanting another place to shine. The girl’s heart is beating elsewhere. For fun. This boy, this son of Adam, is too bored now. He’s digging into the flesh of his little brother with sticks. The little brother howls. Into the mud with you both. The girl is pulled sharply from where her mind sat.
‘Stop it. Stop it now.’
Because the two things are connected the boy hurls the accusation at his sister. ‘Well where is he? Where is Dad? Why are we sitting here?’ Which means, why don’t you fix this?
The child mother sighs. They must have only been there for ten or fifteen minutes, and they need to eat up time. A car meanders up the road, and pauses in front of the school, in front of the girl sitting straddled across her bag. She pulls her skirt down at the front.
‘Hey,’ the man calls from the driver’s seat. ‘Where is your mother? Why are you kids still at school?’
Ready to replace her with a better adult, the brother chirps up shrill like a hungry bird. ‘Dad is meant to be here and –’
‘It’s alright Sir.’ The girl leaps to protect her father. ‘My dad told us to wait for him, but I forgot if it’s the school or the caravan park. We will walk down there. I didn’t realize it was so late.’
The man looks doubtful, but the young boy is mute.
‘You children should be with your mother…’ The words fade because he revs the engine and starts off down the hill.
She turns on the boy. ‘Keep your mouth shut. Do you want Dad to look like a bad father? He’ll be here, we just have to wait.’
The bigger boy starts to sulk and the smaller boy cries. ‘We just want food’ the older one pouts.
The girl looks at them like the dolls they are. Her dolls need dinner. She’ll be walking them down soon, and they’ll get fed later. No ripping the heads off theses dolls when the mood arises thinks the mother inside the little girl. But oh, she’d like too. But the boys need a mother, and she has a womb. She’ll be their mother, so they don’t go without. They’ve dressed her up in the mother suit, and they screw their umbilical cords into her belly to be ripped out at the right time. Waiting for her brothers, waiting on her brothers. They bury the pointed soles of their feet into her little hard belly as they springboard off into the rest of the day.
‘Let’s walk now.’
The boys cheer and the older one produces a small egg shaped football. The egg is white and shows up well against the bruise of a day. They spent the first fifty meters of the walk on childish legs discussing the scoring. Boys like scores like men like scores, it’s the way they know they’re male. Women mustn’t keep score. The girl walks behind them a meter or so to keep watch. Don’t lapse into your own world; you’re not a little girl anymore. You have to watch the boys. They can’t be expected to look after themselves.
The ground is unpaved and muddy. The hill rising to the left lets little streams trickle down where tiny waterways have bubbled before, making small brooks for the children to skip over. The little one jumps and slips and falls in the mud. He points his tears at his sister, and cries out his demands. She rushes to him, helps him up, kisses the wound, and holds his hand. For a little while. He won’t want to hold it long. He shakes her hand aside with disdain when it’s no longer needed and chases the egg. She smiles the smile of a woman three times her age, and thinks what a trooper he is. What a young man.
The egg bounces all over the road and the two ducklings chase it. Mother duck yells quack quack and the babies laugh her off. She waddles faster, now carrying three school bags, to check for the bend in the road. She needs to keep her ducklings safe. Well not her ducklings, the ducklings of another set of ducks that can’t be here right now. She needs to watch for cars, so they don’t have to. Children are a burden on the system she thinks. Her back aches a little at the base because the bags are heavy. It’s harder to leap elegantly over puddles and streams now. She miss steps and lands ankle deep. The black leather is unforgiving and absorbs fluid gratefully. Her sock soaks up and she squelches her way down the road. The rain arrives again, shocked it forgot to spit on them properly before. The three children gather under a tree, stopping so the rain can ease.
Good, the girl thinks. This eats up even more time.
There’s a heater at home, and a hot bath. It tricks you into feeling safe. The house is uplifted with the yellowish swell from the light bulbs. The yellow matches the sick feeling in your belly, as you know bedtime is coming. The sick feeling comes every night, the girl never sure what will happen when she wakes up. The sweats and the rapid heartbeat. The little boys swim in wave after wave of funny television programming till their bedtime, and they go noisily, happily to their rooms. Under the blankets is a mini kingdom of heaven. A death first, then a resurrection.
The girl thinks of the warmth of the house and knows that soon she’ll be a in a bath. The drips off her hair fall into her eyes and off the end of her nose. Don’t bother to brush them away. In just an hour or so you’ll be home. Hot and warm. Little fat fingers and arms are wrapped around her belly. She carries her babies on the outside as they gestate, because her body is still too little to carry them within. The spot where they have their arms is warm, and it feels good; numb. The little larvae will wriggle and cling to her like a cocoon till they can spread their wings and fly.
The girl is a conspirator with the father. She is mother, so she takes the Fathers side and tricks the larvae into coping. Her brain is positively bursting with ways to keep walking rather than ever arriving at their destination. She’s on his side. Hugging under a tree is measured in minutes wasted. Light is fading, another good sign. A sign of the times. This is a successful day. They’re not even at the big bend in the road yet, and it’s getting dark. The girl has two more tricks they don’t know before they get near to the park. Thank heaven for little girls.
Peeling their arms away from her waist, she forces each of them into the drizzle. The purging spittle has become a misty spray, and they need to move to keep out the cold. ‘I’m wet’ says the little plump one as if she did it to him. Perhaps she did. She can’t remember anyway how they got here. Snails and puppy dog tails; they run and the older one kicks the egg. High, very high over the telegraph wires. The girl is impressed, but doesn’t show it. Boys don’t need the adulation of women.
Child mother speeds up to walk ahead of the egg, and the four legs chasing it. They’re at the big bend. Get on the muddy bank. Cars can’t be seen and boys need to be protected. The girl elegantly jumps a little stream with three bags. She’s getting so good at that, no need to take them off her. She knows, suddenly, the leap from girl to woman is no great distance. She thinks it’s her maturity, but it’s her innocence. Girls grow up faster than boys; all they need is a little push. Go on push her.
She walks ahead around the bend, the larvae slide behind. She’s nothing to their something and that is the privilege of being mother. She cocoons them in her empty womb. Don’t worry they will fill you up. You wait. You’ve never been so full.
Around the corner is a big park and light enough to spare. The sucklings squeal, and run across the road, the egg bouncing ahead of them. They slip in the mud but get up, having no need of the sister-mother now. Look how that ball flies. I want to dive in the mud to catch it. All children need mothers. Little boys even more than little girls. Little girls are mothers. At least they should be. Poster her walls with hungry men.
The girl stands on the edge of the road, squelching her toes in soaked socks. She can put the bags down and let them run. There’s no money for the shop, but they can look. By then it will be close to five-thirty and that leave just an hour till pick up. Safe arrival of the package. The girl is a better mother than the mother where ever she is. The girl is sure, as she watches boys play, none of those defective genes entered her. She can’t have that blood in her veins. Virgin mother. Little girl, little girl with her little curls. Sugar and spice and all things nice. Send that little girl away.
The numbness is protective against the cold wind. Her blue checked dress flaps in the breeze. The drizzle’s mist now and cloud settles over the valley. Dusk is everyone’s friend when you’re out and there’s no chance of being sent to bed. There’ll be TV caresses before that surely, and hot food in cool mouths. Past the field is a river and the egg sees its chance and makes its escape. Little ducks can’t swim that far and a game is ending far too early. Picking up the bags, the girl squelches to the reeds by the edge of the river and stands with her charges.
Watch that egg float away. It’s gone now. And now there’s too much nothing to do. The boys and short mother stare after the lucky egg for a while as it finds a new home.
The younger one cries. ‘What will we do now?’ he wants to know of she who should have saved the egg. What kind of mother is she anyway? She stares vaguely and the bobbing white blob drifting further away. ‘Let’s look in the store.’ She says revealing her last card too early. It’s not a good enough replacement and the boys moan their disapproval at her meagre attempts. Her fixes are a running sore; always wet, painful and inadequate.
Child mother is tired now, but who cares. There’s over an hour to go; she hopes her watch is broken. It’s the last possibility. She’s faced with sitting on the bags at the caravan park entrance now for one hour with the grumpy hungry little ones. She wonders when her breasts will give out milk so she could at least feed them that. Their vampire’s fangs can tear at her flat little chest and eat what they need to last an hour. Whatever they take, it’ll be something she doesn’t need. Something she doesn’t know to want.
She’s not sure about the shop. Too close to people, and too many around. It’s later now and the missing mother is more obvious. They’ll want to know why three wet tired children splattered with mud are walking around with their school bags. They don’t know that one is no child, and the other two are well cared for.
‘I don’t want to go to the shop.’ The little duck is sensing her worries and thinks dangers are in the shop. Dangers are in the shop. The child mother doesn’t want to go in there for fear of being seen. Stop attacking the father; he’s not here to defend himself!
She looks at the egg bobbing in the river. It’s almost gone from view now and with it her hopes. The sickness in the belly overtakes the numb coolness under wet clothes and breath comes in thick pants through the panic.
It will have to be an hour of bag sitting in the cold.
‘Let’s not go to the shop.’ She says as if it is a game.
‘Do you have money?’ the bigger duck wants to know. They both know she doesn’t have money, but it’s not a question it’s an accusation. She looks through him but pointed in his direction so he thinks she sees. It’s his job to fight the game and her job to bring it to him for defeat. She must keep playing. That is the mother’s role. She opens her bag and pulls out a little purse with no jingle-jangle. She looks into it; wishing god would just put the money in there; just this once. But this disaster isn’t bad enough to force him to act. This problem is not his to solve. It’s hers. She has to believe in god, thank him, and solve this one herself.
‘I don’t have any money’ she says slowly hoping it will appear before the end of the sentence. The bigger duck holds out his arms and atlas-shrugs his shoulders at her endless hopelessness. ‘Then there’s no point going to the shop is there?’ This is good she thinks. This has eaten up more time. She wonders if they can stay there and argue more.
There is a walk to the caravan park that involves crossing the park and that is a long way. It can take ten minutes if it doesn’t rain again and that means by now they only sit on bags not made for sitting for forty-five minutes. Misty wet air surrounds them and they look cold to me, don’t they look cold to you? Let them walk; it’s good for the spirit.
The girl mother has so much spirit she doesn’t know what to do with it all. The little grey mice scamper in front of her splish-splashing in puddles, making wet clothes wetter. They wait for her to walk close then they jump with mousy feet splayed out so that she is showered with muddied spots of slosh. The little mice laugh and laugh at their joke, and child mother wipes mud off her face. She tells them it was wrong and they mustn’t do it again, but that makes them squeal and squeak with glee. Mousey mother doesn’t like her pretty clothes spoiled with little mouse’s feet. Boo hoo.
The day is gone and a dark slippery night slithers in its place. Houses all around look at them teasing them, telling them they aren’t welcome. We don’t want you, our door stays closed. You just listen to your mother you two and let her look after you. That’s what mothers are for.
The grass pokes into wet socks and itches ankle skin. She’s hoping for lots of traffic so they get held up at lights. Two little mice and a little mother stand there. She looks around. Cars can’t see, they are dark in and must be dark out. They drive on by, not a worry in the world for three little figures by the lights.
Child mother pulls the silly mice out of the street light. Under the light they might be seen. Then they might be questioned. The father will be blamed for her not being able to look after them properly. She couldn’t keep them dry, and she can’t keep them still. She’s a hopeless mother.
Child mother is so tired. She wants to dribble forward into father’s car and be carried by it home. But instead the light is red, and the green flashing man wants them to walk now. They have to walk. This is when lights must be obeyed the most, when it is very dark.
They arrive at the driveway entrance to the caravan park, and the lights in the vans shine out so the children can warm themselves in the electric glow. The woman girl is pleased because it is almost half past and she made the journey across the park an hour long. That is a new record, and she feels a sense of satisfaction. They only have thirty minutes to wait till the father will come for them and who knows? Tonight he may be early.
But the dolls are tired too, and they have to be cleaned and fed. For them thirty minutes can’t be known. The bigger doll knows that they usually have a long wait at the caravan park, and assumes they have a long wait now. How could she let this happen? Why did it get dark so early? Why does she do this to them every time?
‘We have ages till Dad gets here.’ He points the javelin words at her ready to hurl at her face. ‘What are we going to do now?’
‘Just wait. Sit on your bags, and for goodness sakes be quiet. We don’t want anyone coming out and asking questions.’
Discovery is the child mother’s biggest fear because most people don’t understand her role and they can’t help. They like to accuse – they want their consciences clear thank you very much. They don’t want to feel guilty because the little girl can’t do her job. Who does she think she is? Stretch her out and make her taller. She’s way too short for that job. Something else she’s done wrong.
The dolls start to fight and the child mother is too tired to do anything. She watches them, throwing punches, trying to tip each other off the balance of their bag sitting. She stares with weary eyes, thinking of a bath and some food. As she looks on, the bigger doll pulls the little one to the ground and falls on him wrestling.
A creaking door opens at the office, and the girl jumps at the noise. She tells the pesky flies to get back to their bags and sit still, but it’s too late. A man approaches them, the dark bruising frown on his face frightening the girl.
‘What are you children doing here? Where is your mother?’
‘We’re ok sir,’ says the girl. The flies are perched on stable bags again, scared by the look on the face of the stranger. The girl takes a moment to gaze in wonder at their behaviour, before she stands and smiles at the man. She puts on her best sweet look, which she is sure makes her look eighteen. Her look – that she practiced in a mirror – will surely make him think these actually are her children. They put themselves into her and pushed their way out again.
‘We’re just waiting for my father. He will be here soon.’
‘You can’t wait in the dark here. It’s six thirty at night. It’s too late for you to be out. Are you just going to keep waiting?’
‘Yes sir. We’ll be very quiet I promise. You won’t know we’re here.’
The flies are still and staring with large flies eyes at the man’s pink face. He’s angry about something but who knows what. Is it us? The flies think it is, and they sit perfectly still with no sounds coming from their mouths. Child mother starts at the man in defiance. With children this good, how can she be accused of being a bad mother?
The man huffs and puffs but the children are safe because he doesn’t want to do anything really. ‘As long as you’re quiet.’ He gusts, and then walks away. He turns back again to scare them some more, but the files are silent and the mother is proud.
She is proud of her little children. They were so good. They just watched him and behaved and she wasn’t embarrassed and neither was the father. They have won the battle she feared all afternoon, and the love for them both overwhelms her. She leans between them and hugs them both.
‘I am very proud of you both. You were so good. Dad will be here soon and if we can just be quiet a little longer, everything will be okay.’
‘Will he be here soon?’ says the smallest grub wanting the moment of kisses from his mother to last forever. He uses his already perfected winning formula to sweeten her up so she kisses him more and he has all the sugar he needs.
‘Yes sweetie. We are almost done now.’
The other grub wants to cuddle too, he is done fighting. The man scared him and he wants his mother now. Each grub cuddles in her cocoon, and she spreads her sparrow’s wings around them.
Her back aches now and her knees are sore from bending between the grubs, but here comes father’s car, turning in front of them and parking where they sit.
‘You’d be so proud of the boy’s dad.’ The mother says. ‘They were perfect.’