This is not about ducks.
This was previously published in Yemassee.
Still-framed in mid-flight, the birds once poised in synthetic motion in escape from the perpetual hunter, bobbing coyly behind the Amish rocking chair or the plaid recliner. I like to think my dad sees them as testaments to his masculinity, trophies of the provisional prowess he once held as hunter-gatherer in the days before the stroke.
As he tries to hang one of his taxidermied ducks back onto the living room wall with his one good arm, I tune in in time to hear him tell Mom that maybe he was “whacko” when he told her she could move them, and maybe he’s “better” now. She tells him not to be “ridiculous,” that he “specifically” told her she could move them—though I can tell the more appropriate term would be “hide.” He stomps out as loudly as his 18-year-old limp allows and fires back some vague insult, only certain stock words of which are intelligible out of his only partially functional mouth, and I’m left to wonder how he worked the word “fag” into a verbal exchange with his wife of over 40 years.
As I enter the room trailing in his wake of aggression, I can’t help but wonder what it takes to make a grown man realize that the variegated feathers of the blue winged teal just don’t “go” with the olive green paint of the living room walls; or that the nostalgia of the now dead mallard can only be shared with a Labrador named Buster—now nine years euthanized—a stored rifle, a rusting boat in our back yard, and certainly not with the mallard; or that for Christ’s sake, they’re just ducks. But we all know this argument isn’t about birds or unrequited tastes in interior design, it’s not about the beauty and serenity of nature or simulating the thrill of the hunt—it’s about the embers of authority that have been smoldering for nearly two decades now, cooling into ash, a pale island glowing in an expanse of dust.
—Photo credit: Bryce Emley