This summer, two Pekin ducks appeared in the lake near my house. On evening strolls, I passed the newcomers.
“Hey, guys! You’re so cute. Where did you come from?” They looked at me with a sideways glance and did not respond.
A woman walking near me theorized that someone had dropped them off because they didn’t want them. I wondered if the owner had considered that winter was on its way.
The ducks loved their new home. They bossed around the brown ducks, who had lived on the lake for generations, and commandeered the floating island that the turtles and a heron named Kevin used to lounge on. They were quite popular with people, and received countless catcalls and treats. I once spied a child tossing them Doritos straight from the bag.
The Pekin pair had so much personality that I had to name them. One day, as I took photos of them, their names came to me. “Hey, Michelle and Barack!” I said. They looked at me, and again, they did not respond.
I enjoyed walking by Michelle and Barack all summer. “Did you miss me?” I’d say. “You look so cute today, guys!” Then, I would whip out a slice or two of bread and waved it in their direction. This was how I convinced them to love me.
In time, Michelle and Barack would greet me with a quack or two. When he was really happy, Barack would lift himself out of the water, poke out his chest, and flap his wings.
“Lovely to see you!” I’d respond and display a slice of wheat. “How are things? Barack, be nice to Michelle. You better share the bread.” I ripped off a piece and threw it in Michelle’s direction. “There you go, boo. That piece is for you.”
I’d linger for a moment or two and move on. As I walked away, I worried. Winter was coming, and I knew they were too domesticated to fend for themselves.
The nights soon became cold. On Thanksgiving, before dinner began, I walked by, breadless. Michelle shivered on the floating island, her head tucked in her breast.
“Oh no, Michelle! Are you okay? You look so cold. It’ll be a little warmer tomorrow. I checked the weather.”
I worried that Michelle would not survive the winter. I took walks in the morning before work and came with bread. Michelle lost a lot of weight, and Barack did too, but not as much. I wondered about what to do. Bread was not an ideal diet.
At night, tucked in my bed that was lined with warm, flannel sheets, I thought about Michelle and Barack. I knew I needed to help them.
Today, it was my neighbor, who I had chatted with about the birds’ poor health, who prompted me to call. She said she might call animal control, and I decided I would, too. Perhaps one of us would be successful.
About four phone calls later, I found a group—a volunteer arm of the SPCA. The woman on the line recorded my contact information, my summary of Michelle and Barack’s life, and said that a volunteer should respond before the end of the day.
About an hour later, an orange Subaru BRZ I did not recognize drove down the street. I knew the driver was here for Michelle and Barack. A man got out of the car and walked toward me.
“Are you Rachel?”
I stopped raking the leaves and escorted him to my friends.
“Hey guys! How are you doing?” I said when we arrived at the bridge that overlooked their favorite part of the lake. They lifted their heads and responded with several loud quacks before returning to their hunt for food.
“They certainly know who you are!” the volunteer said, chuckling.
I laughed. That’s because I feed them.
I pointed. “This is Michelle, and that is Barack.” Then, I explained their ailments and mentioned that one of the birds had a fishing hook caught in its beak this summer. The volunteer was not confident that they could take the birds, but he said he would consult with others and update me.
Around 4:00 pm, I received a call. Its was the volunteer with the orange sports car.
“I wanted to let you know that we got the birds. We assessed the situation and agreed with you that they needed to be relocated. The one that had the hook in its beak has discolored feathers around his beak.” Barack might have an infection. He added that Michelle was not well either.
I felt relieved. The fear that I would walk to the lake to find Michelle’s dead body floating by and encounter Barack’s lonely, distraught face lifted. I will miss my friends and their loud greetings, but I am glad they won’t sleep on the lake tonight. It’s 37 degrees.