By Hank Spankler
Deep in the heart of Chillicothe lies Yoctangee park, once a country oasis nestled in the hills of bustling urban development.
Just 20 short years ago, if you were to ask Bill the Duck what he thought of his home on Yoctangee’s pond, you might have been met with an upturn of his bright orange beak as he cracked a contented smile. Now his eyes divert downwards and he lets out a long sigh as he ruffles the feathers of his left wing, fidgeting while he searches for an answer.
“You know when I was a duckling, things were a lot different. Life was simple. Mom and Dad made all kinds of bread from the tourists and life was easy. Hell, I could remember days where I’d have white, wheat, rye, even a hamburger or hotdog bun here or there. The other day, some hipster bitch tried to give me a piece of gluten-free 16-grain bullshit. I could have pecked her eyes out right then and there.”
I could sense that Bill is a duck who yearns for the days of yesteryear, set in his feathers like a mossed-over cherub in the courtyard of an old widow.
“So you don’t like the bread these days, is that where your anger stems from?”
“No, no it’s not just that. I don’t even know what to think anymore. Jake bit into a fish yesterday and it turned out to be an old used-up condom. They’ve got Jenny all strung out on drugs. She sold her chicks to Tractor Supply Co. for a few nickels and a bag of junk.”
He flicks a cigarette and shakes his head. Water beads off his feathers. “What’s the goddamn world comin’ to, Hank?”
I can feel his heartbreak emanating through the air, cutting into my own chest. I can see there is something missing in him, a piece of his past long-lost to the ages. I try to shift the subject, bring up the mood.
“Bill, what did you think of all those Pokémon Go people, huh? I bet that was crazy down here.”
“Oh man, talk about a real trip! Those crazy kids were lookin’ for God-knows-what, heads buried in those little glowy boxes. But I’ll be damned if some of ’em didn’t bring enough bread to feed my whole raft. I say let ’em have at it, catch the little monsters or whatever the hell they’re after.”
Bill chuckles softly and flips his cigarette onto the ground. The whole park is littered with similar waste, specs of urban driftwood on a Rumpke-inspired ocean. An old Budweiser can rocks back and forth in the ripples. We see a swan handing a small bag of something to one of the other ducks and quietly shoving a wad of cash under his feathers. The duck looks haggard and mangy, like a pigeon and an old oil rag had a child together.
“You know, I just keep telling myself it will all get better. If I can hold it together for one or two more seasons, till the kids get old enough to fly off on their own, maybe I’ll get the hell out of this town and start somewhere fresh.”
“You would abandon the home you grew up in?”
“Hank, there’s only so much one duck can do. And I ain’t no savior. I’m just an old bird with an old beat up heart. And I just don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
Bill lets out a short “quack” and ruffles his tail feathers. He glances around for more bread and then sits down once again. He takes another Red out of his Marlboro softpack and it rests loosely in his beak. He fumbles for a moment reaching in his feathers.
“Shit, you got a light? Mine done ran off on me.”
Yea, I’ve got a light for a torn-down old duck like Bill. Any time. I pull out a Zippo and give him a flame. He takes a long drag and I can hear the relief in his little bird lungs as he exhales.
He chuckles softly again.
“Those damn kids and those box things…”
It’s these short moments, when he forgets just how godawful his little duck existence really is, that keep Bill moving each day.