It happened Christmas Day. I had gone outside to check on my ducks, when Scooter, the male pompom-headed Bali duck, came out from under the porch. I figured he had been sleeping down there. I crawled under to check on the girls, Cheepers and Smiley, who would probably be under there still asleep. Ducks always stay in flocks and our three always stuck together. Whenever we found one of the ducks alone, it meant something was probably wrong. But when I looked, the girls weren’t anywhere to be seen. I checked in the bushes next to the front porch, thinking maybe they were under there and I just hadn’t seen them. They weren’t under there either. I looked around wildly, trying to figure out where they could have gone. Scooter seemed to be just realizing that they weren’t with him and began to quack, looking worried.
I ran down the boardwalk into the swampy, muddy wetland area in the woods behind the house. There in the distance I heard the faint sound of a female duck’s distress call. I ran to the section of woods where the puddles start, where the ducks often went to eat the bugs that lived under the leaves and in the mud. About twenty feet away I saw a white blob in a puddle. That was one of the two. I was about to run over to her, but she seemed perfectly fine, and she wasn’t the one quacking. I knew I had to find the other one.
The quacking sound seemed to be coming from the middle of the woods. I quickly started running in that direction. I had yanked off my fleece-lined Crocs and woolen socks so I wouldn’t get them all wet. Luckily, there was no snow, just a thin layer of ice I could easily break through with my feet. Pretty soon I could just make out a white-and-brown wine bottle shape. Usually that’s not how you describe a duck. You think of fat mallards that waddle around or swim in a pond. These, however, were Indian Runner ducks, which are tall and skinny. They run instead of waddle and they don’t live in ponds. They’re what you typically think of as puddle ducks. When my duck saw me, she kept on quacking but walked over in my direction. I scooped her up and saw that she was Smiley. Smiley had gotten her name from the first time I saw her, when she had just hatched and was still inside the egg incubator. Because ducks tilt their heads to look up or down, and because of the way the corners of their bills curl, it looks just like they are beaming up at you.
Still, no matter how smiley her face looked right then, I could tell she was pretty freaked out. Her eyes were wide and, although I was carrying her, she looked like she was trying to stand on her toes. I tried to calm her down, telling her that Scooter was back at the house and that I had seen Cheepers on my way over.
As we neared the puddle that Cheepers was in I noticed something odd about her. Her body looked limp and I couldn’t see her head. I quickly put Smiley down and started running towards her. Tears were already streaming down my face. I crouched beside her and stroked her back. Her head was curled under her body and her wings were spread out on either side, as if she were trying to bear the weight of something on her back.
* * *
We buried her in a clearing next to a stone wall just behind our backyard, right next to the grave of our old guinea pig, Toot. Dad dug a hole in which we lowered a model helicopter box, containing not the helicopter that my two brothers had taken out earlier but the brown-and-white, feathered body that had once been a duck named Cheepers.
That Tuesday when we went to volunteer at our local farm we borrowed an egg incubator in which we put two eggs. One of these was Cheepers’ last egg. We decided that the first duckling to hatch would be named Cheepers Junior, or CJ for short.
Ducks don’t have good memories. After about a week I seriously doubt Scooter and Smiley remembered Cheepers at all, though now, almost a year later, they still haven’t gone back to the woods where we found her. My dad said it was probably a weasel that got her, since the body was not badly damaged; there were just puncture marks on the sides of her neck.
* * *
Four weeks later, one of the eggs in the incubator started to shake! We began seeing little cracks appearing on the shell. Then the other egg started to shake, and we knew that both of them were going to hatch. A few hours later a little hole appeared in the first egg, which meant it was probably going to hatch that day. Every now and then we could see a tiny orange bill poking through the crack. We started to hear exhausted little cheeps coming from the duckling that was pushing with all its strength to get out of the egg. Then, with one last push, the top of the egg came off, and a wet, feathered head popped out and started looking around. It cheeped and kicked with its tiny feet, because its back end was still inside the egg. It kept on kicking fiercely at the shell until finally his whole body fell out of the egg.
We took the lid off the incubator and took out the empty shell. The little ducky looked up at us with that smiley expression that all ducks have, and we all looked at him, CJ. The exhausted CJ clumsily walked over to the other side of the incubator, rested his head on the other egg holding the hatching duckling we decided to name Hermes, and fell asleep.