Lizy was my best friend the summer I turned six, though that summer I also learned she couldn’t be forever. I found her resting in the cattails by my father’s pond. Her shell was speckled with mud and pieces of wet grass stuck to her damp surface. My parents discovered me patting her softly with my hand. Lizy was only an egg then.
My father rolled the speckled egg into his warm palm. “Sally,” he said, “I’m going to make you a little friend.” I stared at him for a minute, then Mama took my hand and we all went inside. I sat in my chair, while I watched my mother rummaging through boxes in a closet and my father flipping through pages of books with one hand, and securing his reading glasses with the other.
Suddenly my mother spoke, “I found it hon, it’s as good as new!”
A few minutes later a little incubator stood on a table in my room. I sat by Lizy as many hours as I could for the next few weeks as my father came in and out of my room, helping me turn Lizy’s egg and moisten her shell with sprays of warm water. On the twenty-eighth day, the unbelievable happened and my best friend was born. Loud peeps, a wet, sleepy duckling, and an empty shell, is all I can remember from Lizy’s hatching, but memories of gazing, wondering and studying as she grew have not faded through the years. Neither has the love I felt when I first laid eyes on the lonely little egg surrounded by cattails.
“It’s that time of year again,” my father whispered in my ear, “the time when your old grandma comes to wish you a happy birthday.” My mother sighed. “Aw, come on, Lynda,” teased my father, “she isn’t that bad, is she?” He gave her a kiss.
“Ted, you know I care for your mother, I’m just worried about what she’ll think of Lizy. Maybe we should move her outside before your mother arrives tomorrow. You know how she is with animals.” My father picked me up and held me in his arms. My mother gave him a serious glance. I was placed on the counter.
“Aw Lynda, Lizy’s too young for that.” He slipped his hand in hers. “Lizy’s still a little fluff ball, Grandma won’t mind.” Then he turned to me. “Isn’t that right, Sally?” I nodded my head as a loud peeping noise came from upstairs. “Come on, Sal,” he said, setting me down and taking my hand, “Lizy’s hungry.” We walked up the stairs. When we got to Lizy her loud crying stopped; her food and water bowl were full.
That night as I rested in my bed I heard my parents talking loudly in their room.
“We can’t give her away, Lynda, Sal would feel awful, she’d never forgive us!”
“I know, Ted,” admitted my mother. “I know that Sal would be heartbroken, but what are we gonna do, keep Lizy forever? Where she really belongs is outside with other wild ducks, maybe even in the pond, not in a cage, in the backyard.”
“I haven’t seen any ducks in our pond, and who knows what could happen to her in the wild, that’s a terrible idea.”
“Right, I know, but Lizy’s going to get big and the summer is going to end, Ted. When you go back to teaching in the fall and Sally goes to school, what happens then?”
My father stammered. “You . . . you don’t want to take care of her?”
“No, it’s hard work. Don’t you think I have enough to do? I think,” she paused, “that it would be better for Sal, for us to give Lizy away sooner as opposed to later. Maybe she’ll forget faster, or maybe she’ll never forget, I don’t know. But I think she should learn, better than us, what is OK to keep as a pet and what isn’t. Don’t you think so?” There was no response for a while, then . . .
“She will never forgive us if we take Lizy away. Let her find what’s right herself, hon, that’s how people learn the best,” said my father. “We’ll just wait it out, OK? Play it by ear?”
“But Sally’s only six years old!”
“Shhhhhh,” whispered my father, and I heard no more.
I looked down at Lizy’s box. She seemed happy enough to me, peeping softly. I didn’t want her to go.
“Lizy,” I whispered. I got up and climbed down from my bed.
“Peep, peep . . .” I said.
“Pip, pip, pip, pip,” Lizy answered. I picked her up and put her in my lap. That night I fell asleep on the floor, with Lizy curled up on my tummy.
The next morning when I awoke, Lizy had disappeared from my side. My mind traced back to the night before. I envisioned her being plucked from my hand like a helpless flower and I started to cry. Suddenly a peep came from Lizy’s box next to the spare bed. I crawled over to it and gazed at her in the corner. I patted her rubbery beak and wiped my eyes.
That afternoon there was a knock at the door. Unlike most days when I wore sweatpants and a T-shirt, I was dressed in a little yellow jumper with my thin hair tied in bows. My grandmother loved when I was dressed special for her arrival. She loved being clean and proper, and she wanted everything around her to be clean and proper too. She did not like animals and almost every time my grandmother came over she got in fights with my parents.
My mother and father weren’t married, they said that marriage just makes things more complicated. My grandma called them lazy once, a lazy couple. She said that marriage was important.
“It shows that two people really love each other, and are not scared to make a commitment for it!”
“Why is a piece of paper the only way to prove that, Mom?” my father would ask.
As the door opened that day, loud peeps came from upstairs. My mother scratched her head nervously.
“What is that sound?” my grandmother exclaimed after she briefly said hello. My mother and father glanced at each other.
“We got Sally a pet, Mom,” they both said, almost at once. It was quiet for a while after.
Then finally, “I thought I warned you about children and animals.”
My father nodded and put his arm around my mother.
“They don’t blend,” my grandma finished.
“Animals are dirty, and they smell, but tell me, Ma, why don’t they blend?”
“They carry diseases, Teddy, hon, dangerous diseases!” she said, getting flustered.
“It’s very unlikely that would happen with a baby duckling,” my mother said comfortingly.
“Duckling!!??” Grandma gasped.
I listened to my grandma yelling at my parents and my parents trying to calm her down. Lizy was crying hard, harder than she ever had before, I could almost see invisible tears streaming down her cheeks. And me, I was the center of it all, yet I stood uninvolved in the corner, motionless. I was barely six years old, I didn’t know much, but I knew that, one way or the other, in a month or in a year, Lizy had to go away. Part of the reason was my grandma and the things she was telling my parents. Normally, my parents and I would not agree with what my grandma was saying, because her opinions were usually narrow, dense and strict. I knew that my parents didn’t love each other any less because they were not legally married, and I knew that animals and children must blend because of my love for Lizy. But I could tell that something that my grandma was saying struck my mother and father’s hearts by the nervous glances they passed to me that in turn struck mine. Then I thought of Lizy. I felt that something was innately, yet unintentionally, cruel about what my parents and I had done to her, and it would be wrong to keep her forever. Lizy was meant to be free, not crying for me in her bleak cardboard box. For the first time I had put myself in Lizy’s position, now I knew what was right. How it made me smile to think of her running on the green grass and flapping her beautiful adult wings and then suddenly taking flight, all with the company she deserved, the company of other ducks.
As days passed, I grew steadily more attached to Lizy. On warm mornings I’d lie down outside on the soft grass wiggling my bare toes while Lizy pecked playfully at them. It tickled so. I laughed and laughed until I couldn’t take any more, then I picked her up and lay her on my belly. Sometimes we fell asleep like that, but most of the time we just gazed up at the sky.
Then Lizy was moved outside; she spent long nights in a little dog house full of hay. Through the days, she grew fast and I fretted that she would grow out of her house soon. Lizy was also growing more independent. She would still cuddle with me and play with my toes, but lots of times when we were taking our walks she would briskly waddle far ahead and I would have to call her name several times for her to come back with me. Once, while I was sitting on a beach chair on the lawn, she wandered away to look blindly into the distance.
“Maybe she’s trying to see the pond,” I remember suggesting to my parents that evening.
“Yes, maybe,” muttered my mother while tossing a salad.
“It is time for her to swim, Sal,” my father said, folding his paper.
“In the pond?” I asked thoughtfully. My father nodded.
The next morning I jumped out of bed, whipped on my clothes and went outside. Soon I realized there was nothing soft and warm to let out of her cage. The wire door was swinging nonchalantly on its hinges and Lizy was nowhere to be seen. My eyes became watery as I started to run, my short legs encumbering my speed. “I wish I had wings,” I yelled to the sky as I drew near the pond. “I wish I had . . .” I stopped suddenly. My eyes caught sight of a graceful mother duck with five little ducklings swimming behind her. One of them was Lizy. She was looking right at me, but she did not leave her family. It looked as if she had always been there swimming daintily with her brothers and sisters. I wondered if she would come to me if I called. I wanted to try but I couldn’t. “This is where she belongs,” I sniffled. “This is where she belongs.” I realized that Lizy would fly south with her family. I realized that she would go, and maybe never come back. I had to face that she wasn’t my pet or my playmate anymore. She was part of a family; she was part of the family she was taken away from. I turned quickly and ran to the house.
My father was making strawberry smoothies when I slowly walked inside. He smiled at me.
“Want a smoothie, Sal?” he asked. I nodded. He threw another handful of fresh strawberries into the blender. I sat down at the table, waiting for the buzz of the blender to die out.
“Lizy went away, Daddy,” I said sadly, when the noise had stopped. But I did not cry.
“To the pond?” he asked. I nodded. “She joined her family, huh Sal.” I nodded. “How do you think she felt?” He handed me my smoothie. I took a sip.
“Happy,” I answered.