My sister’s love of God’s creatures has always burned steadfast and pure. No matter its position on the food chain, if it breathes and isn’t human, Laura needs to pet, coo at, and – she’ll always find some way – to assist it.
Laura was the child who’d find an inchworm on the driveway, transport it to a dappled spot in the backyard, position it on the plumpest blade of grass she could find, and then sit with it for a few hours to make sure that it adjusted. When she got a kitten, she rocked, diapered and sang to him; gave him bottles of milk he didn’t want or need. Once she even tried to rescue a dog from its own backyard.
The minute Laura turned thirteen, she joined an animal service organization. She brought home litters of puppies, kittens, and baby raccoons, which she nursed with eyedroppers every four hours, around the clock. No matter how sleep deprived, she never lost patience or complained.
When Laura got older, her passion for animals was closely rivaled by her attraction to miserable relationships.
At the age of twenty, Laura attached herself to Glen, a boy three years her junior who was failing out of high school. The span of that union found Laura railing inexhaustibly about Glen’s emotional immaturity and reluctance to commit. To Laura’s vexation, when she wanted to spend quality time with him, or they broke up (again), he often hid from her at the county park, where he enjoyed smoking cigarettes with his friends.
Laura spent many an afternoon on the hunt for her missing beau.
One day, after a particularly intense argument, Laura was on such a trajectory. Eyes blurred with tears, she looped around the park, peering into shrubbery, craning her neck to look behind trees. So intent was she on her mission, she failed to notice her speed, or the flock of ducks in her path.
As Laura came upon the ducks they scattered, running and flying in every direction. One, however, couldn’t gather enough momentum. (Slow metabolism? Leg cramp? There’s no telling.) When Laura looked back at the road, she saw frantic wing-flapping right before her bumper.
Panicked, she slammed on the brakes.
It was too late. There was a thud, then a flurry of feathers.
Laura’s cries now escalated to sobs. She’d plowed over a defenseless duck! One whose only sin was being at the wrong pond at the wrong time.
Thoughts of Glen were forgotten. Whatever else happened, she must save her victim.
Laura yanked on the emergency brake and bolted from the car.
The duck now had a broad-framed, hysterical woman lurching after him. Fearing for what little remained of his safety, he tried to flee. But he was no match for my sister. Laura closed in and grabbed him by the leg. The duck resisted, flapping and squawking to the best of his ability. No soothing noises would calm him. Still, Laura managed to maintain her grip. She side-stepped to the car, opened the door with her left hand, and wrestled the duck inside.
As Laura slid behind the wheel, she imagined poster-sized pictures of herself, a big red X across her face, the caption reading, “Zero Tolerance: Stop Duck Maiming Today.” She looked back at the duck, who was now trembling in the far corner of the back seat. And then it hit her: She had no idea what to do next. The animal hospital treating wildlife was four towns away, and she couldn’t afford their services anyway.
Then Laura had an idea.
She drove directly to the police station.
When she arrived, Laura marched into the building. Approaching the first officer she saw, she said in a rush, “My boyfriend was being a jerk and he broke up with me and I was searching for him in the park and I hit a duck by accident and now it’s in my car and I don’t know what to. . .”
“Okay,” the officer cut in. “You have a wounded duck?”
“Here’s what you do.” The officer paused, placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder. Then he said, “Take him to The Duck Man.”
“The Duck Man?”
“Yes. The Duck Man.”
The officer explained that there was a man in town who cared specifically for sickly and wayward ducks. Laura doubted the man was credentialed, but if he was good enough for the police, he was good enough for her.
Fifteen minutes later, Laura pulled up to a little house set far off the road. In its front yard was a heavily populated duck pond. She walked onto the front porch and rang the bell. No answer. She rang again. A moment later, a large, bearded man wearing Levi’s and a white tee-shirt came to the door.
“Are you The Duck Man?” Laura asked.
The man looked at her. “I have a title now, do I?” he asked. Then, “Well, okay. Let’s have a look at the bird.”
Laura led The Duck Man to her car. The duck, still subdued, was where she had left him. The Duck Man leaned over, pulled him out gently and gave him a look-over. “He’s in pretty rough shape, you know.”
“I know,” Laura said, fighting back tears. “Do you think you can help him?”
“I’ll do my best.”
Laura thanked The Duck Man, said a polite thank you and headed for home, where she could become hysterical in private.
The next day, Laura returned to check on the duck.
The Duck Man said nothing, just shook his head sadly.
Morose, Laura returned to her car.
It occurred to Laura that the emotions wrought by the duck’s death felt similar to her love for Glen, and all of her past boyfriends. The anguish, longing, and deprivation of what should be. But there was one difference. Glen was alive. And as long as he was breathing, she could remake him into the attentive, supportive partner that she desired.
Now if only she could find him.