Across the street is a neighbour whose daughter has grown from mindless swearing and hanging out in cars with her boyfriends to having her own children, who she treats carelessly, or worse. Even so, unless this young woman is verbally abusing or slamming car doors in the face of one of her young children, I try to be friendly.
The neighbour keeps ducks, or used to. She’s had other pets, too. Dogs that never were walked, fish that swam briefly in cloudy water. Recently, the ducks were waddling down the road and she came out and gave them that I am exasperated with you ducks look that she has honed and perfected. The same look she used to give the barking dogs that never left their tiny garden.
I watched the ducks lumbering down the road and the neighbour saw me watching and said, “Why do they keep getting out?”
I wished she asked me why her grandchildren are withdrawn or distracted or whiney or ill-behaved because I could have told her it was probably down to the humiliation and shame experienced regularly at the hands of her dingbat daughter, but instead it was about ducks. Why do they keep getting out?
I told her wings was the first clue. A place to swim was another.
She said, “What do I do?”
She is worried about being an incompetent duck owner. No, that isn’t it. She believes her efforts with the unmanageable ducks are heroic. Meanwhile, her grandchildren are shouted at publicly and, I imagine, experiencing worse behind closed doors. But I can’t discuss this with her. If I so much as give the violent daughter a glance she tells me to mind my own f*ing business.
So, I thought about how many difficulties I have faced, or watched in silence unable to change a thing, and gave the only answer that made any sense.
“Follow them,” I said.