Old Drake at the Cellar Window
The old drake was at the cellar window again. The woman watched him, gabbling at his reflection. What did he see, she wondered. His mate that was taken off by the wily fox that raided the farms in these low foot hills? Or does he see himself? Not another drake? No, she thought, smoothing her apron and pushing her sleeves up, the better to enjoy the brief warming early spring sun. If another drake, he’d be attacking. Old as he is, he’s still a drake. And one drake to a dooryard was enough.
Every day. Every time the sun reached that part of the dooryard. Every time the drake could see the reflection, he waddled as fast as possible and stood then in front of the window and gabbled at it. Until clouds or passage of time dimmed the reflection and he lost interest, waddling away, wide beak pushing at sparse winter grasses and dooryard dirt, paddling through puddles of melting snow, smacking his webbed feet, like a child would do.
When a car or truck pulled into the dooryard, he often would see movement, some piece or part of self in a hubcap, and would begin a kind of muttering gabbled conversation with it. But it never lasted. It would be only a brief attempt to communicate with - with what? she wondered again.
Shaking the last of the dried corn she’d brought out for the hens to peck at, she made her way through the muddy path filled at the sides with dirty snow on her way to the outhouse. The man would be back soon from the rope plant. Want his hot dinner. Still keeping the old ways. Full dinners at noontime. Pick me up’s at suppertime. Soon be time to take the casserole out of the oven and put the rising biscuits in. Along with the berry pie. Loved his pie, the man did.
The drake waddled back across the dooryard. A cloud had covered the sun. The reflected image had disappeared. He left the window, leaving his mate behind. He didn’t understand why she’d left him in body and now lived only in that window. Silent now. She’d been quite a talker. Feisty for a mallard and a hen at that. Wild, she was. Handsome. Blessed mate. Sorely missed. Returning only sometimes. Always in that window.
He wondered, when he wondered, what was so good about being inside a house. He and his hen, they had shared a small lean to, built on one side of the hen house, with the geese in theirs on the other side. But she lived in that window now. Why? If there was another drake in there she’d never come to the window. But she did. So she came to the window to see him. Fuzzy now, his eyes. Not able to see her so well. But can remember her. Still, he wonders about her choosing to leave him to live in that window.
The geese were making a fuss. Running here and then there, all in a gaggle. Like headless chickens those things were. Silly, but they don’t bother him. Used to try to get beside him, to stare at the cellar window. But he never let them. Never even got close. His mate belonged to him. Even if only in that window. His business, not theirs. Just as she was his mate and nothing to be shared. Never had been, never would be, not in his lifetime.
Chickens didn’t matter much. No rooster. A good thing. Chickens were not very interesting. Draw a line in the dirt, the boy child did once, and they all stood there looking at it until the man came out and chased them away and erased it. Stupid. Chickens and geese. Not like ducks. Nothing like a fine duck. Nothing as fine as a fine drake. Well, a fine mallard hen, might be fine.
The sun came back out from behind the clouds as the woman made her way back from the outhouse. She saw the drake hurrying toward the cellar window to take up his stand there once more, gabbling softly at the reflection. What was he thinking, she wondered again, as she pushed her way into kitchen. But it was hardly a minute before she appeared again the sound of a truck shifting gears as it turned into the drive bringing her back outside to greet the man.
I wonder, the woman thought idly, watching the truck roll down the drive toward her, the man at the wheel, if I disappeared one day, the way the drake’s mate did, just a flutter of feathers and a spatter of blood to mark my going, would he stand at the kitchen window, staring at his reflection to murmur low to me? Would he see his reflection as me? Like the drake? Does he see me? Have I ever shown him me? Is there any need? She shoved her hair roughly off her brow and then turned to check her reflection in the kitchen window, tucking hair behind ears, straightening her glasses, smoothing down apron and skirts before turning back in greeting. Foolish woman, she thought. Of course he’s seen me and all that there is of me. Probably more clearly than I -- and not in a window’s reflection.
The man had hopped from the truck, hoisting from its bed two large bags of blood meal for dressing the gardens. And there was the tray of seedlings she’d wished but never asked for. He made short work of bags and tray, placing them all in the lee of the house; it was windy out now, and even with the warming sunshine, she felt cool and shivered a bit.
The man said to come on now, get a move on and get inside where its warm. Adding that she needn't check herself in that window every time he came home. He saw how she looked and she looked just fine. Always did, to him. Saying if ever she disappeared on him, he'd be just like that old drake, and they'd find him there, just standing there, right at that kitchen window, gabbling at her reflection. Just like the old drake at the cellar window.
It wasn’t long afterward that the woman made a trip of her own. Just over the border into Canada. Not that far from her home. The crossing easy - she and the man knowing all the border guards well, often making day trips into the Quebec countryside. Wonderful cheeses and jams at roadside stands. This time she had another purpose. On her return crossing, she prayed for the smuggled mallard to remain quiet in its bed under the crumpled blanket lying on the floor of the truck.
The old drake appeared distrusting for the first day. The man frankly disbelieving. But a drake is a drake is a drake. The wild mallard hen a beauty. By the second day, she was clearly the new mate. The man and woman watched silently as, for a last time, the old drake rushed at its blurred reflection in the cellar window. Not to it. At it. Wings extended, neck thrust forward. The rush stopped short of cracked glass or injured drake. And that was the end of it. Satisfied. Honor restored or established. Blurred ghost images replaced by the living. Once again the old basket held duck eggs.
Never again did the old drake chase the curious geese from the cellar window. And now it was they who sometimes would stand, singly or in pairs, quietly qwackling at blurred reflections in the cellar window. The woman, seeing this would shake her head. The man would laugh.
What message the woman had sent the man, she never thought. He never asked. Nor was it ever spoken of.