A notebook entry.
This essay was written as part of Project 1,825 Things.
When we asked the animal rescue what would happen to the duckling with the broken leg, they said he’d be euthanized if he could not recover. It would not be fair, they explained, for him to be allowed to live a life in which he could not go forth and mate and reproduce to fulfill his wild, genetic destiny. I had assumed he might be allowed to live in some sanctuary somewhere, a charming, one-legged duck named Claude, if the leg didn’t heal right or needed to come off, but apparently not. I don’t know if I did the right thing, to take him to them.
He spent only one night in our company. I pulled him out of the water after a male duck grabbed him in its bill and shook him violently, holding him under the surface to drown him. An attempted murder. I held him for a while, for he was cold to the touch and shivering, but when I tried to put him back, to give him back to the pond, it was clear he wasn’t going to make it. I put him on the grass and he simply fell forward. He could not walk. I put him in the water, and he began to sink. The mother duck swam towards him, seemed to think better of it, then turned around and left. I lifted him out again, holding his cold, wet body against my shirt, inside my jacket, and took him home.
Ducks are like dogs, they have that inquisitive look, and at least the illusion of affection. He was too small to leave there, all alone in the gathering dusk. At home I dried him off gently with paper towels until he was fluffy again, and then held him cupped in both of my hands until his body was warm. He perked up. He looked around. He drank water. He ate a little oatmeal, and then, finally, with great gusto, bits of hard boiled egg white. These he loved. It was then, dry and warm and eating, that we realized his leg was broken.
He could stand on the one leg, but the other remained tucked up against his downy breast. I held him up over a plate of shallow water, with bits of egg floating on the surface, and he hoovered them up. He did not want to be left alone. When it was time to go to sleep, he cried unless I was holding him in my hand, right against my chest, where my heart was. I tried to sleep sitting up. I was terrified I’d crush him. The animal rescue was already closed for the night, so we didn’t have a choice. If I held him like that, he would close his eyes slowly and go to sleep. He would look at me, as I looked at him, nestled against the warmth of my hand, and then he would drift off.
In the morning he had a lot more energy. He ate more hard boiled egg and some shredded salad greens, and he drank water, lifting his face in the air to swallow. He hopped around on his one good leg, and chirped at us to get our attention. We had sent an email to the rescue place the previous night, and in the late morning we heard back from them. They told us to bring him in.
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