If On A Winter's Night
"Later, when other bad things happened, I knew to avoid the ducks, to mind my own business."
I went for a walk out in the winds. It was hazy-misty-cloudy out, but in the early evening, as the blue hour went purple and gray, and the golden lights came on in the windows, and the Eiffel Tower started to send its glow out into the purple mists, the top of it disappearing into the clouds, I found myself walking west towards the Palais-Royal gardens. There were large cloth lanterns hanging from ropes between the buildings on a narrow street, big lighted lanterns made with patterned cloth, part of some installation. All of the church bells were ringing. It was after 5pm.
I went into the gardens and the air was perfect, cold and January fresh, but wet, with water running over the sandy ground. The tips of the bare living branches were red with the blood of their sap pulsing under the bark. The rose bushes were all cut down neatly for the winter, that leggy, blowsy, "winter interest" phase now over and done with, and things were tidy and ready for the spring to come. I walked across the square in front of the Comédie-Française, and then across the rue de Rivoli and in front of the Louvre, and just as I exited out through the archways I saw the Tower glittering, doing its sequined dance, which meant that it was 6 o'clock or just a few minutes after. The ground was very wet and dotted all over with small puddles, and I walked on into the Tuileries as the night came out over the city, the other people just dark shapes, walking together or alone in the nighttime gardens. The ponds and fountains were all dry, drained for cleaning or maintenance, and roped off with caution tape.
Two ducks hurried up to me as if we knew each other. It's possible that we do know each other, I don't know. During a whole spring and summer, after something terrible happened, I got very involved in the lives of ducks. I got to know some ducks in the Tuileries so well that they would come and sit down next to me and look out in the same direction that I was looking, out at the pond, as if we were indeed sitting there together. Yes, I fed them, that was surely part of it. They ate out of my hands, and sat with me, and when their children were injured or soggy and marked for death I scooped them up out of the water and dried them off and took them home and warmed them and fed them hard boiled egg whites, as you’re supposed to, and then took them to the animal rescue center in Maisons-Alfort where they could be rehabilitated and learn to be ducks. I remember the wet, broken ducklings clutched against my shirt, inside my jacket, these ducklings that had been attacked or left alone or were taking on water.
Anyway, these two ducks came hurrying up to me and I wondered if maybe I knew them. There was no way to know if I did or not, but they came right up and touched my boots with their bills, insistent. I had nothing to give them. They circled me expectantly, but I still had nothing to offer. I know it is bad to feed ducks bread. I know quite a bit about ducks now and how to keep them healthy, how to try and save their lives when they are very small and very fragile and very stupid. Their vulnerability was unbearable to me then, during that terrible year. Later, when other bad things happened, I knew to avoid the ducks, to mind my own business. The city helped, deciding to renovate the gardens and rip out their ponds, those ponds where it had been so easy to rescue the ducklings when they got into trouble or were left, abandoned and wet, as the evening settled in. I fed them all the things I was supposed to feed them. I knew how to hold a tiny broken leg so as not to cause pain.
I went to the western gate and there was a crepe stand, so I bought a crepe, hot and with sugar scattered on it and then folded up, a little burned. I went back to offer some to the ducks who seemed to know me, but they were gone.
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