This story is included in the collection Under the Willow Tree and Other Stories.
I can’t exactly say when I discovered my thinking had become off-kilter. I’d always been a deep thinker, a free thinker, all my life. As a child, I loved sports, the outdoors, and the arts. I had troubles in those formative years, but I never thought I’d feel the repercussions of those misfortunes later as an adult.
Now, I’m old…and crazy, at least that’s what the people in the white uniforms have been telling me all these years. They often say, “You’re nothing but an old, senile coot, Carter Lynch.”
That’s why I’ve been in this hospital forever.
I haven’t always been crazy. I do have flashes of happier times in my life, of my family and friends. I remember a time my daughter and I took a bike ride to the park. I remember pushing her in the swing, and she laughed and yelled, “Higher, Daddy, higher!” I also remember proposing to my wife at the lake. She had no idea what I was up to, and I was scared as a little puppy in a thunderstorm.
So, yes, there was a time when I didn’t have the disease—the term often used in this place. But most of those days I can’t remember, only snippets here and there. Lost forever, I suppose. Although, I wish I could remember. I know my memories are in there—somewhere. The people in the white uniforms stopped telling me long ago that I would get better. I guess it’s true, but I don’t feel crazy.
Tommy Jenkins is another resident who came to Ryker’s Ridge Institution a few years ago. I don’t know his age. I’m guessing he’s half as old as I am. He doesn’t say much either. I usually do most of the talking when we have our daily game of Rummy.
This morning he sat across from me eying his cards as if they were about to speak to him, clueing him in on what suit to play next. He looked across the table at me and then back to his cards.
“Will you just play,” I said irritably.
He shot back with an annoyed smirk and squinting eyes. I didn’t care if I was interrupting his strategy. He had always played in this manner, always taking his time, always dragging the game out at a sloth’s pace.
He drew a card from the stack and scrunched his lips to one side, appearing to bite the inside of his jaw. When he did this gesture, I knew he was in deep thought. Finally, he laid a queen on the table.
“See, that wasn’t so hard,” I said in my most sarcastic tone.
“Bite me,” he said.
I scoffed at the remark and said, “Screw you,” then drew from the deck.
“Why do you always act like this?”
“Act like what?” I said.
“Like a royal d–bag.”
“Yes, a d-bag,” he said.
“What’s so darn funny?”
“Nothing. Let’s play,” I said.
Tommy threw his cards on the table. “I’m not playing anymore until you tell me why you’re laughing.”
“Okay,” I said. “You want to know?”
“Yes,” he said. He clasped his hands together and laid them on the table in front of him, waiting for my response.
“I was laughing because you said d-bag.”
“So,” he said.
“So. It’s funny because every time you try to insult me you can’t use the full word. It’s always been a-hole or son-of-a-b or d-bag. It really detracts from the insult and makes you look ridiculous.”
I watched from across the card table as a mental storm brewed within Tommy. This was the first time I had called him out on his incompetency at verbal warfare. He slid his chair out from the table and bolted upright, scrunching his lips to one side, biting the inside of his jaw.
“Oh yeah,” he began. “Well, f-you, Carter! I don’t need this abuse!” He swatted the stacked deck and cards went flying. He stomped away angrily, across the room and out of my bedroom door.
His outburst made me snicker again. I knew he’d be okay, though. I knew he’d settle down and come to his senses after a bit. I was the only one he had in this place. I was his only friend. I knew he’d be back. He had always come back.
I can’t say exactly for sure how long I’ve been in here with the people in the white uniforms and the ones who have contracted the disease. Time, for me, has become a mangled, splashing sea of lost memories, ones that I’ll probably never recover. But I don’t think too much about it anymore, especially today. The people in the white uniforms tell me that today is my birthday. I don’t know my age, but I do know I’m old. The man in my shaving mirror tells me this often, as he had done earlier.
“Carter Lynch,” he said. “Your face reminds me of a piece of ancient leather. You’re old and washed up. On the brink of insanity. In the midst of a slow, agonizing death.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m not listening to you. You won’t corrupt my thinking today. Today is my birthday.” I wiped the shaving cream from my face and walked away. He’d always been the negative type, that man in the mirror.
I picked up the cards and restacked them on the table. Not long after, I went venturing out of my room, looking for something to appease my time and warrant myself of a grand birthday. And, like most mornings, I decided quickly on what it was that I wanted to do.
The living room, as it was called on our ward, seemed pleasant today, more than usual. There was a scent of vanilla in the air, telling me the cleaning lady had come and gone. Clarence and Daryl watched another episode of Bonanza on the big screen. Though, I’ve always thought that they were probably not watching at all—being oblivious to the horses, to the shootouts, to Lorne Greene’s deep baritone voice. After breakfast, the people in the white uniforms always led them both there, dropping them off to be forgotten, to soil themselves, eventually.
I walked to the service counter where a tray of doughnuts and bagels and the orange juice machine were sitting. Not everyone on my ward has this privilege, to help himself at the service counter. I’ve earned that right throughout my years here. Most residents see the orange juice machine and the coffee maker sitting next to it as a threat of some sort, with the sloshing and percolating. I’ve seen many residents freeze with fear, or retreat and cry out in agony. I used to do it myself, but time and rational thinking have cured me of that. Although, sometimes when I walk away, I’ll look over my shoulder to make sure the machine doesn’t decide to follow me. Only to make sure, of course.
I poured a glass of juice and grabbed a bagel from the tray. When I stepped from the service counter, I nearly ran into Pat, the cleaning lady.
“Good morning, Carter,” she said. She had her usual rag slung over her right shoulder, ready to do battle with any mess that came her way.
I jumped a little and said, “Good morning, Pat. I see you’ve been busy this morning. The ward looks very clean.”
“Thank you,” she said. She stepped around me, grabbed the rag from her shoulder, and wiped the splatter of orange juice and coffee from the counter. I’ll admit, every time a mess occurred, whether big or small, Pat would be there on the spot to clean it. I’m certain she had some innate ability to detect clutter and muck. An incredible ability to have, and appropriate for a cleaning lady. “Going out to the duck pond this morning?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “I wouldn’t miss saying hello to my feathered friends. Mrs. Duck should be hatching her ducklings any day now. It’s an exciting time.”
“Yes. I’m sure it is,” she said. “You enjoy your day.” And as I began to walk away, she said, “Happy birthday, Carter.”
“Thank you,” I said with a sincere smile.
I made my way out the front door and into a cool, but sunny morning. Even though today was my birthday, I was unsure of the day or month. Maybe late March or early April.
There was a brisk breeze that slipped through my open robe that made me reconsider coming outside. But I drudged on. I walked down to the duck pond and took a seat on the weathered bench, where I had always come to admire the ducks.
A blinding glare skipped off the water, hitting me in the eyes. I sat my bagel beside me on the bench and blocked the sun’s rays with my hand over my brow, looking out and over the pond to find the beautiful ducks. I sipped from my glass of orange juice.
I came out to the duck pond every day to watch the wonderful creatures swim and waddle around in the water. I could tell they loved life and I could tell they loved this beautiful pond. The two of them had come about a month ago when a hint of spring was present, but still too brisk for my old bones to endure sitting outside to appreciate the real enjoyment of their company. I could only watch from the front door of the building, or sometimes I’d catch a glimpse from my bedroom window. They were so beautiful, and I’d realized they were mates when I’d discovered Mrs. Duck sitting on her nest of eggs not long ago. I anticipated the arrival of the baby ducks, and I was certain Mrs. Duck did as well. She was a great mother who tended her nest regularly, never straying far from her babies who, I felt certain, were dying to break free and become full-fledged members of society. I couldn’t wait for that day.
Looking around, I couldn’t see Mr. and Mrs. Duck anywhere. I sat my juice beside me, tore my bagel into little pieces, and tossed them out into the water, knowing the ducks would come waddling by as they always had.
Out on the concrete path that surrounded the perimeter of the duck pond I spotted an object lying unbothered and unmoving. I gathered my robe at the front and stood from the bench to go investigate.
Walking along the path, I found that the ducks’ absence today was odd. I had come out every morning for the last week to admire the little creatures, which would be swimming around without a care in the world. But today was different, and I got a sudden chill the closer I advanced toward the object on the concrete path. A sick feeling, really.
I passed some shrubs and crossed a small wooden bridge, and then, only a few feet away, there was the beautiful little creature. A gusty breeze slipped underneath a wing, causing it to flap and simulate flight. Velvety feathers glistened in the sunlight and were still lovely to behold. However, the duck’s small, fragile head had been crushed and a smattering of duck brains and its little crushed bill lie on the ground. A large rock with fresh blood lay nearby. Next to the bank, I saw the nest that mother duck had tended for the last week. Bright yellow goo and smashed eggshells lay in a pile—the remnants of an obvious massacre.
My hands began to tremble and my vision blurred. I was unsure of what to do. The invading panic disrupted my breathing and I felt welling tears forming in my dry eyes. Confused, I wandered down the path, past Mrs. Duck, staggering to the edge of the forest that surrounded the acreage on which Ryker’s Ridge Institution sat. I stood there bent over with my hands resting on my knees, crying and gasping for air. My breath was snatched from my body again when to my right, in a ball of blood and feathers, I saw Mr. Duck, looking as mangled and helpless as his female counterpart. I couldn’t take any more of this brutality. I ventured down the path and around the duck pond until I was a good distance away from the bloody carnage.
The chilly breeze kicked open my robe, exposing my boxers and white undershirt. But I paid little mind to this uncomfortable coolness. I wiped my tears and after a few seconds of blubbering, I regained my good sense. Was I really crying over these animals? Had my life come to this? This was absurd and unlike me. I’d fought in Vietnam, for Christ’s sake. I’d seen enough blood and gore to last a lifetime. I’d seen many a brave soldier with their faces blown off, with mangled limbs hanging from their charred torsos, die in the jungle, in the clutches of my own arms. And now, I was reduced to whimpering like a little school girl, crying because she couldn’t find her dolly. Nonsense, really. Pure nonsense. I hadn’t cried in years, not since my mother’s funeral.
There was only one thing to do. I gathered my composure and went back down the walkway, back to Mrs. Duck and her crushed babies. I had to dispose of her and the nest properly. I couldn’t leave her lying there, neglected, at the mercy of the elements or wild scavenging night animals. She and her unborn ducklings needed a proper send off, and I was just the one to give it to them.
Standing over top of Mrs. Duck, I choked back the knot in my throat. Keeping my composure and my manhood intact wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I began blubbering again. How could anyone treat these harmless creatures with so much cruelty?
I thought about throwing Mrs. Duck over into the edge of the forest with Mr. Duck, but I knew she would be no better off than if I left her lying where she was. Some hungry critter would come in the night and cart them both away. I had to bury them properly. I needed a digging implement of some kind.
Manuel, the grounds-keeper, was already tending to his usual landscaping and yard work. He was walking around with that huge tank on his back spraying the weeds around the building and trees, or anywhere else that a sprouting of unwanted greenery might push through the earth. He’d always called the weeds an abomination. In fact, everything to him was an abomination. His low pay, his beat up 1986 Nissan, his little sister becoming pregnant, all of it was an abomination according to Manuel.
With Manuel busy, I knew I could sneak into the storage building and grab a shovel without anyone noticing. The people in the white uniforms didn’t watch me with the keen eye as they once did when I had first arrived at Ryker’s. I was harmless to them now. Crazy, but harmless.
After getting a shovel, I walked back to the duck pond where the massacre had occurred. I gently lifted Mrs. Duck and placed her on my shovel. I carried her over to the edge of the forest where Mr. Duck lay. I dug a deep hole that both could fit into together, along with their crushed babies. As I was filling in the grave with dirt and leaves, I didn’t think about the person responsible for committing this heinous act on these beautiful creatures. I had been blindsided by sorrow. Then, as I recalled the morning events, I began to realize whom it was that had done this. In my mind, there was only one person vicious enough to do such a thing. I returned the shovel to the storage building and went back inside to celebrate my birthday the only way that I knew how.
Everything was much the same when I reentered the living room of the ward. Clarence and Daryl were still watching TV, both in their drug-induced stupors, with their drool and slobber and saturated pajama bottoms. Walking back to my room, I couldn’t help but think about the family of ducks that I had buried. I couldn’t help but think about the little ducklings that never had a chance to fly, or swim or live. As Manuel would say, this was indeed an abomination.
I sat on the edge of my bed thinking about my dead feathered friends when Tommy stood at my open door, knocking. I invited him in with a casual head motion.
He walked in quietly, with a disposition of a child who knows he’s about to receive a harsh scolding. His crime against the Duck family shamefully filled him with guilt. I could see it plainly on his face.
“Hiya, Carter,” he said sullenly without making eye contact.
“Come in and sit down,” I said, noticing his hesitation at entering my room.
He walked to the card table and sat in his usual chair and I remained on the edge of my bed. “Is there something I can help you with?” I asked, trying to mask my rage.
He sat staring down at his lap, with palms flat on the table.
“I wanted to come by and tell you something.” I said nothing. I waited for more. Finally, he looked up and said, “I’m sorry,” and then went back to staring at his lap.
Hearing his apology, I waited longer in silence, waiting for an all-out sorrowful confession to the murder of my friends, an all-out testimony to the crime he had committed. I wanted him to say what a horrible, despicable person he was. I wanted him to confess to it all.
I waited longer and the silence prompted him to look up again. When he did, there wasn’t an ounce of understanding or remorse upon his murderous face.
Then I said, “Just what is it that you’re sorry for?”
He shot me another confused look and I stood from my bed. His lack of sympathy for the ducks made my skin crawl and gave me that uncomfortable, jittery feeling like when I’d had my bad episodes of anxiety attacks many years ago—that being a major reason why I’d come to Ryker’s in the first place.
This was my first attack in ages, and I felt it coming on with massive intensity.
“What are you sorry for, Tommy? Just say it, damn it!”
“I’m sorry for calling you a d-bag,” he finally said.
“What else?” I demanded. I had to hear him say out loud that he was the one who’d killed the Duck family.
“That’s it, Carter,” he said. “I’m sorry for calling you that name and cussing you out. I’m truly sorry.”
“You killed them,” I said plainly and evenly.
“Carter, you’ve lost your peanuts. I haven’t killed anyone.” He hesitated. “Are you feeling okay? Should I get the nurse?”
“You killed them. You killed my friends!”
Enraged, I sprang like a lioness going for her kill.
“Good god, Carter. You’ve lost it!” He tried to escape, but I darted around the card table and blocked his only viable means to a speedy exit.
“I know you killed them,” I said again.
I gave him little time to react. I wrapped my hands around his neck and applied a grip that caused his face to redden and his forehead to erupt with protruding bluish-green veins. His mouth spat and sputtered trying to heave a breath of air. He grabbed my arms in an attempt to break my grip. We struggled around the room, beating against the walls, my bookshelves, and then finally tumbling over the card table, upsetting it and the chairs on either side.
My attempt at vengeance was stopped when Dozer, a large orderly wearing one of the white uniforms, busted into my room to separate us. With little effort, he brought me to my feet with one of his tree trunk arms.
“Ms. Montgomery ain’t gonna like this,” said Dozer with his cross-eyed look and simpleton grin. “You two are in big trouble.”
“He’s a murderer,” I said through gasping breaths.
“I didn’t kill anyone,” said Tommy. “He’s nuttier than a fruit cake!”
I tried lunging at him once more, but there was no getting around Dozer and his super human power.
“You’re lying,” I said.
“Who’s lying?” asked a voice behind me. “What’s going on here?”
In walked Ruth Ann Montgomery, the head nurse and manager of our ward.
“Tommy and Carter were having themselves a little go-around, Ms. Montgomery,” said Dozer.
“That crazy a-hole tried to kill me,” said Tommy.
“You killed the ducks. I know it was you,” I said.
“What ducks?” said Tommy. “Ms. Montgomery, I haven’t killed anyone.”
“He killed them,” I said. “Killed them dead. I buried them out on the edge of the forest and—”
“That’s enough, Carter,” said Ruth Ann. She picked up one of the folding chairs and with her shoe scooted a few of the cards into a pile. “Dozer, get Pat in here to clean this mess. Tommy, go to your room and cool off. Carter, come with me.”
I was taken to the holding room where I would wait until evaluated. Many years had passed since I’d last visited the holding room with its padded, white walls and encompassing terror. I had told myself that I would never go back to that hell again. But here I was, deep within the belly of the beast, a place that no one at Ryker’s wanted to go.
Sitting in a corner, I was unsure of the passing time. Dozer must have stuck me with a sedative. I was groggy and my anxiety was simmering also. As my nerves calmed, I heard the sliding of the door’s lock move from left to right. I remembered that particular sound well.
Walking in was Ruth Ann, with her ever-present casual, confident swagger. Unlike the others who worked at Ryker’s, donning the white uniforms, she wore a flowery shirt with a black skirt, which didn’t permit the slimming and sleek illusion as the color is generally known to do. Instead, when she walked, her enormous hips rocked side-to-side with each step.
Dozer followed closely behind with a chair and placed it not far from me. Ruth Ann sat, resting comfortably, on the verge of instructing me as to what she intended to do next. I knew the routine. I’d been here before.
I watched Dozer walk back over to the door to stand, as if he were watching over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He knew his role. Ruth Ann saw to that.
“So, Carter,” she said. “Tell me more about your outburst with Tommy.”
I brought my attention from Dozer to Ruth Ann, except, I didn’t make eye contact right away. I stared at her swelled ankles and followed up her calves, which were protruding with varicose veins, past her exploding muffin top, and finally looked into her serious eyes.
“I couldn’t help it,” I said. “Mr. and Mrs. Duck…they’re gone.”
“Yes, I heard,” she said. “But that doesn’t give you the right to attack Mr. Jenkins, does it?”
She was using one of her trick questions, and I knew exactly what she wanted me to say. I held my position on the matter. I had to…for Mr. and Mrs. Duck and their unborn babies.
“He’s a murderer,” I said. “He deserved it.”
Ruth Ann crossed her fat legs and said, “Maybe it was an accident. Maybe Mr. Jenkins didn’t mean to harm the ducks.”
“He assassinated them based on revenge,” I said. “Tommy was angered because I had laughed him out of my room this morning. That’s all this amounts to—plain and simple.”
“I see,” said Ruth Ann. She uncrossed her legs and stood from her chair. I noticed her give a nod to Dozer who then walked to where I sat and without effort lifted me to my feet. “Come with me, Carter,” said Ruth Ann. “I want to show you something.”
I wasn’t sure of where I was going, but I was glad I was getting out of the holding room. A person could really go crazy in there.
Walking through the living room, I followed Ruth Ann, and Dozer followed me. When she opened and walked out the front door, I had a good idea of where she was taking me, and I didn’t want to go. I tried turning around, but Dozer stopped me, blocking my path.
“I’d rather not go out there,” I said in a panic.
“This will only take a few minutes,” Ruth Ann said.
I followed her to the duck pond, to the place where the massacre had occurred earlier that morning. My stomach churned, and I felt like vomiting. But I was trapped, no way of turning back, no way of escaping this horrible scene that I was about to relive.
Ruth Ann stopped at the edge of the duck pond.
“Have a seat, Carter,” she said, pointing to the weather-beaten bench on which I normally sat.
I eased gently on the bench and turned my head from the water in front of me. I couldn’t look, knowing that Mr. and Mrs. Duck would never be there again. I squeezed my eyelids tightly.
“Do you see that?” asked Ruth Ann.
“No. I don’t want to,” I said, keeping my eyes shut.
“Open your eyes, Carter,” she said, sternly.
“No,” I said again.
“Do it now or you’ll go back to the holding room.”
I didn’t want to go back to the holding room. I didn’t ever want to go back to that awful place. So, I did as Ruth Ann demanded. I slowly opened my eyes.
“What do you see?” she asked.
I hesitated. Out in front of me the water rippled tiny waves in the direction of the bank where Mrs. Duck had kept her nest of unborn ducklings.
She asked me again, “What do you see, Carter?”
And again, I couldn’t answer. The wrenching of my intestines worsened and I did indeed vomit, in front of me, beside Ruth Ann. Unfazed, she backed away only a step or two.
I wiped my mouth on the sleeve of my robe and said, “I see the duck pond.”
“Look again,” she said, grabbing a handful of my hair, tilting my head. “What is it that you see, Carter?”
“The duck – duck pond,” I said, looking and shutting my eyes again.
She said, “There is no pond, Carter. There never has been. You need to stop this, this pretending. It’s not good for you.”
I wasn’t pretending. I knew what I saw. I’d come out here to this same bench every morning for the last week with my bagel to feed the ducks, and to enjoy the pristine water and the wonderful morning air.
“I’m not pretending,” I said. “Stop saying that. Why are you saying that?”
Ruth Ann bent over a little and spoke directly in my ear.
“Carter?” she said and waited for my response.
“Yes,” I said.
“How long have you been a resident at Ryker’s?”
I wasn’t exactly sure, but I gave the most logical answer.
“A long time.”
“Have we always had a duck pond?” she asked, again directly into my ear.
I stalled with my answer. I was unsure. The question prompted me to probe deeper into the archives of my mind, but I still couldn’t give an honest answer.
I pinched my eyelids tighter and said, “I – I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure.”
She said, “I’m going to ask you to open your eyes one more time and then you’re going to tell me what you see, okay?” This time I nodded. “Good. Now open your eyes and tell me and Dozer what you see.”
I didn’t want to, but I also didn’t want to return to the holding room. The lids of my eyes slowly parted and I stared out, straight in front of me. In my peripheral view I noticed Ruth Ann motion to Dozer with a pointed finger in the direction of the duck pond. From behind me, the large man walked around the bench.
He walked out into the water, ten feet or so from the bank, and spun to face Ruth Ann and me. Now, I thought he was the crazy person, not me.
“Jump up and down,” Ruth Ann instructed.
Dozer did as he was told, splashing and rippling the water around him.
“See,” said Ruth Ann, “no water.”
By now, I was really starting to question her sanity as well.
“But I do see water,” I said.
“Look closer, Carter. Concentrate.”
Again, Dozer jumped. This time, I saw something, something I hadn’t noticed before. The rippling water around Dozer slowly faded. I watched the farthest, tiniest wave and followed it backwards, where instead of getting larger, it slowly erased. And, I no longer heard the splashing sounds.
Agitated, I blinked. I rubbed my eyes until the blurriness went away. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. No longer jumping, instead, keeping perfectly still, Dozer appeared to be standing in a vacant lot or on some sort of cement slab. He was clearly not in the duck pond as he had been only seconds ago. I rubbed my eyes again.
“Do you see it now?” asked Ruth Ann. “Do you see what I’m talking about?” I did see it. But I didn’t want to. I nodded. “See, there’s no pond or ducks,” she said.
I watched Dozer return from the concrete slab.
It was all false, all of it, this entire time. There was no pond. There were no ducks. But what did I bury earlier this morning? Now, I wasn’t sure. More make-believe moments from a time which I had thought had been real. But Ruth Ann Montgomery convinced me otherwise. Was it a pile of leaves? Trash? I became frightened by this detachment from reality. I’d rather I hadn’t been told.
“Come on,” said Ruth Ann. “It’s over. Let’s go back inside.”
I walked away from what once was a pond that had not only reflected the beautiful sky on its placid water, but had also released a culminating brilliance of love and life upon my battered being and relieved a little unspoken heartache and misery each day that I had to spend at Ryker’s Ridge Institution.
The three of us went back inside the building, which I had always tried to escape, and I attempted to enjoy the rest of my birthday. Going straight to my room, however, I laid down to rest. I wanted to forget about this exhausting day.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt invigorated. I had slept wonderfully and had all but forgotten the happenings of the previous day. Today, I felt alive and very well.
I dressed myself and walked out to the living room where Clarence and Daryl watched television, intently, unblinking, and never moving. I smelled the air and again I knew Pat had already made her rounds of cleaning the ward. I walked over to the service counter to pour myself a glass of orange juice and grabbed a bagel from the tray.
Walking outside, I noticed a bright sun hovering above the eastern horizon, and the morning dew glinted off the green grass. The day was beautiful already.
I made my way to the weathered bench and sat my orange juice beside me. Looking out, the pond was more magical than ever. I saw the beauty in it as I always had. I didn’t care what Ruth Ann Montgomery had to say. I loved this pond, and I was going to keep it.
I tore my bagel in half, and from that, I ripped tiny pieces, throwing them out and into the water. Not long after, from around the bushes, over in the farthest corner of the pond, swam Mr. and Mrs. Duck, followed by a trail of little ducklings.
“Well,” I said to the family of ducks, “I see congratulations are in order.”
The family of ducks swam to the floating pieces of bagel and helped themselves. When the first half of bagel was consumed, I tore the other into tiny, bite-sized morsels and tossed them out to my feathered friends.
I enjoyed the ducks’ company and they enjoyed mine. And that’s all that mattered to me.