Where Have All the Ducks Gone?
As she often did these days, Louise walked
alone into the urban park, wandering down a wide avenue lined with
lime trees. It was raining a little, but sunlight penetrated through
gaps in the clouds, giving the park an odd, luminescent glow. The
light seemed alien to Louise, like it wasn't real, like it'd somehow
been artificially painted onto the gloomy air. She turned left down a
narrow pathway and her attention was drawn to a couple standing in
the shadows under an oak tree, engrossed in a kiss. She stopped and
stared at them, then bit down on her lip and hurried on.
the rain eased off, Louise came across a bench opposite a duck pond.
She unfolded a plastic bag from her pocket, placed it on the seat and
sat down. She lit a cigarette, removed a novel, Of
Love and Shadows, from her
bag and began to read. A few moments later, she glanced up to see a
white-haired man sit on the other end of the bench.
turned to her. "Where have all the ducks gone?" he
He pointed a shaky finger
towards the pond. "The ducks. There used to be lots, but I
haven't seen any for a fortnight. Where do you think they've
"Err.dunno." Louise took a drag on her
cigarette and went back to reading.
"I mean, this is a
city. There are no other parks with ponds for several miles. So where
can they have vanished to?"
Louise looked up. "Dunno.
Weird, I guess."
"One day here. Next day gone. How
can that happen?"
She shrugged. "Beats me."
Then she returned to her book.
"My wife and I used to
come here together. She liked feeding the ducks."
was my Felicity. She'd cut off her sandwich crusts each lunch-time
for them. Every day for fifteen years."
but it does trouble me. How can things suddenly disappear like that?
After so many years?"
Louise puffed on her cigarette,
then blew out the smoke from the corner of her mouth. "Maybe
they got fed up with city life and flew off to somewhere nicer."
maybe something killed them. I wondered about a fox."
be one explanation."
"But if a fox had killed them
all in one night, there'd have been feathers and bits of bird left
and there weren't."
"Good point." Louise
shifted her position and crossed her legs.
don't want to come across as some old nutter. And I don't mean to
pester you. It's just you look like my grand-daughter. She has a
young, fresh face and long red hair too, like my Felicity had when
she was young."
"Actually, my hair's dyed."
It's still pretty, dear."
spoke to the park warden about the ducks. He didn't know why they'd
gone. He thought they'd come back, but they haven't."
she said, putting her novel back in her handbag.
thermos-flask rolled off his lap onto the bench. He picked it up with
a trembling hand and sighed. "Sometimes things don't come back,
even if you want them to."
Louise hesitated and then
turned to face him directly. "No, you're right. They
"Life gives and takes without mercy or
"Is.is that a quote?"
something I read recently: life gives and takes without mercy or
measure. I'm not a big reader, but I remembered that. I think it's
Louise paused for a moment. "You know, I do
"My Felicity believed in God, but I don't.
Some things in life just can't be explained. There are no reasons
"I'd agree there."
if there are no reasons, if you don't believe in God, what have you
got to fall back on when life takes without mercy?" He didn't
seem to be directing this question to Louise, but to the air, the
world, in front of him.
Louise tossed her still-burning
cigarette to the ground and stubbed it out firmly with one boot. "I'm
afraid I don't know," she said quietly.
we're not alone helps I think. Knowing there are other people out
there who are also hurting. Strangers we might pass in a street. Or
even in a park." He turned and offered her a slight smile, one
that held a shadow in it.
She was silent, contemplating his
sad smile. Then she stood up, grabbed the plastic bag from the seat
and thrust it in her pocket.
but I've got to go now."
"Take care of yourself
then, dear. Sorry to have rambled on."
apologise. It's been nice. Interesting. But I have to go.
Sorry. Got to. Take care." She walked briskly away.
began to rain. She didn't have an umbrella, but didn't care. She
tipped her head back, letting the rain-drops fall on her face, hoping
they might disguise the tears running down her cheeks.
the park, Louise wiped her face surreptitiously with a hand. She
turned right and noticed a flower vendor by the park railings. She
stopped, eyes fixed on the bunches of bluebells.
want something, love?" asked the vendor from under his
The man took
her money and handed her a bunch. "Don't they just remind you of
spring, despite the rain," he said.
She looked down but
said nothing, and clutched the flowers to her. She hurried to a taxi
rank. "Where to?" asked the driver.
cemetery on Mersea Road."
They drove in silence. Louise
watched the windscreen wipers moving slowly back and forth, as if
waving a long goodbye.
At the cemetery she paid, got out, and
walked over to a familiar tombstone: JOHAN SMITH, 1985-2008, BELOVED
HUSBAND AND SON.
She traced the word 'Husband' with a finger,
then placed the flowers on the grave. "Johan. I brought
bluebells, your favourites." She crouched behind the tombstone
to shelter from the weather, lit a cigarette, inhaled and blew out,
watching the smoke disappear into the air.
Wimhurst studied for a doctorate in Mexican Surrealism after getting
an MA in social anthropology. She has also worked in publishing, but
now suffers from M.E./CFIDS. She writes fiction and non-fiction and
has been (or will be) published in Guardian.co.uk,
Bust Down the Doors and
All the Chickens, The
Abacot Journal, the
'Bradley Sands is a Dick'
anthology, the 'Lost Voices'
anthology, and InterAction.
She was a winner of the Tate
Modern short story competition 'TH2058: Imagining London in 2058',
which accompanied the exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern,
London in 2009. The story will be part of an audiobook recorded by
the English actor Christopher Ecclestone.