Esmeralda held her father’s hand crossing the street in front of the great green field. She stepped onto the curb and let go – her father tried to hang on, but Emmie won – and sprinted through the field sloping to the stream that fed the wide pond beyond the trees.
Emmie toed the polished stones in the stream’s bed to make sure they would not move as she stepped from one to the other, the cold current flowing around them. When she felt unsure she put up her left hand, her eyes still studying the stones. Her father’s hand was there to steady her. He kept pace on the bank. Emmie withdrew her hand when her confidence returned. She continued on her path of stones until the stream widened, meeting the pond. She stopped on the last stone, raised her arms and her father swung her onto the grassy bank. She ran along the pond’s raised embankment to their favorite spot. Her father followed, walking. Carrying the bread.
Emmie waited on a wide white embankment-stone a couple of feet above the pond’s surface. As soon as they saw her, they would come. She was Esmeralda.
The Bold Ones were first. Then the Followers. Then the Laggards. And then the Extra-Bold Ones. They liked to push their way to the front, eating the most bread. Emmie frowned at them.
She reached her hand. Her father gave her a half-slice of bread. She tore off a piece and tossed it to the Followers. A trio of ducklings shared it. It was gone before a Bold One could take it. Emmie smiled.
She tore another piece.
“Not so big,” said her dad.
Emmie threw it again. A mother duck got it, but didn’t give it to her babies.
She tore a piece and threw it. It tumbled in the air and landed in clear water near some smaller Laggards. An Extra-Bold mallard raced to it, wings flapping, quacking – scaring away the younger mallards. Emmie scowled at him.
“Like this, Em.”
Her dad tore and tore again the half-slice in his hand. And tore it again…several times. Like a rotating sprinkler his wrist flicked the shredded pieces, fanning them in a wide arc.
The ducks raced in all directions, sweeping up the shower of bread.
“Now. Tear a little piece of yours and give it to the one you want. He won’t be bothered by those guys.”
Emmie tore a tiny corner and flipped it to one lonely duck intimidated by the new commotion. The duck seemed shocked to see a little treat appear under his bill.
She tore another tiny piece and tossed it into the water near the white embankment stones. The lonely duck surged a bit and gobbled it. Emmie’s father now fanned bits of lettuce into a semi-circle around Esmeralda. He dropped a few pieces onto the white slabs for the Bold Ones. Emmie complained about the Bold Ones, but she liked when they hopped on shore to surround her.
Emmie took a bite of bread. This was inevitable. She tossed another piece onto the flat rock. Her duck flapped up onto the slab. Emmie cackled.
“Easy, Em. You’ll scare him.”
She ate another piece.
“Well, if you wouldn’t eat the bread…”
He gave her a big leaf of lettuce.
“Now, rip it into tiny pieces…tiny pieces, Em.”
These would last longer – she was not a fan of raw lettuce.
Emmie backed away from the embankment slabs, dropping remnants of lettuce. The little duck, too intimidated to compete with his friends, jumped onto the grass scarfing Emmie’s lettuce, piece by piece. He was bolder than the Extra-Bold!
Emmie, backing away, tore off bites of lettuce and dropped them faster than the brave duck could eat them.
“Can we keep him? Can we!”
“Slow down, Em! Here’s the last piece.”
She took the leaf and began shredding and strewing.
“I’m going to make a line all the way home! And he’s going to follow us and…”
Emmie looked at her single leaf of lettuce and then peered over her shoulder up the long slope of green toward her home. She frowned.
“Go home and get more lettuce,” said Esmeralda. “And cheese, too.”
Her father laughed.
“I’m not going home. The duck isn’t going to follow us home, either. This is his home, Em. Although…he does seem to like you.”
Emmie and her solitary duck were a good fifteen feet from the pond. Now that she and her father had backed away from the embankment the flock of ducks – Followers, Laggards, Bold Ones, ducklings…all of them – had flapped up to the grass, looking for lettuce and bread crumbs. But Emmie watched her duck. He had started out shy and now he was bold. He was a leader, The King of the Ducks. Emmie was going to take him home. She would fill up her swimming…
Emmie jumped back. Fingers stinging as if she had snapped a rubber band on them.
The Extra Bold One who had first hopped onto the embankment slab, following her father’s lettuce, had come up behind Emmie and snatched the large leaf of lettuce she held in her right hand.
Emmie’s sharp bark at being bitten scared the flock into the water.
Including her favorite: the shy, but brave one. The King of the Ducks.
After a few seconds of being shocked Emmie looked at her hand and said, “Ow.”
Her dad laughed, but knelt and inspected her hand.
“They don’t have teeth. That’s good. But I bet it hurt.”
“I scared away my duck.”
“That’s okay. He got a lot to eat and now he knows you. We’ll be back and he’ll swim to you and he won’t be afraid. How does it feel, now? I bet it doesn’t sting anymore.”
“I can still feel it,” said Emmie.
They walked away from the pond. Her father held her hand as she stepped over the slippery river stones. He held her hand as they walked up the rising field toward their big blue house with the swingset in the back yard.
They were quiet. Usually Emmie chattered or he told her a story. But they were quiet.
“I can still feel it,” said Esmeralda as they crossed the street in front of their house.
by Brian Wapole ©2012