The Wood Duck

I read The Wood Duck by James Thurber, sitting on a bench across from the lions.  The lions were disinterested.  My wife appeared with an ice cream.  What do you think of those lions, I asked.  Ooh, she said, I think they’re kind of frightening out there.  Do you think they’re kind of frightening?  She offered me a lick of the ice cream.  They’re in a cage, I said.  I took the lick.  But, yes, I think they’re kind of frightening, I said.  She offered me the ice cream and I took it, handed her the small book from which I’d been reading.  My girlfriend found us.  She caught her breath.  She sat beside me and I asked her what she thought of the lions.  What are you reading, she asked my wife.  I’m not, said my wife, I’m eating an ice cream. I took a lick of the ice cream and handed it back to her and she smiled but kept the book.  Our daughter climbed out of the mouth of one of the lions, hopped the moat and squeezed through the cage bars.  She sat on my lap and wiped the goop from her eyes.  What do you think of the lions, I asked.  What were you reading, asked my wife.  The Wood Duck, I said, by James ThurberOoh, said my girlfriend.  I think they’re big slobber monsters, said my daughter.  She stood up and wiped her hands on the concrete at our feet.  She took up a bunch of leaves and wiped them down the length of her red and white dress.  They clung to her here and there like feathers.  That’s the one where the duck nearly dies, said my girlfriend.  I nodded and she said, it’s a boring story, no? I shrugged.  The lions were on the move.  Our daughter went about plucking the leaves from her dress and my wife said, here, I’ll help you. Two lions climbed together the highest rock and mounted its point.  They lay beside one another, on one another.  They yawned.  My girlfriend yawned and my mother turned the corner.  She shook her head, came over to us.  She pulled a leaf from our daughter’s hair and said, They’ll hand you over to the wolves soon enough, Ducky.  She let the leaf fall, didn’t bother with the others.  That’s a horrible thing to say, said my wife.  She put both hands on our daughter and held her close.  I was just watching the lions.  How does that story end? my girlfriend asked.  I honestly couldn’t remember.  The duck gets eaten by a wolf, I said.  My mother turned to see what I was looking at and stuck out her bottom lip at the lions.  You’re going to spend all day by the lions, are you? It’s true, I’d been there most of the day.  Makes it easier to find him, said my girlfriend.  My mother watched the lions.  My wife finished her ice cream.  The wood duck does not get eaten by wolves, she explained to our daughter.  The wood duck makes it out just fine, understand? Our daughter nodded.  Those things are lazy cowards, said my mother.  She turned back to us.  Have you seen the baboons yet? None of us had.  Look just like people, she said, tightening her scarf.  Look just like you.  She touched my arm, took a tuft of hair between her fingers and pulled.  My mother did a pelvic thrust and said, let’s get out of here. To the baboons! She pointed in the direction from which my wife’s sister was approaching.  What are we doing, I asked, keeping something like that in a cage?  My wife’s sister shrugged and said we had to.  We had cages.  We had lions.  Couldn’t let the lions roam the streets of D.C., now could we?  She finished her cigarette and sat down beside my girlfriend.  I wanted another lick of ice cream but there wasn’t any ice cream, so I asked my girlfriend for a cigarette.  You should quit, said my mother.  I didn’t know you smoked, said my wife.  My daughter asked for one too and my girlfriend said it was the last one.  My wife’s sister started laughing and didn’t stop until I was done smoking the cigarette.  I looked at the lions and said, they don’t give a shit about that cage.  Look at how much they don’t give a shit.  My wife elbowed me.  I was cursing in front of our daughter.  I apologized, put out the cigarette.  We all stood up at exactly the same moment.  Our daughter swung from her mother’s arms.  We each took turns carrying the slobbery thing as we walked.  I asked if we could get a stuffed lion and my mother said, yes.  I looked at my girlfriend, who was carrying our daughter, and asked, why can’t we remember the ending of that story?  I don’t know, she said, you just finished reading it. I asked, can we only hold so much information, and we eventually reach a point where things no longer stick? My mother shook her head.  If we don’t remember something does it mean it didn’t happen? My wife said, no. I asked, if I really read the story, and if I don’t remember the ending, does that mean the story failed in some way? My wife’s sister laughed and took our daughter from my girlfriend.  What good is a mind that can’t remember?  We were back at the lions.  They were licking their paws.  They seemed somehow in perfect control of everything.  They seemed somehow great Gods of the earth.  You start taking notes next time you’re reading, said my mother.  You keep them with you all the time and check them when your mind drops a thing or two.  That way you won’t have to talk about it so much.  That way we can enjoy our visit to the zoo, William.  Everybody disappeared and I was sitting back down, across from the lions, with the book in my hand.  I got up and went over to the duck pond and there was a wood duck, paddling.  I watched it for what felt like forever.  But it wasn’t forever at all and I thought, that story is not real at all.  I tore the pages out of the small book and ripped them into tiny pieces, which I scattered on the surface of the duck pond.  The ducks swam over.  The wood duck bobbed its head, came up with a mouthful of The Wood Duck.  They all made sounds of gratitude and support, the different ducks, and I walked toward the ice cream vending machines.  I bought two perfect sandwiches and ate them on the bus.