There he lay in the gutter, the one duck that stood taller than all the rest. Literally. He must have been a different breed or mix because he surely wasn’t an ordinary duck. The majority – mallards and your typical white ducks – were gathered on the sidewalk, preening, eating corn, while he lay there cold in the gutter. Not the smartest thing to build a duck pond near a busy road. As I marched along on my morning walk, all joy went out of me when I saw him there, his neck unnaturally bent back. Oh, yes, the city will come and take him away as they always do, but this duck was getting a proper burial. I stood and looked down at him for a bit, thinking how quickly life can get snatched from any of us – just weeks ago he was stretching his long neck, looking prettier than most, paddling his orange feet along in cool muddy water, drifting with the others like bobbing marshmallows on a cup of cocoa. One brief mistake and now, he lies here at my feet, silent and cold.
I hustled home, grabbed two shovels, one for digging, the other for lifting him off the street, two paper sacks, my gloves. I pulled in behind and got the flat shovel and paper bags, tearing one open to use as a sort of stretcher, then laid him on it, folded it gently and slid it inside the other sack. His head, hung over the side, his golden eye glassy. A parks and recreation truck pulled up behind and a big man named Jim approached. I’ll take him if you want he said. I would like to bury him, I told him. He said I could but offered again. I asked if they would bury him. We have a place in the yard” he said – I imagined a mass grave and others who hadn’t made it across the road, telling him that I really wanted to take this one and find him a nice spot. He told me how many ducks he’d picked up over the years as I looked down at my duck and his greenish bill hanging down over the side of my grocery sack. I set him gently on the floor of the car and went off to find a soft patch of earth.
I drove around, testing several spots, everywhere the ground was just too hard for digging. Then I remembered a meadow where we’d pull grass for the little pigmy goats, I’d go there. I put the shovel in and gave it a shove with my foot and it slid into soft earth beneath long green grass. Yes, he would go here, beneath this tree. I managed a hole big enough, pulling back huge handfuls of grass, until I had one the right size, then I laid him in it, looked at him there, wishing I could straighten him and make him perfect. A few feathers blew out and floated on the wind as I laid the dirt gently on top of him and then tamped it down with soft green grass on top. A dot of blood was on my shovel from where the car bit into his side. I said a prayer that God would watch over him. He will be the tallest duck in Heaven.