Sandy Szymanski was worried that she was turning into a duck, but the worst thing about her predicament by far was how nobody seemed to care. “Eh, I doubt it,” her landlord said when he came to inspect the transom window through which some hooligan had thrown, overnight, a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. “You are an enviably attractive woman with some funny ideas but a good heart and in any case it’s impossible for human beings to turn into ducks, at least I’ve never heard of that happening.” He explained that fixing the window would be difficult and costly, due to the fact that the frame was bent, so would she mind just taping some cardboard and plastic up to cover the hole? He didn’t mention that he’d never raised her rent even though the neighborhood was rapidly gentrifying and apartment units there now went for two or even three times what she paid. Sandy poked around in the pantry for a trash bag.
“I’m turning into a duck and nobody seems to care,” Sandy said to her friend Sheila Shine as they waited in line at the trendy brunch place that Sandy honestly didn’t think was that good. But Sheila was crushing on one of the servers at the restaurant, a chubby young woman with a shaved head, so she’d insisted that they go there, even though there was no guarantee they would get her as their server. “It’s all in your head,” Sheila said, trying to calculate which party would be seated in which portion of the restaurant. “People don’t transform into pigs, except for that one time in the Odyssey, which was a myth.” She let the couple behind them go ahead of them, claiming that she and Sandy were waiting for a friend. “You’re not listening,” Sandy said. “No, not really,” Sheila admitted.
Their turn came and whether by accident or design, the object of Sheila’s affection happened to be their server for the day. “My friend here who’s awesome but kind of insane believes she’s turning into a duck,” Sheila told the woman by way of flirtatious small talk. “Radical,” said the gal, who turned out to be chatty. “Ducks are super-cool.” “Sure ducks are cool but I don’t want to become one,” Sandy replied. “For one thing, they make their nests in mud amidst the reeds, and I don’t want to have to do that, I don’t want to sit in mud.” “You’ll be famous,” Sheila said. “You’ll be the most famous duck in the world, with millions of views.” “If you’re worried that somebody will eat you,” added the waitress, “then rest assured nobody will eat you. We’ll form a watch group that will watch you day and night, to see to that.” She drew their attention to the special, the buckwheat crepe, made with burrata, turnip, spring onion, and sunny-side eggs.
Later that evening Reginald also tried putting Sandy’s mind at ease as they walked in the gloomy, soggy park. He was a friend of a friend and they’d met at a party a couple of weeks ago, and since then they’d hung out one or two times. Tonight he’d invited her to come look at the park, which was gloomy and soggy due to all the rain they’d been having that spring, an intolerable amount. Parts of the park looked more like a swamp than like a park, the trees looming miserably out of the water, and long crooked stretches of sidewalk flooded, impassable.
Reginald wore a long black designer coat that was fraying, that had little holes in its sleeves and that made him look even more like a vampire than he had on the evening they’d met. Eyeing him now in the humid twilight Sandy couldn’t decide if she liked that. On the one hand, she didn’t like it, but on the other hand, she did.
“When you turn into a duck,” the pale man was saying, “you can go to the 7-Eleven and go inside and grab any item that you want, a bag of chips or a protein bar, and flap away with it, and no one can arrest you.” Sandy didn’t think that was true but she didn’t see any point in getting into an argument with Reginald, who was trying to lift her spirits. “Quack, quack,” she replied.
Mosquitoes bit them and since they weren’t far from his apartment he asked if she wanted to come up and drink some tea and listen to music. Sandy said sure. And once they got there as she expected he put the moves on her, tentatively and clumsily, but also kindly, and even though she was miffed that he didn’t agree that her fingers and toes looked webbed, in time she succumbed to his advances.
Two months later, Sheila was living with the waitress, whose name was Hoopoe. That wasn’t her birth name; she was Romanian and she’d changed her name when she’d moved to the US to pursue her dream of becoming a stand-up comedian with a hit Netflix series and quirky roles in indie films. Concluding her set which admittedly still needed work but was coming along fairly nicely she rejoined Sheila and Sandy and pointed out that Sandy was still human. But the fact that her transformation was happening slowly did nothing to console poor Sandy Szymanski.
Later that night though as she lay on the hardwood floor smoking pot with Reginald, Sandy tried once more to look on the brighter side. When she was a duck, she wouldn’t have to own a cell phone or work a job or pay her credit card bills or wear clothing, or need to fuss about with contact lenses or glasses. And there were worse animals that a person could turn into—worse birds, even, like the chicken, or the starling. Ducks could be mean if they wanted to be mean, could quack at people and shit on their cars, and Sandy knew plenty of scoundrels in dire need of comeuppance.
The pot helped her sleep, helped her forget the flocks of ducks who were at that moment down at the riverside whispering about her, huddling and saying how it wouldn’t be much longer before she had no choice but to waddle down there and join them. It also helped her ignore the drunken bozos outside busy yapping it up, cavalier hipsters screaming and drinking and fighting and smooching, dopes whose carefree ways astonished and offended.
But in the morning as she drank the terrible coffee Reginald made, Sandy remembered that she didn’t want to turn into a duck, to float down the river eating bugs, plunging her neck underwater, sticking her ass in the air. She wanted to finish the one-act play she’d been trying to write since she’d finished college, the play that she didn’t know how to finish and why not? The play was just one act and she wasn’t a dunce with a pumpkin for a head; she was a formidable young woman with great potential, as her English professors had told her. But it was impossible, the play; while short its structure was too complex, its ending elusive. It hurt her brain to think about it and when she turned into a duck, she could put the play out of mind and forget about it. Ducks didn’t write plays. Ducks didn’t have any time for the theater or the arts, being too busy scrounging for food and raising their young and evading coyotes and eagles and foxes and hawks and wicked kids who threw sticks and rocks at them, and how long did ducks even live? Merely a couple of years at best, if they got lucky.
Two years later, Sandy came home to find a note scotch-taped to her front door in which her landlord explained in a roundabout, apologetic fashion that he was sorry, but property taxes had gone up so much he had no choice but to sell the building. Sandy wasn’t surprised, just like she wasn’t surprised when the new owner tripled the rent in order to force the tenants out so she could gut rehab all the units. Sandy suggested to Reginald that they get a new place together, and one month later, they did.
Sheila and Hoopoe attended the housewarming party with their respective girlfriends. Their breakup hadn’t caused any hard feelings and the two women, now close friends, brought Sandy a plush duck doll that even Sandy had to admit was funny. It slouched on the sofa, cute and cuddly, as everyone drank mimosas and ate hash browns and omelets with salsa, queso, and chorizo. And later on as she passed out slices of the brown butter apple tart that she had made, Hoopoe reminded Sandy she wanted to read her play, which was nearly finished, nearly finished, almost done, because her director friend was looking for works for a festival of one-acts. They scheduled a coffee date later that week, but not at the trendy place where Hoopoe no longer worked, and which in any case by now was no longer trendy.
Late morning became the afternoon and then the evening, and Sandy didn’t once mention turning into a duck, but not because she didn’t think it was going to happen. Indeed, she was more convinced than ever that it would. But watching and listening to the people who’d come to wish her and Reginald well, the people she’d chosen to admit into her pre-Anatidaen life, Sandy resolved to focus on who and what was at hand until the moment she transformed, because when it happened, it would happen, and that would be that. She’d be a duck.
Between you and me, Sandy didn’t believe that she was turning into a duck. People don’t do that and she was worried about something else, something she couldn’t confront directly, something so terrible and strange she needed to weave an outlandish metaphor around it in order to think about it at all. Which is reasonable; I’d do the same thing if I were her, and while I know what was really troubling her, I’m sure you’ll understand if I refrain from repeating it here. Sandy is great if a little confused and I like her a lot; I hope things work out for her and Reginald and their new place and their friends, and that she finishes her play and that it’s terrific and gets put on and is well received. And when the time comes, her moment of truth, I have no doubt she’ll face it with dignity and grace, and make a great duck, a wonderful duck. If you happen to see her before I do, by all means, be sure to tell her I said that.