Thumb absently rubbing my finger, I watch him moving through the bar. It looks like a game of “Duck Duck Goose,” all the girls with no dates watching him circle, each ready to chase him the moment he singles them out.
But he chooses me.
“Hey,” he says with a cocksure grin, “you want to dance?”
I follow the rules of the game, I rise to follow him while all the rest watch. In that moment, I want nothing more than to feel like a child again, to throw myself headlong into a carefree pursuit.
I want to, but…
“You’re not having a good time,” he notes after a couple songs.
“I’m sorry,” I answer. “It’s not your fault.”
To his credit, he doesn’t look at all wounded by my lack of enthusiasm. He simply gives an understanding nod, then asks, “The tattoo on your finger?”
Once more, my thumb presses into the black ink line on my ring finger where a metal band used to rest. Somehow, I find myself smiling. “Actually, he was a duck all along.”
I leave alone that night. Looking up at the sky, I see the stars for once and not the darkness between.
* * *
A story by Gregory M. Fox
Today, a duck reminded me of how the world ended.
I never thought it would be possible for me to forget a single detail of the meteor you sent hurtling into my life. The words you spoke were a life-smothering cataclysm. Blindsided, all I could do was stare straight ahead at the pond, where a family of ducks swam in slow, uneven circles.
I still remember the ducks with perfect clarity, but find I can no longer remember your words. Though I endlessly retraced every syllable, every pause, every shift in intonation, turning the crater into a canyon, I now recall only muffled echoes. The chasms I carved were just scribbling in the sand, and the pain that bored so deeply into my heart is now cold, inert, and surprisingly small.
There are still scars, of course. A few of the joys we shared have fossilized within me, brittle monuments of a different life. Occasionally, one of them turns up. Occasionally, a duck reminds me of incomprehensible sorrow. But life has returned, new and varied and beautiful. The world spins on. And it turns out that the moment I thought was the end of everything was only a fleeting shudder.
Photo by Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash
Story by Gregory M. Fox