I was doing my weekly duty with Dad by taking him the park on Saturday. As usual, I picked him up at the assisted living place (I guess that’s what they call nursing homes now), and I bought us some sodas and sandwiches on the way. It was the middle of May and we sat on a park bench near the small pond. He was feeding the ducks and I was sucking on a soda can trying to get the last drops out from the bottom. I had an amnesia of sorts, sucking on the can repeatedly expecting there to be something in the far reaches. Definition of insanity, I guess.
It was a nice day at the park and I wasn’t sweating as much as I usually do this time of year. There was a tiny breeze that occasionally worked its way through the dense oak trees near the lake. Dad insisted on this bench near the water; the only one without much shade. If someone was sitting on “his” bench, he would sit down next to them and stare at them until they left. The small pond had a large, man-made rock formation in the middle where, I’m told, they originally wanted to put in a fountain but the city ran out of money. Now it was so covered in duck and goose feces that it looked like a giant ice cream sundae floating in the middle of murky water.
“I poisoned a duck once,” my father said out of nowhere. He paused from throwing the ducks puffs of stale white bread and relit his cigar. Ashes tumbled off the tip and rolled down his thighs like rain over a windshield. “I left a marble rye on the counter too long and I guess it went bad.”
“Okay,” I said. What, exactly, does one say to that? It’s not like Dad ever cooked and he’d had his share of nights hugging the toilet from misreading the expiration date. For him, fine dining now was buying an extra biscuit at the fast food place where he got his coffee in the morning. I crushed my soda can on the ground with the heel of my boot and waited for him to speak. He concentrated on the ducks as if he was willing them to the bread, and the deep creases on his receding hairline cut deeper the harder he focused. The scar on the middle of his pate where the melanoma was removed over the winter was still pink.
“Dad, you really should wear a hat,” I said.
“Did you know that they hanged a dog at the Salem witch trials?” He said and flipped a round piece of bread in the air, giving it backspin.
“Sorry?” I said. A white duck with a streak of grey on its right wing leapt out of the water and jumped between three others near my father’s feet. The three meek ducks scattered.
“Salem. You know, that thing in Massachusetts during the colonial days?” The bully duck was cleaning up what the other ducks had not gotten to yet. Three white ducks quacked under their breath, if a duck can do such a thing, and started nudging back to where Dad mindlessly tossed the bread. “They say those girls went crazy because they ate some moldy rye bread. LSD or something-or-other.”
“I guess the history channel is showing something besides Hilter these days?” I said, trying to joke. Dad kept a piece of bread in his hand with an arm outstretched. He turned his head at me and half-smiled. The bullied ducks were getting more courageous. The glutton was begging Dad loudly for the piece he kept in his hand.
“Pink elephants, right? Isn’t that what they used to say about stuff like that?” Dad said.
“My friends in college said ‘freaking out’ usually,” I said. I almost said I used to say freaking out. Regardless of what Dad suspected, there was no use confirming that now.
“Hmph,” Dad said.
He held the piece of bread in front of his face and turned it from one side to the next. With just slightly bigger glasses on his head he could have been looking at a diamond. He threw the piece high in the air, and in a cloud of feathers and bills, all of the ducks converged on the bread at once. The bully flapped his wings and retreated. The might made right.
“Isn’t that something,” Dad said and broke off another chunk from his loaf and handed it to me. “Did you see that?”
I don’t think I ever had.
David Willis is a graduate of the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and received his Masters’ Degree from CSU, Chico. He lives in the Florida panhandle with his wife and two sons. Dr. Willis teaches English at Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton, Alabama.