Behind the brick townhouses off the coast of Maine, there lies a still river. Each and every day, Lindsey waddles down to the side of the slowly rushing waters and throws leftover bread crumbs to the ducks that reside there. Although she is only a twelve year old girl, blonde tendrils of hair cascading over her shoulders as the breezes blow up from the water, in rain, shine, or snow, Lindsey finds her way to see her feathered friends..
Living in a tiny, worn out town, without any brothers, sisters, or cousins, Lindsey remains an only child. Her mother works at a nearby hospital as a nurse and her father “goes away on business” often, but never seems to come back home between his “many trips”. Despite her father’s lack of involvement, Lindsey dreamed of what he was like, wishing she could meet him.
What does he look like? Does he have blonde hair and blue eyes like me? Does he love animals the same way I do? What would happen if he wasn’t gone all the time? Would I have a brother or sister?
She wondered and wondered endlessly. Without parents, the three story, colonial style townhouse squished between two other houses, seemed humongous. Dusty, wooden shelves covered with antique knick-knacks, closets filled with linens that had never been unfolded, and boxes of clothes waiting to be taken to a Goodwill, all belonged to her, but she could care less. To Lindsey, the huge, aging house filled with no life except her own, paled in comparison to the property behind the townhouses, especially the river.
On stiff, icy December mornings, Lindsey would slide on her winter boots and walk down to the river with a sack of old, bite-sized bread crumbs. Lindsey loved the smell of the crisp winter air. The back door would unlock with a click and she would step down the creaky, wooden staircase onto the frosted grass below her feet. There was a certain duck, she named him Gerald, that caught her eye. Gerald was a beautiful drake with a bright green head and neck, silky brown and gray feathers covering the rest of his body. One large feather on his back-left side was bright blue and that is how Lindsey was able to identify him in comparison to the other ducks in the river. With lots of time to herself each day, Lindsey found herself out by the river either with her feet in the water or swaddled in a fleece blanket feeding the birds.
Lindsey attended a public middle school with kids that lived in her neighborhood, particularly the Johnson boys that lived next to her in the came townhouse complex. These boys were nasty kids who loved to ruin the reputation of all the students at King Middle School. When they saw her with the birds everyday for over two weeks, they began to spread rumors about Lindsey saying she was in love with birds and that she couldn’t make any friends of her own so she had to make friends with a duck. Lindsey already had a hard enough time making friends due to her heavy lisp and academic disabilities. Due to these rumors, the other sixth grade girls and boys treated her like a leper and would no longer acknowledge her in anyway. She became invisible and she was left with no friend to console her.
Utterly hopeless, she did not return to school for three weeks. Everyday, she sat in the wet grass near the river and cried. She didn’t want to be in her empty house and being at school was unbearable. Her own teachers were no help at all either. No calls came to the house, despite Lindsey’s constant checking. It was almost as if she had never existed in the first place. No one cared that she was missing.
Her short life had been turned on its head and she saw no way out. Lindsey became withdrawn and angry, her face was never dry from the tears that were shed. During the brief moments her mother was home she was yelled at for not making friends and never leaving the house. Lindsey tended to rationalize these outbursts to the stress that was caused by her mother’s on-call work at the hospital. Lindsey’s heart still ached for someone to listen and be her friend.
Gerald, this little duck was not the weird obsession of a little girl, as most people assumed. It was a connection Lindsey had formed to something outside of herself. Being at the river, the mucky sand under her toes, listening to the croaking of frogs, the crickets at night, feeding the ducks, were all sensations that brought Lindsey great joy.
A few months later, Lindsey slowly reintegrated herself into school, the endeavour unknown to her own mother. On a warm June night, she sat on a red and white checkered picnic blanket, soft on the green grass, while tossing out her daily dose of bread crumbs. A little curly-haired boy walked up beside her. His eyes were the same color green as the lily pads that floated on the water. He looked at her with no judgement in his eyes, only curiosity.
“Hi there, my name is Brian,” he started to say, kneeling down on the blanket to get a little closer to Lindsey, “what are you doing out here all by yourself?”.
“What are you doing next to me? You’re not even from around here. I know everyone and I have never seen you before in my whole life,” she snapped. Realizing she hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone in a long time, Lindsey instantly regretted her response to this clearly genuine boy who seemed to know nothing of the rumors.
“Oh, sorry, I’m so sorry,” the words rolled of Lindsey’s mouth, “I’m just sitting here feeding the ducks.”
“The ducks? Oh those ducks!” He pointed to Gerald from across the pond who was scared away by Lindsey’s loud response only moments ago.
“Yeah, I come out here as much as I can to get some fresh air and have some time with myself.” She tried as much as she could to not make herself sound like a social outcast.
“Oh, that’s cool. And you’re right. I just moved in a new house in Maine a couple weeks ago. I live right around the corner from here. Can I sit with you for a little while?”
Lindsey hesitated not knowing if she really wanted to trust someone new, but she sighed internally and let out a “sure, yeah sit down” and passed him her paper sack of bread scraps.
As the two of them sat there quietly talking with the occasional lull to listen to the crickets and frogs, the ducks began to paddle back over to Lindsey and Brian’s side of the river. Lindsey felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time: hope. Here’s someone who doesn’t care that I might look hopeless. I think I found someone that could actually be a real friend.
Brian leaned in and gestured out towards the river, “so wait, what did you say about the ducks?”
“I come out here to feed them, it’s relaxing and kind of fun.”
“But you called one of the ducks by an actual name, didn’t you?” He said as he pointed at the drake with the blue feather. One could barely see anything as the sun was setting and the light began to brightly reflect off the water’s surface.
“Oh yeah, that one,” Lindsey looked over and smiled, “that’s my little friend Gerald.”