Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Counting Ducks: a short story for Rosie




Two close friends, Paul and Rosie, sent me a card with a painting of Hampstead Pond by Gary Bunt on its front*.  Rosie added a note, saying 'I am sure you can weave a magical story around the picture… I look forward to reading it'. Well, Rosie, and anyone else who reads the next 700 words, I hope you enjoy.


Jack Davis met Sally by Hampstead Pond twenty years ago. She was feeding ducks when he noticed her for the first time. He was sitting on a bench enjoying one last drag on his cigarette before going where he couldn’t remember.

The rain didn’t bother them then. Today it had taken a special effort to get this far. ‘I reckon you’ve fed ten thousand ducks in the time I’ve known you’.

‘You’ve been counting then’.

‘Began the day I saw you. You were doing your best to be fair, moving along the edge to give bread to the ones too timid to come close for fear of being pecked by the bullies. Told me a lot about you that did’.

‘Never told me that before’.

‘Ah, well’ said Jack with a sigh.

He felt Sally put her hand around him and then put her head on his shoulder. Jack responded by pulling her closer. They stood there in the February drizzle, him protecting her with the help of his pocket umbrella, watching the ducks beginning to congregate in expectation.

‘If we stay here any longer, you’re going to leave a lot of disappointed ducks behind’ and with that Jack turned and guided Sally away from the Pond, which had been central to their relationship right from the off. He had come back the next day and the next day and the next day to watch her. It took a fortnight, or so he thought, for Sally to notice him and when she did, she gave a little wave. Jack waved back and shouted ‘Can I buy you a cup of tea?’

Jack expected her to be hesitant, but she wasn’t. ‘I know a little place’ came the reply. She was taking charge, it was no longer his game. ‘I’m Sally. I saw you looking at me the very first day you sat on that bench, smoking, then coming back day after day’.

‘I can’t remember you telling me before’ replied Jack.

‘Doesn’t matter now. It was all a long time ago. We got it together didn’t we’. Not a question. A statement of fact.

‘Only because I stopped smoking’.

‘Plus the rest’ laughed Sally. Jack felt her nudge his side as she did so.

‘You changed too’ chided Jack.

‘Of course I did’, then after a short pause added ‘At fifty-nine it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it wasn’t it?’

‘Yes. Do you now what I remember most?’

‘You’ve told me a thousand times, but tell me again’.

‘Your flawless complexion close up and the way droplets of rain ran down your face before dripping off that little chin of yours, then your smiling pale blue eyes and button nose and your thick white hair and wondering’.

Sally laughed again. ‘I was good to you wasn’t I?’

‘The best’, squeezing her hand as he said the words, then adding ‘What about me?’

‘Far too eager’.

‘Don’t remind me’ groaned Jack in embarrassment, even after twenty years.

‘You asked’ laughed Sally. She laughed a lot. ‘I’d relive that day every day if I could’.

‘Really’.

‘Look at what followed, here we are now. If it was that day again, it would all be before us again and I would like that, wouldn’t you?’

The touch took Jack by surprise. ‘I thought you’d be here Dad, John’s looking for you too’. His daughter Jane, one hand on his arm, was using her free hand to press buttons on her mobile before waiting… ‘John I’m with Dad at the Pond’. She appeared to be listening and as Jack turned to retrace his steps, Jane held his arm a little tighter. ‘No need. I’ll get us back and go straight to the crematorium. Tell the others and we’ll meet you there’.

Jane released her grip and pulled Jack close and they looked at the ducks for one last time. ‘There’s a nice pond near home Dad. We’ll take Sally there and you can go and talk to her every day’.

‘I’d like that Love’.

A little unsteady now, Jack took his daughter's arm and walked away from Hampstead Pond for the last time.  

Robert Howard

NOTE: *  For copyright reasons I have not reproduced Gary Bunt's painting of Hampstead Pond. To see it, click here.

3 comments:

Rosie said...

Such a sad story and yet heartwarming too. I've no idea what kind of story I expected so it was a complete surprise. I'm glad the original picture on the card inspired you to write about the story of Jack and Sally, Rosiexx

Simone said...

Hello! I have popped over from Rosies blog. Well, I didn't expect that ending to the story. What a surprise! You really know how to draw the reader in.

Trish said...

Well done Robert. I thought it was going to be a bit sentimental but the unexpected sad ending really caught in my throat. ..