Noah's Duck

May was confused. Her apartment was empty – so empty – and Howard should have been home by now. Her frail hands were shaking from the effort of pacing the small apartment without Howard's usual assistance, so she busied herself by digging around in the unopened stacks of mail resting on the dining room table. He might have left her a note. It was a fruitless search, and now instead of neat stacks on the table, May was left with a table covered in smooth, white envelopes. May spotted one with a crinkled corner, so she quickly tucked the offending envelope underneath another one without damage.

Her eyes landed on a new envelope. This one didn't come in the mail, she noticed. It only had "May" handwritten in careful cursive on the front. May frowned. The envelope had already been torn open – who had been reading her mail? Her hands were pale and covered in purple veins and pulled feebly at the torn paper, but she successfully pulled the card from the envelope. "Our deepest sympathies," it read, gold letters standing out from the white lily set against a black background. She opened the card, where someone had written, "May God be with you in this time of loss. You're in our prayers. Love, Daniel and Betty." May couldn't understand why she had been sent the card. She hadn't lost anything. She frowned again, remembering her task from before and setting the card back on the table.

Where was Howard? She shuffled back over to the bedroom, where their bed remained empty with only a beam of the moonlight resting on top of the quilt. She began pacing at the foot of the bed, though her progress remained slow and halting. Suddenly, May noticed an object resting on Howard's night stand. There! She hobbled over as fast as she could, the corners of her mouth twitching in anticipation. It was Howard's duck trophy. She picked up the feathered figurine, glancing at the familiar script on the heavy metal base. "Howard Warren, Duck hunting champion, 1953," it read. Howard had been so proud when he won that trophy.

An idea occurred to her, and May smiled, lugging the trophy over to the bedroom window. Ducks could fly, right? And surely the duck that Howard loved would be able to find him. She could be just like Noah from the Bible. Noah's dove found land for him, so May figured that the duck could find Howard. Even Daniel and Betty had said that God was with her. May smiled, stroking the feathers, and pushed open the window. She peeked outside, hearing a motorcycle in the distance but paying no mind. Sixteen floors should be plenty of time for the duck to fly. She paused only to give the duck a kiss on the head, whispering, "Find Howard for me. He's lost, and I can't find him," before giving it a hefty toss out the window. May smiled. She saw the duck catch flight, flapping its wings as it cleared the rooftops across the street. "He'll find Howard," she rasped to herself. She left the window open for the duck's return and settled down on the bed to wait.

The stories appeared in the newspaper the next day. Last night at precisely 11:44 pm, a motorcycle crash occurred just outside the city park. The emergency call was placed from a resident in one of the nearby apartment complexes who heard the accident through his open window. Two young adults were involved in the accident. The driver, 24-year-old Dylan Andrews, was killed in the crash while the passenger, 22-year-old Madison Simmons, survived and was sent to St. Peter's hospital. She sustained minimal injuries and is currently remaining in the hospital for observation. There was no alcohol involved or reports of any other vehicles, though Andrews was reportedly not wearing a helmet. Simmons claimed that something fell from the sky and hit Andrews, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a tree in the park. Investigators on the scene found a feathered duck figurine and estimated that it had been knocked from a window in one of several apartment complexes surrounding the park, but so far they have not found any conclusive evidence suggesting that this played any role in the accident.

"Brandon, come with me," Madison told her half brother, younger by five years. She had the feathered duck figurine in her hand since she had begged to keep it, and the investigators on the case had agreed after they could find no evidence on it. The exact circumstances surrounding the cause of the accident were still unknown, but it was apparent that the crash had been what killed Dylan.

Brandon nodded in response to Madison's demand, immediately joining her in the doorway to put on his shoes. This was the first time that Madison had spoken since she'd gone to Dylan's funeral a few weeks ago, and he hadn't seen anything but a complete lack of expression on her face either. He was worried, and there was no way he was going to ignore her first words since the funeral – especially if she wanted to get out of the house.

Madison had been the one to take care of him ever since he was born and his parents were both at work. When he was five, his pet goldfish named Goldie had died after he had only had him for a month. Madison had been there to flush the dead fish down the toilet, making up stories about all the adventures that Goldie would have now that he had a whole world outside of his tank to explore. The stories were outrageous, and soon Brandon was laughing about the fish's death instead of crying. Granted, his sister's situation was a little more serious, but Brandon was ready. It was his turn to be there for her.

The day was warm and sunny, and Brandon smiled slightly at the warmth on his face. He loped along next to Madison, keeping a companionable silence. He normally loved silence, but he found himself missing his chatty sister. She would always make him laugh, even if he was having an awful day. Brandon's heart fell when Madison turned the corner onto the street where the accident happened. He knew Madison was still fragile, and he wouldn't be able to take it if she was broken down again.

Madison walked forward into the park with a determined gait. He watched as she began poking around in the bushes and weeds lining the fence around the park. "I know something hit him," she muttered. Brandon stood patiently on the sidewalk with his hands stuffed in his jean pockets, watching as his sister prodded every nook and cranny, even going so far as to dig in the dirt. "Aha! Brandon, come here!" It was the first emotion he had heard from her in so long, and it startled him out of his comfortable position. He jogged over to where Madison was standing.

Madison shoved a small metal object into his hands. It was a strip of gold-colored metal with dried glue on the back, as if it had formerly belonged on something else. Brandon turned it around in his hands and read the inscription out loud. "Howard Warren, Duck hunting champion, 1953. Where did you find it?"

"It was buried in the dirt by the fence over there," she said, pointing to a location far from where the duck had been found. "Now we just have to find a 'Howard Warren.' I want to know the truth." Madison's jaw was set stubbornly, so Brandon nodded. They could turn this in to the police later, he decided. She passed him the duck and took off, so he followed her to the closest apartment building and helped her scan the list of inhabitants. There was no one named Howard Warren.

Madison stalked across the street to the next building without waiting for Brandon. He stuck his foot in the door as it was closing behind her, nudging it open with his foot and following her in with one hand in his pocket and the other still holding the duck. He found Madison with her finger paused just under a name. "Warren, Howard and May, ext. 1605." She seemed frozen in place, so Brandon took over and punched the extension number into the phone on the wall.

A warbling voice answered. "Hello?"

"I'd like to speak to a Howard Warren, please."

"Oh, Howard! Come up, please!"

Brandon stared at the phone in confusion as the speaker hung up. A beep sounded from the door, signaling that it had been unlocked. Brandon looked at Madison and shrugged, pulling open the door and standing aside so that she could precede him.

May shuffled over to the door of her apartment. Howard was finally back. She wondered briefly what had kept him so long, but decided that it didn't matter. A knock sounded on the door just as May got there. She pulled open the door as quickly as she could and didn't bother concealing the joy radiating from her smile when she saw who was there.

"Oh, Howard, I've been waiting so long!" she cried, reaching forward to embrace the man holding the duck. "I knew that your bird would find you, just like Noah's dove did!" It was him – it was her Howard, back at last. He towered over her just like he used to, and May couldn't prevent herself from crying into his cotton shirt. "I've missed you, Howard. Come back inside."

May paced around in her apartment. "Howard, I can't remember where I put the coffee. How did you like it, again?" She received no response and started fidgeting with a collection of scented candles lying on the kitchen counter, switching the colors from all white on the left and all blue on the right to an alternating pattern of blue, white, blue, white. She sighed, switched them back again, and turned around. Now who was here again?

May started at her two guests with a puzzled frown before her eyes landed on the feathered duck again. Her face lit up. "Howard! You must be thirsty. Come here, and I'll make you some coffee."

Brandon backed away nervously as the old woman, who he assumed to be May, approached him again. "Madison," he hissed, shooting his sister a frantic look, "What do I do? She thinks I'm her husband!" Madison stared at him with wide eyes and an unreadable expression on her face. Brandon stiffened as the woman found him and hugged him again, pinning his arms awkwardly at his sides. May was beaming, and he couldn't bear to tell her that he wasn't her husband. Madison obviously wasn't going to help either, so he spoke up. "Just cream in the coffee, please."

"Oh, that's right! Why don't you get comfortable, and I'll be back in just a minute." May smiled again and shuffled back to the kitchen.

"It's obviously hers," Brandon whispered to Madison, still holding the duck. "Maybe I can find out if she did anything."

He was just about to sit down on a flowered sofa with an afghan when May's voice drifted out from the kitchen. "Howard? I can't find the coffee." Brandon grimaced, but headed over to the kitchen to help. He had to do this for Madison.

The kitchen he walked into was a mess. Brandon saw cereal boxes in the sink, some of which were soggy from water from the faucet. A pair of Keds was sitting on the counter, and May was currently looking in the oven. "Do you remember where I put the coffee?" she asked again. "I always put it in here."

"I'll do it," he said after noticing a coffee pot on another counter next to the kitchen table. A jar labeled "coffee" in a flowery cursive script was sitting right next to it with a pile of filters resting on the lid. "Why don't you sit down," he told her, deepening his voice slightly in order to seem less like himself and more like a doting husband. He quickly started brewing some coffee and joined May at the table.

"How did you… um, how did you find me?" he asked, wiggling slightly in the wooden chair in an attempt to find a comfortable position. He couldn't find one, so he finally settled himself by sitting stiffly with his sweaty hands on his knees.

"I let the duck fly out the window so that it could find you," she warbled proudly.

"Out… out the window?" Brandon felt his heartbeat quicken; Madison was right, but he knew she wouldn't be happy.

"Of course. That's how Noah did it. I saw your duck fly away, and next thing I know, here you are. It brought you back."

"Yeah, here I am." Brandon chuckled nervously. "Now that I think about it, I'm really not in the mood for coffee right now. Let's get you to bed-" he winced at the words coming from his mouth when he was pretending to be her husband "-since you look kind of tired."

May frowned. "I'm not tired," she protested. "I had something else to do, but I can't remember. Howard, do you remember?"

Brandon could feel his hands become damp, like when one of his teachers called on him in class when he hadn't done the homework. "You were… going to finish reading that book?" he guessed, valiantly trying to keep the questioning tone from his voice.

"Oh Howard, you know I finished it already," May replied, placing one of her gnarled hands on top of his. Brandon cursed internally and discreetly slid his hand away by making a big show of standing up and going to turn off the coffee pot.

"I'm tired though," Brandon said. "Why don't you just come with me?" May nodded agreeably and held on to Brandon's arm as he went to search for the bedroom.

The apartment was small, so Brandon had no trouble locating the one bedroom. The bed was neatly made with a multicolored quilt and there were no signs of the real Howard anywhere. Brandon frowned; even the closet looked untouched. He shrugged the matter from his mind and turned his attention back to the woman next to him. "Get some sleep May – I'll come back later." May smiled lovingly at him and unashamedly began to change into a nightgown. Brandon quickly turned his back and felt his face grow hot. He only glanced over again when he heard the covers rustling and the bed creaking. "Go to sleep," he whispered, flipping the light switch and shutting the door after him.

Brandon joined Madison, who was staring at a messy stack of unopened mail strewn across the table. He opened his mouth to tell her what had happened, but Madison spoke first. "I heard your conversation." She was holding what looked like a newspaper article, and turned to face him as he came up to her side. "I think her husband died," she said quietly, pointing to an obituary clipping bearing the name Howard Warren. "The funeral was only a month ago."

Brandon nodded, accepting the information. "Maybe we should go." Madison didn't protest, so he started to walk toward the door. She followed him partially, but stopped suddenly. "What?" Brandon asked.

"Give me the duck," Madison stated. Brandon shrugged and handed it over. Madison padded carefully into the bedroom where May was sleeping, Brandon trailing a few feet behind her. She stared at the old woman for a moment, taking in her white hair and labored breathing. She had a smile on her face, though, and seemed entirely at peace. Madison carried the duck forward and left it on the bed stand next to May's bed.

"Why'd you do that?" Brandon asked when she left the bedroom.

"Because she's grieving too."

Brandon smiled; it seemed right. He followed Madison as she turned around and hurried out of the room.

Brandon followed Madison and she ran out of the apartment building onto the sidewalk. She stopped suddenly to stare at her shaking hands, fisting them so tightly that her knuckles were white and her fingernails were leaving half moon shapes imprinted in angry red lines on her palms. "We can turn this in to the police," he told her, offering the metal name plate, but she didn't seem to be listening. Even as he was speaking, he didn't think that turning it in would matter. A delusional old lady with what seemed to be a bad case of Alzheimer's wouldn't be going to prison, even though she had unintentionally caused the accident that killed Dylan. She'd be sent to some sort of institution or nursing home instead.

Madison stopped. Her clenched fists loosened and her face cleared of the scowl that had been marring her features, and a giggle slipped out from between her lips. She slapped a hand to her mouth in surprise, but soon another bubble of laughter was forcing its way through her fingers. Brandon stepped forward and gave her an odd look. "Madison, are you okay?" he asked.

"He was killed by a duck," she forced out between giggles. "I feel kind of guilty, but… it's kind of a funny way to die."

Laughter was flowing from her mouth in waves. She collapsed to the ground and leaned back on her hands. Brandon stood above her, eyes darting around as he tried to decide whether to join her on the ground or help her up. "Madison?" he asked again.

When she finally regained some of her breath, Madison shook her head. "No," she said, still giggling. "I'm definitely not okay."

Author's Note:

This is a short story I wrote for my Fiction Writing class last spring... I'm not entirely satisfied and I know there's a lot more I could do with it, but there you go. It spawned after I started thinking about irony in death... freak accidents and such.

Anyway, let me know what you think.