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Duck, duck, duck … chicken

August 25, 2008

Mira’s 12th birthday is on Thursday and I know she wants a chicken.
She didn’t ask for one in so many words because she already knows what the answer will be. So she’s requested some safe items like a capo for her guitar, and a copy of “The Outsiders,” which up to now has been only a borrowed book.
But that wish for a chicken is no secret.
Last week I drove the three older kids to Albuquerque for the weekly exchange with their father and it was during this that I realized just how deep her infatuation for chickens runs. We stopped by her dad’s restaurant to pick up the house key and as we waited near the entrance, Chiara looked up, saw a painting on the wall that had a chicken in it and proclaimed, “Oh look, Mira! A chicken!”
To which Mira replied, “OH! Oh my GAWD! Does my hair look okay??”
This, of course, caused all three kids to dissolve into fits of laughter.
Their dad appeared a bit baffled by this scene, as was I. But we both understand that Mira is a professional goofball who is always finding ways to stump us with her humor (which, by the way, she practices every day). And hair preoccupation aside, I understand her infatuation. Once upon a time, became obsessed with a duck.
I’d spent my entire childhood pining not for aquatic birds but for a horse. I had horse posters, horse pillows, stuffed horses, horse notebooks, horse T-shirts. I dreamt of horses. They danced across my field of vision during class, effectively blocking my view of the chalkboard particularly during math. Once, a few horses even inspired me to run away from the park where my mother deposited me and my younger sister, Jennifer, while she went on her run up the arroyo. I saw the horsey silhouettes on the rodeo-ground horizon in those days before the hulking Chavez center redesigned the view. With the ever-impressionable Jennifer in tow, I left the park to spend an hour or so skulking about the corral where some lucky cowboys were working their horses. When we returned we discovered that our mom had finished her run, gone all the way home (thinking maybe we’d walked back) and then returned to the park in hopes of finding her errant daughters. When I saw her from a distance, and knew we were in for it, I implored Jennifer to back up a spur-of-the-moment story that some man had dragged us, against our wills, away from the park and to the rodeo grounds and …. made us … uhhh … look at … horses …?
I think Mom grounded me more for the lie than the disappearance.
But the duck … that was the ultimate symptom of a childhood spent in the city while my spirit longed for the country. Though I was finally allowed to have a horse when I was in high school, she had certain psychological problems, not least of which was an abiding desire to throw me off at any opportunity. She never managed that — I was always able to anticipate and then circumvent her tricks — but it made for a contentious ride every time. So after graduating from high school, and before I’d really figured out what I was doing with my life, I got this wild hair to get myself a duck and traipse into unknown and highly romanticized territory.
This I did one afternoon just before I was supposed to join the rest of my family for a group therapy session. That impressionable sister of mine did not remain so for long, and my mother found us all a nice supportive group of other less-than-impressionable teens and their parents with whom we could swap stories and commiserate. It was to this group that I took my infant duck.
While I understood the mind of a horse on some deeper level, a duck’s brain was another matter entirely. I didn’t even think of that phenomenon called imprinting, and thus didn’t anticipate that in becoming a duck mother the duck would become nearly surgically attached to me.
It began during the therapy session. I took the duck in with me, all cuddled up in a cozy box I’d made into a nest, then spent the entire hour of the session listening to it quack. Everyone else thought it quaint then annoying, and the group leader asked me kindly not to bring the duck next time.
This duck, who I named Shakespeare, came home to roost in a tract house with no pond. An aquarium in my bedroom served as its makeshift nest but it preferred to follow me around and poop on everything than sit idle behind glass walls. Duck motherhood quickly lost its appeal and by the time Shakespeare’s baby down became riddled with sprangly white feathers, I talked a friend into duck adoption. Shakespeare went on to his happily ever after at an Abiquiu farmstead.
But now I think I could entertain the idea of keeping poultry again. I can just see it: a bustling chicken coop full of contented hens with names like (Mira’s favorite) “Francine,” or (her second favorite), “Dolores.” A rooster named “Robert,” perhaps. And, of course, a little mirror on the wall by the entrance. So Mira can check her hair.

© 2008 Ana June. All rights reserved.

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