by Valerie L. Egar
A flock of ducks roamed the barnyard on Krista’s parent’s farm. Though all of them were white, Krista could tell them apart-- some had a feather or two missing, or a different curve to their tail feathers. Others had freckled bills and one walked with a slight limp.
Krista fed the flock every morning and evening. They came to her call, “Here, duck, duck, duck, duck, ducks!” A few bold ones stood close when she threw them cracked corn. Krista tried to teach them to eat from her hand by sitting still as a garden statute, but they shied away.
In the spring, yellow ducklings quacked and followed their mothers around the barnyard. Krista liked watching the ducklings and noticed one stood out from all the others, because his downy feathers were unkempt and messy. Though Krista knew dirty feathers could mean the ducking was sick, she saw how eagerly he ate and knew he was healthy. She began calling him “Dirty Duck.”
Dirty Duck was friendlier than the other ducklings and soon learned to take food from Krista’s hand. When she gently picked him up, he didn’t resist and allowed her to carry him around the barnyard. He was always the first to come running when Krista called.
By the end of the summer, white feathers replaced fuzzy yellow down on all the ducklings. Krista easily recognized Dirty Duck-- his white feathers were as soiled and sloppy as his downy feathers had been. From head to tail, he was freckled with dirt and true to his name, “Dirty Duck.”
Krista had an idea. If Dirty Duck had a bath, maybe he would look like the other ducks.
“Mom,” Krista said, “May I give Dirty Duck a bath in the tub?"
Mom thought for a moment. She didn’t think ‘bath’ was the right word, because soap might harm the duck. Swimming in water might clean him up though. Since the farm didn’t have a pond, the bathtub was the only option.
“Will you help me scrub the tub after Dirty Duck swims in it?” Mom asked.
Krista promised she would.
Mom helped Krista run water for Dirty Duck. They made sure the water was room temperature, not too hot, not icy cold. They didn’t put anything in the water, so it would be like an outdoor pond.
Krista went outside and called the ducks. She picked Dirty Duck up, carried him into the house and put him in the tub.
Dirty Duck had never been swimming before. Back and forth he paddled, content to be in the water. Slowly, his feathers whitened. Krista gently rubbed the top of his head and his neck with a moist paper towel until they were clean, too.
When he finished swimming, Krista wrapped him in an old towel and carried him outside. “Now you’re not a dirty duck anymore,” she said. He flapped his wings and shook the water off. His white feathers glistened in the sun. “I might have to think of a new name for you.”
When Krista called the ducks the next morning, Dirty Duck came running. She recognized him immediately because he was speckled with dirt as though he’d splashed in a mud puddle.
She patted his head gently and sighed. “I guess you’ll be Dirty Duck forever and a bath won’t change that.” He quacked at Krista and happily ate from her hand.
Published November 5, 2015 in Making It At Home. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.