Agent Duck I
By Lou Blodgett
Well, it was horrid. Can you imagine, disappointment at the start? From the moment you come out of the egg or the womb? And, as later I understood, it was a general disappointment, since I wasn’t born from parents. Anguish at learning, later on, that this project leader, Barry, couldn’t be my father. He avoided me.
So, what do you imprint on now? I’m sorry to lay this on you, but what? The bars of a cage, the water dish? The occasional lab assistant, scared shitless, taking notes? I still had glimpses of Barry, but even he seemed scared of me. Especially when I opened my mouth, and showed my fangs.
So, I watched for Barry and quacked and quacked. I could smell him when he was in the building, and the crew noted that I faced walls when Barry was behind them. When he was in the building. They were reticent when I asked why I was.
So, it was ‘Where’s Barry?’, ‘Why?’, and then one day, when they were at the end of their budget for the month, and all they could feed me was what they had left in the complex, a new question: ‘Where are there more peanut butter sandwiches?’
And they understood. I was born very smart, and they took me through a learning program when I wasn’t quacking for Barry. I can speak many human languages. English. Espanol. Hanguk. Ivrit. They pretended not to know where there were more peanut butter sandwiches, since the one I just had put me in such an agitated state. More crewmembers were brought into the room, and they stared at me, there in the cage, and they theorized. The bread and peanuts were a ‘protein catalyst’, they said. Reacting to the word ‘peanuts’, I put my beak through the bars, and they spread. Like, well, peanut butter. The public address system squawked, I could feel Barry go to a safe room, and someone said-
“Those bars yield at a thousand pounds!”
Dipshit. I flew up through the skylight, and it shattered into a million pieces, yielding at much less than a thousand pounds.
I had to get away, but I’d be back. I was in the world they’d kept me from. The first living thing I noticed was the birds. Being mostly bird. The sun, the ground, the trees! I shook the plastic shards from my armadillo feathers and gained height. I fly less like a helicopter and more like a Cessna trainer, so I looked for a clear spot right away, because the peanut butter sandwich was wearing off.
I skittered to a landing on a sidewalk, rolling onto my right wing and righting myself against a fence, embarrassed.
If it could be like this always, I thought to myself, I would be alright. The sun, the ground, the trees! Even though I am the only one. But, I guess, you always want more, and I could smell…peanut butter.
Have you ever had peanut butter? It tastes so good you can feel it behind your eyes.
There were birds and children and adults. With badges on lanyards, which gave me a shock. I thought the lab assistants had already found me. But they were a mile away. The adults were teachers, watching the children. The children dawdled here and there. One, close by, near a space in the fence. The girl dug in a bright blue backpack and apologized.
“No need to be sorry,” I told her.
“Well, I cussed.”
“Why did you swear?”
“I didn’t bring the pen.”
Then the girl looked at me, with her hand still in the backpack, just in case she missed the pen. But she was still. She had straight, short brown hair, and wore a Green Bay Packers baseball cap, (and, I still don’t know why) and a red jacket. Her hand was still within the backpack. She looked at me. I nearly laughed.
She jerked her head down to me and widened her mouth in amazement. For show. We laughed, but I tilted my head down to hide my fangs in the meantime. No need to show them right away. She cleared her throat.
“It was for show-and-tell. It talks as you write, and I had it all ready last night.”
Conversation halted. I could still smell the peanut butter.
“I guess,” she told me, “I had it too ready. And now I have nothing for show-and-tell.”
I spread my wings as I stood there, but she didn’t get the hint.
“Are you having peanut butter for lunch?”
“I don’t know. Sorry,” she said. “I’m still wondering what to do about the pen.”
I spread my wings again. She dug around in the bottom of her backpack. I tap danced a bit. She chuckled at me and continued digging. Then, I sang a snatch of “Moon River” She stopped digging and pointed at me.
Which would usually be seen as rude, but she was she and at least we were moving along. Into the building.
“If you’re gonna be show-and-tell,” she said, “you’ll have to tell me who the…Who you are.”
Since I was a ‘large animal, not a duck’, I rated a visitor’s badge, which I wore on a lanyard around my neck, and Bess took me down the hall to Ms. Clark’s second grade classroom. As we walked, I told her about myself. Amazed as Bess was, there were rules to the school hallway, and she told me about them as I gave her my history. The hallway floor had red and yellow tiles. On the yellow tiles, there was pee, so we had to stay on the red tiles. But, then we turned a corner. Now, the red tiles were lava. I saw no change in the tiles, so I was glad that Bess was there to escort me through it. If one’s choices were limited to stepping in pee or lava, I would choose pee. I told Bess this, and she laughed. The yellow tiles were now ‘ground’. Silly me.
The floor of Ms. Clark’s room had hard, durable tile, and the room was furnished to accommodate the small. It had posters with the alphabet, and other displays which seemed both instructive and fun. The room was full of students and teacher, and, as we entered, the place went berzerk. Well, not quite berzerk; the students stayed at their desks, but there was a dull roar and much leaning back and forth and across the aisles. For a moment, I thought Ms. Clark was about to bean me with a monster noodle, but then she saw my visitor’s badge. She gave me the benefit of the doubt, rescheduled show-and-tell for ‘right away’, and you could see the envy in some eyes, Bess having brought in a three-foot tall, armored platypus. Ms. Clark told Bess to proceed, but, from her expression, I could see that she couldn’t see how Bess would start.
I hopped up on the teacher’s desk, and Bess began.
“This is Frank.”
Some children said: “Hi, Frank,” and there was much tittering.
“Frank is my friend.”
Much warm-fuzzies. That was nice of her to say.
“Frank is so new, words had to be invented for him. He is ‘polyanas’, or, to be better understood, a ‘frankendrake’.
“ooooh!” the class went. Ms. Clark leaned back in her chair, and placed a hand against her head, index finger up jaw, thumb under; an attitude more for the upper grades. I was impressed with Bess, too. When I was told all that back in the lab, I had to mutter to myself to remember the words. In fact, I was so impressed that I shat upon the teacher’s desk.
I can’t help it. I’m a duck. The class ‘OOH’D’, but Ms. Clark remained seated, shaking her head, shrugging and fluttering her hands in a resigned manner. Bess could continue.
“Frank likes peanuts.”
I nodded to them, and you could have heard a peanut drop. Well, I could have.
“Frank has armor-feathers and prehensile, webbed feet with claws. He was created in a rogue laboratory, through a blueprint generated by artificial intelligence, to be the ultimate assassin.”
A sharp-intake of twenty breaths.
“But that didn’t turn out to be the case! It didn’t work!” Bess continued, over hub-bub. “He didn’t come out all ‘Terminator’, like they thought they’d get. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. I even cussed around him, and he just asked me why I did that.”
A girl in the class raised her hand, perhaps a friend of Bess’s, and asked what all those words before meant. And Bess went, “Um…”
Even Ms. Clark waited with a wrinkled brow.
“…you know the witches around the cauldron?” Bess asked. “Where they need ‘bat’s wing’ and ‘eye of newt’?”
“Well, the computer did that, but with ‘duck’, and ‘armadillo’, I think, and…”
She turned to me for help, and I shrugged.
“…and other stuff, and… that’s about all! Personally, I think the computer made him nice because it refused to make something mean.”
I pooped, a little, on hearing that theory. She could be right.
“And,” Bess said, “he’s now released on his own recognizance.”
Bess shrugged when saying that.
“And he was very sad because he was born from a vat all alone, he’s the only one of his species, and he has no parents. But now he’s happy because he’s here!”
Everyone applauded. Then Ms. Clark cleared her throat.
“Where did you learn this? How did you conduct your research.”
Bess pointed to me and piped-
Tittering in the classroom.
“Did he come with a book?”
“No. He told me.”
And, I said: “Yes.”
The class went berzerk again. Redux, but not prolonged. I was already obviously singular. Showing the fangs when I talked didn’t help, though. One boy in the back raised his hand and spoke up.
“Well, if Frank can’t beat up a room full of ninjas, what can he do?”
A very good question. Bess thought.
“He can sing, too!”
Ms. Clark had found the tissues, but I don’t know if she was using them on happy, sad or laughing tears. Did my computer find something from Liza Minnelli to include in me? Either way, through instinct, I whipped into a few stanzas of “Young At Heart”. (An arrangement I’d heard through the open door of an office, along with the Mancini and Mercer, and all the vintage popular composers back at the lab. It’s not like I can read minds.)
Bess stood there and beamed, and I think if Ms. Clark hadn’t pooped yet, she was ready to. But, it was ‘all good’. The bell for lunch came as I ended the chorus with an extended croon.
“…and I swear he was singing just to me.” Ms. Clark told another lanyarded official as we all headed down the hall to the lunchroom, disregarding tile-color rules, (no longer in effect?) me, with a lunch token in my bill.
And Bess shared! She handed me over to others, who took me through the ‘lunchline’. Either by being a guest, or, simply by the server being ‘numb’ upon seeing me, my request for less dessert and more sandwich was granted.
Initially, I, too, was in a sort of fugue state, due to two phenomena. One was the chaos which is a primary school lunchroom. The other was something the children described as- ‘Government Peanut Butter’. I’ve been looking for it ever since. I saw some sitting on a shelf back in the lunchroom kitchen as we made our way to the tables with our full trays. It is in a white five-gallon plastic tub. In black block letters, are the words “PEANUT BUTTER”. Beneath, in smaller print, is the declaration that it was made by the “United States Department of Agriculture,” and it tastes like nothing I’ve eaten before or since. I wish I was born at the USDA. I don’t know what they put in that peanut butter, other than peanuts.