June 30, 2009

      Two on the Highway

    A few years ago, I was coming north on 95, and then 395. On a curve, while going 50 miles an hour, I saw something I'll never forget, and I'll never forgive myself for not doing something. There was a mallard duck, a female, crouched near the concrete wall on the left. I'm sure she was injured or stunned and unable to fly away. I was afraid to stop, but I don't forgive myself for giving in to fear. If I always did that, would I ever do anything I should?
    A week later, driving again on 395, I made myself look for the duck's body, but I couldn't see it. No brown lump, no smashed bill and water-splashing feet, no downy breast pressed to the asphalt, no small bright eyes which I swear looked at me as I drove by the first time. Perhaps, I sometimes say to myself, perhaps she recovered when it got later, and the traffic subsided. But how realistic is that?
    Yesterday I was driving south on 83, and I saw a straw snap-brim fedora, waiting by the concrete wall. It was settled there, on the debris which accumulates on the edges of highways, and immediately I thought of the duck. Blown off course, both of them, and I did imagine the man's head, bare and over-sunned without the hat. And again, I imagined the mallard's ducklings, waiting for her to fly back.