One beautiful day in mid-October, Agnes walked from the cow barn over to the far side of the pond to see her friend, Waddles. The term “odd duck” seemed to be coined from Waddles himself. He had red eyes, a crooked neck, and his tongue always stuck out of his beak, but even these oddities were all part of his charm.
Over the past few months both Agnes and Waddles had begun studying the other’s language. They could now make themselves understood, although they sometimes got words mixed up, and Waddles’ minimalist Bovine still made Agnes laugh.
When Agnes arrived, Waddles was listening to the radio. Rather, he sat next to a radio and made sounds like one often heard on the radio. These murmuring quacks sounded remarkably like the radio in Farmer Johnson’s truck, or at least they sounded like that to a cow.
Agnes looked at the Autumn leaves all around Waddles. “Wait, aren’t you fly North for winter?” she asked in clumsy Quackish.
Waddles looked over at her and cocked his head to the side (which, given his crooked neck made it seem to stand straight up). “Hmmmm… Fly North…”
“Oh, excuse,”Agnes said, “I meant South. Fly South for winter.”
Waddles replied in his mangled Bovine, “North be much interesting more.”
From somewhere Agnes couldn’t divine, Waddles pulled out maps, charts, a compass, a sextant, and a wing-held altimeter. He lost himself in planning the trip and, try as she might, Agnes could no longer engage him in conversation.
Waddles planned his trip for a week. And then on a Tuesday in late October he waddled over to the barn. He found Agnes munching on straw and having her ear chewed off by Bessemer, Farmer Johnson’s prize heifer. Waddles cleared his throat with a cough (which is very hard to do for a duck). Agnes looked down and smiled. Bessemer kept telling the story about how she won some blue ribbon somewhere (Agnes had stopped listening).
Agnes finished the oats in her mouth then said, “I don’t think I’ve seen you in barn before.”
Waddles puffed up his feathers and spoke Bovine in a gruff resounding tone. “I have come to bid thee the bye-bye. I am momentarily headed for great white north and adventure some. I hope be back.
“The bye-bye,” he bid and waddled out of the barn. Agnes followed and caught up with him as he fixed his diving cap around his head and put his goggle in place. (Yes, goggle, singular, he’d found a single goggle eyepiece that only covered one eye. He wore it askance like a pirate’s eye patch. It somehow magnified the redness of that eye.) He tested each wing. He bent his knees and stuck out his tail. He re-adjusted his goggle, threw his wings around to limber them up, then waddled full speed toward the farmhouse. After he had gained enough momentum he jumped on a stump then to a fence post then to the barn, then at the very top of the roof he jumped and let his wings do the rest. Before long he was just a small dot in a blue Autumn sky.
Days bled into weeks and weeks into months. Agnes felt more alone than ever with no one to talk to but Bessemer, who barely stopped talking long enough to chew.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s came and went without his return. Agnes began to worry that he had gotten lost and frozen somewhere, that he had died alone.
One evening in mid-January, Farmer Johnson received an email in confusing Human:
Luckily the house cat, Pudding, had been watching Farmer Johnson’s email. He wanted to delete the shipping notice for the case of catnip he’d ordered on Farmer Johnson’s credit card. Pudding nearly deleted the message, but given how the names matched animals on the farm, he thought he might skim a little something off the top for email and translation services rendered.
After Agnes had promised Pudding two bowls of cream, Pudding read her the message. (Pudding was fluent in Human as nearly all cats are and had become fluent in Bovine long ago when he learned that cows were the source of cream.)
Agnes, being a cow, had only a vague idea of what Waddles’ message meant, but she was certain Waddles had sent it and that meant that he was okay, wherever he was.
She slept a little easier that night, and in the morning she bribed Pudding with more cream to send a reply in her own halting Quackish:
Hope you home soon come,
Three days later a new message came in and instead of gibbered Human it was in Waddles’ mangled Bovine.
Agnes smiled as Pudding read it to her. She did not respond immediately, but took her time choosing her Quackish words carefully. She bribed the cat with yet more cream to send her reply.
Take good care of yourself and write soon,
(to be continued)