The package was shaped something like an upside down duck. Right down to a well-wrapped beak and its two separate little webbed feet, which were moving slightly, a sort of paddling motion in the air.
I said to the wife, Minty, It's a duck.
Don't be daft, she said, not even raising her eyes from her crossword. Not that she does them, but she colours in all the empty squares in pastels.
Look, I said, Look, Minty, let's take a forensic look at this package. It's shaped like a duck, it feels like a duck (not that I've felt a duck, but I have a good imagination) – and its feet are moving like a duck's feet.
Just then there was a strangulated quack from somewhere.
What's that, said Minty.
The duck, I said.
She takes a long time to catch on sometimes.
Ernest, darling, she said. Ducks are not usually covered in brown paper with their extremities wound about with sellotape.
This was true, but sometimes, to use a cricket analogy, which I am quite fond of doing – life throws googlies, don't you find? Out of left field?
My musing was truncated by another strangulated quack.
Ducks need water. I know that much. I have a degree in physics, a further degree in cosmology and a doctorate in quantum mechanics. With Ancient Greek. We didn't study ducks too much, apart from the Wild Duck Cluster, discovered by Gottfriend Kirch in 1681. In which the three brightest stars of the more than two thousand, form a triangle which either looks like three flying ducks or, from another angle, one swimming duck.
I ran the bath. It was not easy to decide what temperature to make the water – should it be warm, or cold? Blood temperature? What temperature is a duck's blood? In the end, I guessed.
I was just about to put the duck in the bath, when Minty called up. (She's like that. Interferes just when things are taking off…).
The exchange went something like this:
What are you up to?
Isn't that the bath running?
For you or the duck?
Have you unwrapped it?
Now at this point, the day became interesting. Yes, there was a supposition that the package was a duck. It even ticked a few forensic boxes. But there was no real proof. The proof would be in the swimming.I put the package gently in the bath. The little feet went at the water like nine-o clock, but its centre of gravity was faulty, and it would keep turning up the wrong way. It was up to the package to indicate its provenance. Thus, maybe it was its right way up, and it wasn't a duck at all?
I do feel sometimes, to do the obvious thing (in this case, unwrapping the package) is the source of deep discontentment.
Unfortunately, the experiment ended fairly soon. The brown paper wrapped feet-shaped things gradually stopped paddling at the air and after a few underwater bubble-type quack-type sounds which I hesitate to call definitive quacks, the whole package fell silent and motionless.
There, I shouted down. It wasn't a duck after all.
Isn't now, whatever it was, Minty said, putting her head round the bathroom door.
No need to shout, I said, letting the bath out, collecting up the now unmoving package.
Some days are like that.
Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, poet and short storyist. Author of four collections of short fictions: Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning (Salt Modern Fiction), A Short History of Synchronised Breathing (Cultured Llama Books) and, with Lynn Roberts, Ed's Wife and Other Creatures (illustrated flash fictions, Liquorice Fish), her novel The Coward's Tale (Bloomsbury UK/US) was selected as a UK Financial Times Book of the Year and Guardian Readers' Book of the Year. Her debut poetry pamphlet The Half-life of Fathers (Pighog) was selected by the TLS as among the best of the year, and her first full poetry collection Memorandum (Cultured Llama Books) is currently the subject of an exhibition by four women artists, commemorating the centenary of WW1. She is contributing editor of Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt Publishing), and is recipient of an Arts Council Grant for the Arts, a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Gladstone's Library residency. She is a freelance writing tutor. Her story "Three Stages in Learning to Fly" appeared in Issue 21 of The Cafe Irreal; "Uncovering the Walkways" appeared in Issue 24; "The Note-Takers" appeared in Issue 27; and "Storm Warning" appeared in Issue 29 – the latter two stories also appeared in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from the Cafe Irreal (Guide Dog Books 2013) – and most recently "Flood" appeared in Issue 50.