Dinner for the Ducks

By Johnathan Harper

A boy hates the duck pond. The mallards are clustered at his feet. He is sitting on a bench and sobbing. In his hand a phone — a text. The ducks eye the phone, expecting the boy will shred tiny pieces of plastic off and throw them into the tepid waters. The bank is a muddy green, there are slips of oil floating on the water like film from old pudding. The boy steps to the water’s edge. One duck realizes the boy is not a chef and squawks at the rest. They float into the pond’s throat and are swallowed by a storm drain. When the boy turns around, the affections of his text are there. He does not have time to wipe his eyes.


  • With a knife fired white, slice the air over their head to snap the tether a spirit has tied to the loved one’s head.
  • To contain the spirit, collect moss-covered rocks and set them in a circle around the possessed.
  • If the spirit is too powerful, one can retreat to a graveyard where the spirit cannot cross.
  • If they speak in tongues, kiss them hard so you can swallow and digest everything they say.
  • If the possessed believes they are an animal, become the animal’s arch nemesis: viper vs mongoose, hyena vs lion, human vs intestinal parasite.
  • If you feel at any point you are in danger, take that feeling and use it as the plaster that seals a rocket. Fire the rocket into the sun.
  • Ignore the feeling of someone unscrewing the back latch of your skull and dumping hot coals inside.
  • Show no fear. Show no fear. Show no fear.
  • Do not let the spirit know they invaded another body. Never tell them you still love the person they have replaced.

Boy meets girl. Boy meets girl’s knife. Boy understands girl is not an extension of knife, that knife is pointed inward to slice the cords holding in a false heart. Boy understands how she feels the toxic blood of another winding its agonizing way through her like tree roots through stone. Boy understands there are no toxins and the spirit possessing her is not real. That spirits aren’t real. Spirits are not real. Boy meets the spirit inside the girl. Bloom in bloom there are two persons flowering on this face. Neither is the real girl. Both are the real girl. Boy cannot love both. One tries to destroy him, the other to restore him.

Mallards have nightmare penises. They are corkscrewed and tear the female. The boy and girl have spent spring afternoons under long sunsets watching the madly-in-love males chase the female ducks. They dunk their mates’ heads in the water until they cannot breathe, beating the females with their breasts, two at once pinning one female down to bear their eggs.

Girl loves boy so much. Girl is girl and boy is boy and these are how these things work. There is so much love it splits reality in twos that twin. He helped her pick out her knife on a date at the med-fair. She kept it in her purse to protect her. Boy is the biggest danger in her life. Standing at the edge of the dirty pond, he sees the knife. He opens his arms to be embraced. He is still crying when he says, “Go ahead.”

The sun is setting. The two hug each other close. They joke about the fat lip the boy has. They tell each other how important they are to one another. How it is so good to be done with fighting and have them back in their arms. The ducks have wandered back into the scene, curious if the boy and girl plan on tearing chunks off of each other to throw out into their waiting bills.

Johnathan Harper lives in Syracuse, New York, where he stays well away from duck ponds. He has been published in The Queer South: Essays and Poems, Hawai’i Pacific ReviewSmall Por[t]ions, etc. His chapbook Airplanes to Nowhere was a finalist in The Burnside Review’s 2014 chapbook contest. He is the editor and co-founder of the online magazine The Birds We Piled Loosely.