Duckling

Marian Mitchell Donahue

Short Fiction

When the paramedics came to collect it I asked one of them if he could scoop the dead duckling out of the pool as well while they were here and he looked at me like I was the worst thing he’d ever seen. I’d done everything right up until I asked, but that didn’t seem to matter.

The duckling had been on my mind since I first saw it that afternoon. I turned away from Room 210, looking out over the railing down at the courtyard below. I’d just sent Emily away to collect herself and call 9-1-1. The duckling was caught in the corner of the pool with some fallen leaves, bobbing up and down as the cold wind stroked the water.

I know the pool should have already been covered for the season, and I know that’s on me, but I also know what is my job and what is not my job and we pay a pool guy for that. He’s the one who pushed back the date twice. He’s the one who left it uncovered. So that’s why when the paramedics arrived I was still at the railing staring down at the dead duckling.

I’d left the door open to 210. They rushed up the stairs and into the room like it wasn’t already too late. I heard the action slow down and then stop. A gust came through the courtyard and rocked the duckling.

The men were asking me questions but I stayed quiet. I had stepped in to 210 only once, when Emily called me, just to confirm. She was already in a state when I got there, and she didn’t do that with the other kinds. I waded into the dark room enough to see the makeshift crib, the little bundle, a few wisps of downy hair and blue skin, and then I came right back out.

There are some things that once they’re in your head they’re in your head forever. So I came right back out and waited by the railing. I looked down and spotted the lump that was probably a dead duckling.

Once I was sure the men who’d taken it from its makeshift crib were far enough away, I led the last of the paramedics back to the front desk. He wanted the check-in information for the room. I usually start those interactions with ‘don’t-get-your-hopes-up’ because no one uses real names at the Route One Budget Inn. But those were stabbings or shootings or ODs and this was this. I stayed quiet. I printed off the information, stapled my card to the front page, and then I asked about the dead duckling. And that’s when he looked at me like I was the worst thing he’d ever seen.


Marian Mitchell Donahue graduated with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Stony Brook Southampton in 2019. Her writing has been published in The Southampton Review, acorn&iris, and Literary Manhattan. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and is writing her first novel.


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