Duck, Duck, Goose

The slouched figure saunters slowly down the street pushing a banged-up shopping cart before him. He wears tattered clothing and carries with him a bit of stench from each of the garbage cans he’s rummaged through. Leonard is his name. He’s 35 years old. He looks 65.

Every day he scours the same route, searching for tidbits and treasures. And every few minutes he’s inspired to proclaim, “I hate milk!” He shouts it out as loud as he can in a gravelly voice, cracking with emotion. “I hate it!” He looks around suspiciously. “Don’t gimme no milk!” he concludes.

He steps off the curb without watching for traffic. The cars always stop. On the other side of the street, he spots an empty bottle he can return to the store for the two cent deposit. As he places the bottle in the cart, it slips and shatters on the sidewalk. “Shit!” he shouts. He turns to see if anyone’s around. A group of junior high school boys are walking his way. “Shit!” he repeats.

“Hey Leonard,” calls one of the boys, snickering. “YOU’RE the shit.”

Leonard’s nostrils flare in anger. “I hate milk!” he reminds the boys. They laugh and run past him. From a safe distance, another one of the group turns and throws a stone at him. It misses, landing harmlessly on a nearby lawn.

Muttering, Leonard continues on his usual route through the park. The pleasant spring day has brought plenty of people out. He follows the path a ways, gradually calming himself from the encounter with the boys.

In a large clearing, a group of children sit in a circle. One of them skips around the circle, tapping each of her playmates on the head in turn. She calls out “Duck” with each tap.

Leonard stops and watches.

“Duck… duck… duck…” shouts the little girl. Leonard tries to guess which child will be the goose. He decides it’ll be the next one.

“Duck…” says the girl.

Under his breath, Leonard grumbles, “shit.”

He keeps guessing. He keeps being wrong. The little girl goes almost all the way around the circle, when finally, as she taps a boy with light, wavy hair, she shouts, “Goose!”

Both children squeal in delight. The boy leaps to his feet. He starts chasing the girl around the circle, but doesn’t catch her before she’s able to take his place. Now it’s the boy’s turn to go around tapping the others till he picks the next goose.

Leonard continues to watch.

Once upon a time, little Lenny had played in a circle like that. Miss McGinty had told the others to let him join in. Margie Loudermilk was “it.” She was so pretty with her long dark curls. Little Lenny wanted her to pick him as the goose. He wanted to make her notice him.

“You’re a retard, Margie,” he’d called to her, giggling.

Margie had stopped and stared at him. She looked like she was going to cry. “YOU’RE the retard, Lenny!” she had shouted before running off to Miss McGinty.

Leonard sighs and blinks away the memory.

Off to the side, not far from the game, pretty ladies sit on benches and watch their children play. Leonard likes pretty ladies. He ambles toward them.

One of the ladies has long dark curls. She holds an infant that suckles at the nipple of a baby bottle. Leonard wants the lady to notice him. He clears his throat and speaks in a low, steady voice.

“I hate milk,” he says evenly, pointing to the bottle. He tries not to smile so she won’t see his missing teeth.

The lady looks up, sees him, then looks away again. She huddles the infant closer to her body.

Leonard tries again.

Pointing to the children, he says, “Duck, duck, goose!” This time, he can’t help smiling. “It’s fun,” he says. “Duck, duck, goose!”

The lady turns to him again. She starts to say something, but instead she stands and moves to a bench farther away. He watches her. She’s so pretty.

Leonard has pictures of pretty ladies in their underwear at home. He finds the pictures in catalogs and magazine ads. He wonders what the lady in the park looks like in her underwear. As he imagines it, he begins to breathe heavily. There’s a sudden rush of feelings inside him. Little pinpricks seem to tingle all over his body. He feels lightheaded.

He returns to his cart and heads quickly for home.

Mama’s still at work when he gets there. He leaves his cart in the front yard and rushes upstairs to his room. Crouching to reach under his bed, he retrieves a shoebox.

He sits on the edge of the bed and rummages through the box. It’s full of his pictures of pretty ladies in their underwear. He finds the one he wants. The lady in the picture looks like the lady at the park. They both look like Margie.

He sets the picture on the floor, takes off his pants and lies face down on the bed. As he stares over the edge of the mattress at the picture, he gathers up the sheet, makes a bundle of it, and pushes it under him, toward his legs. As he stares at the picture, he begins to thrust his hips against the rolled-up sheet. As he stares at the picture, he talks to Margie, tells her how pretty she is. He begins to make little grunting noises.

He closes his eyes when he feels himself spasm. It feels so good, he shudders all over. He opens his eyes again and looks at Margie. As he rolls away from the puddle of sticky warmth, he picks up the picture and holds it close.

The sound of the door slamming downstairs startles him.

“Lenny! Are you home?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Come down and drink your milk!”

“I hate milk!” he screams.

“Don’t give me that shit,” shouts Mama.

He sits up and pulls on his pants. He puts the picture back in the box. Then, before tucking it back under the bed, he taps himself on the head and whispers, “Goose.”

Copyright © 2001 by Rod HardenAll rights reserved. Reproduction in any form prohibited without written permission of the author.

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