Fishing For Ducks
By: Alex Floyd
He grabbed the forty-ninth string and hooked it on a blue-bellied duck. He heard a small whimper and a loud sigh. Another string came down and he hooked the end to a red-bellied duck. A loud scream erupted from what he guessed was a little girl — it was always hard to tell with toddlers. Marcy grabbed a giant neon blue teddy bear hanging from their booth. A crowd of toddlers gathered around, pulling on their fathers’ coats, asking for a chance to fish up a duck to win a bear. The usual surge of lines came as the fiftieth hooked duck always won. It was easier than making it random and they got some control over who won as the number shifted lower with nice patrons and rocketed with assholes.
It was a slow morning. When the throng of toddlers scattered, harried parents rushing after them, he was left with Marcy at his booth. The young kids always came in the mornings, before nap time. Sometimes, a teenager or two would wander by, looking agonized and bored, but they never stopped at the duck pond. His game was frequented by small children and their parents. It made for long mornings and afternoons of high-pitched squeals and screams, but it meant that he was usually left alone at night. As Marcy reached up to unhook a large stuffed banana for one of the winners — a chubby blond kid with something red and sticky smeared around his mouth — he found himself longing for the warm afternoons and the relaxed evenings that usually followed.
He rolled up his sleeves, reached into the plastic duck pond, and pulled out a metal flask wrapped in an old plastic grocery bag. He shook it and unwrapped his afternoon snack. Popping the top off his second allotted fountain drink of the day, he poured in some cheap white rum. He swirled his familiar mix, placed the plastic top back on, and took a couple of gulps. It was getting close to lunch when he heard several long, drawn-out fake cries approach.
He placed his hands over his eyes, took three more gulps, and waited for his line. His dad was audibly upset, but threw the money at Marcy. She stared down at him down at him and winked. A signal he normally got from a nice customer, he got for this brat. The line soon dropped in, and he searched for a blank duck.
They were supposed to check the ducks while closing but they never did and the constant fishing, and waddling in the plastic pool, caused the stickers to fall off. The kid stopped crying long enough to reach for the duck and check his dot. It was blank and the cries started once more.
“DAD! This one’s blank. I LOST!”
The dad started to grab another dollar when Marcy reassured him and the little girl that this just meant she got to go again. The little girl switched to fly fishing and whipped her line over the curtain, hitting Noah right above his left eye. He placed another duck on the line and waited.
“I LOST AGAIN!” She threw the line over the curtain and waited. She tugged on the line, waited. Marcy backed up and mouthed “What are you doing!”. Noah rolled his eyes and placed a blue duck on her line. His fun was over.
Night fell over the carnival. The crowds of squabbling children and their embarrassed parents were replaced by slumping teenagers and half-drunk twenty-somethings. Noah’s buzz was fading into drunk fast, and he was finding it difficult to ignore Marcy’s pointed stare. She was standing across from him, her arms folded.
“What?” he bit out finally.
She scowled. “You’re drinking, Noah…again.” He wanted to smash his head into the plywood divider that separated their booth from the far more popular bean bag toss.
“Give it a rest,” he muttered. Marcy was always riding his balls.
He laid back, closed his eyes and waited for his shift to be over. A small red and white bauble bounced from his forehead to nose and resting on his lips. He woke up as Marcy kicked the bottom of his boots. He noticed the bauble and spit at it and rubbed his lips with the bottom of his shirt to trying to dry clean whatever was left behind from hundreds of toddlers that fished for ducks. He grabbed the middle of the fishing line and pulled, the rest of the pole followed and landed on the back of his head. He stood up and threw the pole in the pool and started throwing the yellow rubber ducks. He first aimed at the teens who had paid for the round, and then the spectators.
The teens eyed the ducks and started returning the favor, pelting the ducks back towards the stand. Most of the crowd was laughing and if Noah walked away now, he could probably play this off as a simple joke or stunt to get more customers to their stand. Noah didn’t do this. He followed the last duck he threw at the pimpled teen. Upon arrival, he threw his fist like a baseball, and missed, ball one. He threw his left, ball two. At this point he was draped over the teens shoulders, flailing to regain his feet. He fell to his knees, rose to his feet and tried kicking. He threw his first kick, aiming for the teens side, but only managed to scrape the bottom half of the teens knee, ball three. He lunged for the teen, doing what he could to take him to the ground. A parent and security guard intervened and pulled him off, ball four. He started swinging at the guard – he connected. The guard stumbled back, regained his footing, and threw Noah to the ground. His hands were pulled away and cuffed.
The flash of the camera pulled him out of his daze. He ran his fingers through his hair and let out a long sigh. The guard grabbed his arms opened a door to a glossy, neat white room with linoleum tiles. He pushed Noah in. Noah turned to instinctively catch the gray jumpsuit, tan flip flops, and white socks thrown by the guard. The door closed. The room was cold as he changed from his jeans, circus-T, and converse to his state issued jumpsuit, flip flops, and socks.
The door opened and a new guard walked in, “Why did you put that on fo’?” He pointed to the gray jumpsuit, his southern accent echoing off the walls. “Come on boy, take it off.”
Noah had heard about this; he wasn’t a great looking guy, but he knew what happened in jail. He jumped to the corner and faced the guard.
“Wha’ the hell you doing? The sooner you cough the sooner you can get your clothes back on let’s go. Don’t make me get the hose — come on.”
“Cough?” Noah asked.
“Yeah, we gotta check all you to make sho’ you ain’t hiding nothin’.”
Noah unbutton the lone button on his monotone gray suit and let it drop. He bent down low enough to examine his fake plastic woven sandals and let out two coughs.
“Alright, that’s enough, you can dress.”
Noah buttoned up his gray jumpsuit, and before he could turn around the guard grabbed and cuffed him. He was escorted to a shared cell with three other men. Both of the benches were taken with sleeping two-hundred-and-fifty-pound long-time residents.
The third inmate was sitting with his legs crossed, leaning against the wall. He looked up when the door slid open and greeted Noah with a slight smile and nod. Noah returned the nod, and stood in the furthest corner. The stranger followed.
“What’s up man? Was it fun?”
Surprised, Noah said, “Was what fun?”
“Whatever you did to get here.”
“Meh, I wouldn’t say fun, but I relieved some tension.”
“What did you do?”
“I threw ducks at some kids.”
“What the hell?”
“Sorry, I threw some rubber ducks at kids. I work at a circus”
“Is that the one over on third?”
“Yeah, I work in one of the game booths.”
“Bottles, bags, baskets?”
“Yea, I figured that out as I was asking.”
“You travel with one?”
“Yeah, just a local though – almost got up to the big tent.”
“What did you do?”
“I was a juggler for a couple years, then worked with some animals…but I ended up in one of the shooting galleries.”
“Oh, cool. What animals did you work with?”
“I picked up their shit and fed them, but ‘worked with’ sounds better.”
“Makes sense.” After a longer than normal silence, Noah’s roommate said, “I’m going to hit the head and call it a night – see ya tomorrow.”
The stranger shuffled over to the shared stainless steel bowl in the middle of the back wall and peed sitting down to avoid splashing on their sleeping roommates.
Noah eyed him and stood in his corner. His arms folded, and his eyes trying to collect themselves while a half naked stranger peed ten feet from him. He finished his business and silence hit the cell.
It was freezing, and the jumpsuit seemed to only enhance this as there was no hope for warmth. He leaned up against the white painted cinder blocks with a single gray stripe splitting the top third. The cinder blocks took some of the heat, but he was tired and the wall provided some comfort. After a few minutes of fighting to stay awake he sunk to the ground and let his ass rest on his heels. He was out.
He woke up to a new guard playing the xylophone with off the cell bars.
“Hey, duck boy.” The guards had obviously exchanged stories with the cop and it is not everyday that someone gets arrested for throwing rubber ducks. Noah looked up at the guard, then for the stranger.
“Where’d the third guy go?”
“What third guy?” the new guard asked.
“The other guy that was in here — the only other benchless guy!”
“Don’t raise your voice, let’s go.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t know about that, but the circus didn’t press charges, so let’s go.”
“I can go?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
“Oh.” Noah stood up, and scanned the room for the stranger. The only other people in the cell were the two men still asleep.
Noah left as he arrived — in the white room he exchanged his gray uniform for his yellow polo and jeans. He walked past the guard holding the door and waited for the guard to direct him. He moved towards the front and to the third door on the right — locked. The guard slowly caught up and signaled to his partner on the other side. A loud buzz pulled his chin from his chest. He walked through the now open door to the sun punishing him for last nights’ adventure. He signed a couple of papers and initialed others. He waited at a window covered with a tan painted steel grate.
The guard looked up, “Can I help you?”
“Are we good?” Noah asked.
“Are we good?” The guard echoed, confused.
“Yeah…are we ok, do you need anything else?”
“No, we got everything, you can go.”
Noah walked outside stood in the morning cold, waiting to be warmed. The sun that punished him earlier was now taking a break behind a cloud. He waited and looked down at the phone thinking of someone to call. It was dead. Noah returned to the painted steel help desk and asked, “Do you have a phone I can use?”
Without looking up the guard pointed to two pay phones leaning against the white cinder block walls, the tops ending two blocks before the gray split. He dragged his fingers over the metal numbers and thought who he could call. He would normally call Marcy, but he burned that bridge when he threw the first duck. He returned the receiver and yelled, “Is there a bus station close?”
“Nah, state doesn’t allow bus stops near prisons.”
“You can call a cab though, number should be on there.”
Noah didn’t know if you could collect call a cab, but he tried. No one picked up. He had his answer.
“Where is the closest bus?”
“About four miles that way.” The guard pointed to the right.
Noah walked out and started his four mile hike. He began to shiver. He wished the sun would return to lecture him. He arrived at his bus stop and sat alone on the cold cement bench. Twenty minutes later the bus arrived and he flashed his pass to grab a seat. As was custom, everyone sat on the outside of their seats, preventing anyone from sitting sharing a seat. Noah leaned against the window. Any feeling was better than the cold. The bus stopped and his head slid from the window to back of the seat in front of him. He looked around, the familiar was starting to return and the next stop was his.
He stepped off the bus, walked to his apartment, and was greeted by silence. His apartment was just as he left it. Silence never made an effort — it never cleaned, it never cooked, it never cared. Noah went to his queen that he left mistreated on the floor. He wrapped himself in his comforter and tried to sleep, but even his cocoon he felt cold.
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