The sound stained my ears. The thump of its weight, the crunch of its bones, the scratch of its feet and feathers sliding off my car as it tumbled back into the dark….”
by jeremiah o’hagan
A drake mallard, when he flushes from a roadside ditch, fans his wings furiously, heaves up on two curled tail feathers and explodes, orange feet dangling when he first lifts out of the water. Then he tucks them into himself like landing gear and reaches for the sky, flapping smoothly, his green head craning from his rusty chest.
The whole bird stretches out in one long moment of grace.
That’s how the mallard looked this morning when I hit it with my car.
The sun was not yet up and I was squinting around oncoming headlights and the duck appeared out of the dark like a photograph, frozen midflight, stretched long and graceful, and my driver-side mirror hit its breast. My windshield broke its head. The sound stained my ears. The thump of its weight, the crunch of its bones, the scratch of its feet and feathers sliding off my car as it tumbled back into the dark.
I kept driving for half a mile until I could turn around and try to find it. I drove back by twice.
This past winter, on her way home from work, my friend drove past a hawk that had been hit by a car. She thought it was dead until she saw it lift its head. She couldn’t stop because there was a train of traffic behind her and the hawk was shivering on the shoulder of a narrow bridge and she said she wept because if she could have she would have stopped and wrapped the hawk in her jacket and taken it home and given it, if nothing else, a place to die.
“I do things like that,” she said. “Scoop things up and let them die where it’s warm.”
I was not going to take the duck home. I was going to find it, if I could, and hope it was too broken to run from me, and I was going to wrap my hands around its wings, and pick it up, and be amazed at its warmth and hammering heart, and break its neck so that it died right then instead of suffering into the day.
Then I was going to leave it alongside the ditch, and pray a coyote came, and drive back into town, and stop at Starbucks and wash my hands in the bathroom before I ordered coffee and went to work.
(illustration: dee sunshine)
Jeremiah O’Hagan lives in Washington state with his wife, Tamsen. Together, they have four kids, two dogs, a ton of adventures, and occasional misadventures. Most the misadventures get blamed on the dogs. More From Jeremiah O’Hagan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.