“There’s a bad egg in every nest.”
That’s what Grandma Beakie always said. And she oughta know.
After all, one of her eggs is my Uncle Darwin, and he's always been an odd duck. Cow lick over his left eye. Walks without a waddle. A duck without a waddle? Need I say more?
My mom said it too. I used to think she meant me, but that was before my sister Gloriana became a vegetarian and took up the cello. If you ask me, she’s no duck--she’s a turkey.
So with my family history, maybe you can see how my heart filled with dread when I found myself sitting on a nest, and one egg just a wee bit peculiar. Was it the shape or the color? I wasn't sure, but I had a funny feeling in my gizzard.
Rodney, my mate, said not to worry. It was just my imagination. No bad eggs on his side of the family, clear back to Peking Duck.
So maybe my family has the occasional odd duck, but for many generations, we have taken great pride in being purebreds. White feathers. Orange beaks. Waddle when we walk. Pointy tails that swish.
Still. . ."there’s a bad egg in every nest." And when the ducklings hatched, Grandma’s words came back to haunt me.
At first I made excuses, but eventually I had to admit it--one of my duckies was an odd duck.
He didn’t walk like a duck. In fact, he didn’t walk at all.
He didn’t talk like a duck. He spoke only one word: "Squeak." So we called him Squeaky.
He was adorable. He just wasn’t very. . .ducky.
The other ducklings used him for water polo. “Push Squeaky through the hoop. Five points!" And sometimes they liked to sneak up behind their Great Uncle Darwin and squeeze Squeaky really hard. “Sque-e-eak!”
“Here comes Freaky!” Uncle Darwin would always say. “You're not a real duck. You're a rotten egg.”
What’s a mother to do? Just love my son and try to keep him safe. I thought that would be enough. I hoped that would be enough.
Then one day, out of nowhere, it came. Eyes like flame. Jaws like a bear trap. Miles and miles of teeth. We had heard stories, but we had never seen one in the flesh until his great bulk darkened the light of the sun.
His eyes flashed. His jaws opened. His fowl breath hung in the air. Then, like the stroke of doom, the jaws snapped and took all my babies. All gone in one bite. All except Squeaky, who never quite got the hang of ducks-in-a-row.
Then Squeaky did a brave thing. Stupid maybe, but brave nonetheless. Before the beast could swallow, Squeaky swam right up to the gator’s ear and did what he did best.
The gator’s eyes popped. His mouth flew open. And in a cloud of fluff, out flew my ducklings. I couldn't believe my eyes.
And then, before I could shout, “Run, Squeaky," my brave little duckie swam right up to the jaws of doom and looked the leviathan in the eye. I watched in horror as the gleaming teeth descended once more and the fearsome jaws devoured Squeaky.
This time, the gator did swallow. Or at least he tried. But I guess Squeaky stuck in that gator’s throat. The gator coughed and sputtered and gasped. He thrashed about, eyes bugging out of his head, churning the water furiously--until with one final gasp he quit thrashing and sank like a rock.
We stared at the bubbles on the water until the bubbles stopped.
"Squeaky!" I cried, tears running down my beak.
“Squeaky!” cried all the ducklings.
"Children," I said at last, "we need to make haste. This pond is no longer safe. We have to find a new home.”
"But Mom, what about Squeaky?”
I bowed my head in grief.
I tried to steady my voice. "We’ll always remember how brave he was."
Fluffy spoke up. "We’ll always remember how he made us laugh."
Then Swishtail: "We'll always remember what a good sport he was."
Then Quacker: "We’ll always remember the way he used to. . . ."
We made a nice home in a new pond. Uncle Darwin, of course, came with us. But the next time he made wisecracks about “Freaky,” all the ducklings gathered around him and cried, “Squeak, squeak, squeak.” Then they pecked at him until he begged for mercy.
And as for Uncle Darwin, I guess he can’t help being pond scum. After all, there’s a bad egg in every nest.
For a more dignified version of this classic tale, read "The Ugly Duckling," by Hans Christian Andersen.
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