Because I still had a little unscheduled vacation time needing to be used before the end of the year, I decided to take off Thursday morning and Friday afternoon from work. Earlier in the week, the weather forecast for Thursday predicted a warm day without much chance of rain, and I thought that perhaps I could go rowing with my husband around noon if it wasn’t too windy.

Although the morning was indeed quite warm for December, the wind was gusty enough that we decided a lunchtime row wouldn’t be much fun. Friday’s forecast looks much better for rowing. I spent a little time doing yoga and exercising on the rowing machine, but mostly I just lazed around, feeling indecisive about what sort of image to put on my digital art display. The morning started out sunny, but clouds were blowing in fast. I finally settled on a lake with a blue sky and some passing clouds.

A lake in winter with tall brown grass in the foreground.

(Photo credit: Antonio Garcia Campos)

The dry brown grass along the shore made plain that winter was near, as did the bare trees across the lake. When I pictured myself taking a breath of the cool fresh air, it felt pretty comfortable; there was almost no wind. The tiny structures on the other side of the lake settled into a recognizable pattern as the outbuildings of Channelwood, the imaginary village inhabited by several of my younger selves.

I heard a bit of splashing, and a stone skipped into view across the water. Turning to my right, I saw Peter, who was me at five years old when I really, really wanted to fly away to the Neverland and enjoy a new adventure with the fairies every day.

“Did you come here to play?” Peter took a step toward me and held out a flat chip of dark gray slate.

I gave it my best effort but didn’t have much success, given the fact that skimming stones was something I hadn’t done in decades. Peter politely refrained from commenting as my stone sank without a bounce.

“Well, playing wasn’t actually on my mind,” I had to admit. “And not much else was, either. I’ve been feeling low on energy because I trained so hard to row faster at regattas this year.”

Peter stopped skimming stones and looked thoughtful for a minute.

“The Lost Boys felt like that sometimes, when they’d had a long day of adventures and had been working hard to learn new flying tricks. Wendy said they needed more sleep, and she tucked them into bed early and told them stories.”

“That’s good advice, Peter. But my mother can’t tuck me in and tell me bedtime stories because I grew up and don’t live in the same house with her anymore.”

Peter thought about it a bit more.

“I’ll have to pretend to be your mother and tell you a story, then. It’s not bedtime yet, but you can lie down in the grass over there next to that tree, and I’ll tell you a naptime story.”

I found a place among the tree roots that wasn’t muddy. Peter gallantly contributed his green jacket for my pillow and gave me a moment to get comfortable before starting the story.

——————————

Once upon a time, on a lake very much like this one, there was a duckling who was full of energy and always wanted to play. Instead of staying in line and following Mama Duck like the other ducklings, he wanted to dance on the water, flapping his wings and turning in circles. When he got too far away, Mama Duck quacked at him and Papa Duck pecked him, but he still wouldn’t behave like a proper duckling.

“Little one, you need to do as you’re told,” quacked Mama Duck. “There are hawks, dogs, and cats everywhere, and they don’t want to see you dance—they just want to eat you!”

Of course, he went on dancing anyway, and it wasn’t long before he got too far away from his family again. Trying to find his way back to them, he passed a hawk sitting on a branch overhanging the river.

“Good afternoon, Madam Hawk,” said the duckling (he had, at least, properly learned his manners from Mama Duck). “I would like to show you my new dance, but my mama says that you don’t want to see it and that you just want to eat me. You wouldn’t do that, would you?”

The hawk fluffed her feathers. “Your mama isn’t wrong that I am a predator, but I wouldn’t have any interest in eating a scrawny little duckling like you. I wouldn’t get much more than an annoying mouthful of feathers. A nice fat rabbit would be much more to my liking. So, you may dance for me, young duck, and I promise not to eat you.”

The duckling happily performed his latest dance, and the hawk clapped her wings, cheering.

Just around the next bend in the river, the duckling saw a spotted dog lying on the shore in the sunshine. The dog blinked, half asleep, as the duckling hopped out of the water and came closer.

“A good day to you, Mr. Dog, and may I show you my new dance? My mama says you only want to eat me, but that isn’t really true, is it?”

The dog yawned, showing a large mouthful of sharp teeth. “I might eat you if I felt like getting up, but right now I am too lazy and would rather lie here in the sun.”

Once again, the duckling danced, and the dog applauded with a wagging tail.

Walking farther along the shore, the duckling came across a black cat fastidiously licking a paw. The cat watched with curiosity as the duckling approached.

“Hello, Madam Cat, would you like to watch me dance? You wouldn’t eat me instead, would you?”

The cat blinked once, as if uncertain, and then began grooming the other paw. “Hmm. A duckling might be a tasty little treat, but my owner just fed me, and I’m more bored than hungry right now. Watching you dance might be more interesting than eating you—maybe.”

The duckling gave one more performance and then, seeing that the cat was starting to look hungrier, scooted back to the river in a hurry. It wasn’t long before he found his family again. After giving him a loud quacking lecture on his bad behavior, Mama Duck just shook her feathered head in despair and turned to Papa Duck.

“He’s sure to come to a bad end one of these days.”

——————————

I wasn’t far from dozing off as I listened to Peter’s naptime story. That seemed to be all there was to it, though, as Peter turned away and sent another stone flying over the lake, skimming it lightly across the water with perfect technique.

“Did he?” I asked.

Peter turned back to me, looking as if he had forgotten all about the story. “Did who?”

“The duck. Did he come to a bad end?”

“Yes, of course he did.” Peter shrugged. “He grew up.”

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