Duck Pellets

By Claire Holahan

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Marcie had just watched a polar bear starve on television and describing the stumbling, saggy beast to her grandfather wasn’t easy. Her assertions came in a rush of breath. If the magnificent, lumbering polar bears were in danger, what would happen to the people? Not to mention the penguins and the seals and the spikey, mud-colored fish who couldn’t handle a PH balance over 8.1, but it was 8.2 of late because of all the plastic straws and the acid rain.

“I met a polar bear once,” said her grandfather. “Nasty thing.”

Marcie’s grandfather, who was prone to exaggeration and suffered from a nip of dementia, listed the bear’s attributes, starting with its fiendish, river pebble eyes and finishing with an account of the way it had lumbered home, disinterested towards an old man.

Marcie decided to stop using plastic straws after she had a thought. If everyone made a tiny effort she was sure that massive change would follow. That was the way things worked on television and in the blocky, grocery store tabloid headlines. Everything a butterfly effect, no action without consequence, no breath without a hurricane. She bought a purple, glittery re-usable straw from her neighbor, who was technically an artist, but mostly bought eclectic, colorful items online and resold them at flea markets. The straw was expensive, so Marcie carried it in her front pocket, like a pen, so people would ask (without much prompting) and she could tell them about the cause and the tempered glass that was more resilient than regular glass and how it probably wouldn’t shatter in her mouth.

But the glass did break, one day, as she chewed the tip, pensive, reflective, a little hungry, and a shard lodged right between her left bicuspid and her gum. Afterwards, every time Marcie took a bite of something with a resistance higher than pudding, the glass would wiggle and her gums bled. The iron tang was a nuisance when she brushed her teeth, and so she stopped. Instead of peppermint, Marcie’s mouth filled with thick, congealed blobs of sweet, sticky blood paste. The salty tendrils mingled with bites of a mozzarella and balsamic, angel food cake and her grandfather’s pot roast.

When the wound became infected, Marcie wondered if someone immortal, like Ghandi, had festered, too. She wondered if she had finally done the right thing, now that she suffered, and maybe morality was an exchange for comfort because it was just the price of being good.


“I’m having trouble biting down,” said Marcie to her boyfriend, Dillon, and he made a show of keeping a straight face. The stench of Marcie’s wound filled the empty space like warm smoke or a balloon about to pop. They had decided on a coffee date at the café beneath Marcie’s apartment because Marcie could soak her biscotti in her chai tea until it fell completely apart and sank to the bottom of her cup, where she could then scoop it back up with the crusty-tipped metal spoon and open her mouth wide and let the saturated, cakey blobs slip down her throat.

“Have you considered having the shard removed?” asked Dillon. He pulled the straw from Marcie’s front pocket and scratched the broken end against the table, stabbing the soft oak with Morse-code puncture wounds. The straw broke again, after a few heavy-handed jabs.

“Now I’ll have to sip from the other end,” said Marcie, reclaiming her straw.

“What if you just drank from the glass?” asked Dillon. He regretted his suggestion, however, because Dillon hated drinking directly from strange glasses. He had a tendency to take off his shoes in restaurants, so he kicked the table legs with his bare feet.

“This is more than a life choice,” said Marcie. “It’s a good example.”

Marcie wiggled her tongue around the bloated, pussy pocket of gum at the top of her mouth. The pressure squeezed out a river of tangy fluid that coated her tea-yellowed teeth and made them shine. Marcie knew from her bathroom examination rituals that it made her teeth look like opal.

“I love your smile,” said Dillon.

“I made it myself.”

Dillon asked Marcie if she’d walk with him, and so she did, down the weather-worn street, full of potholes and weeds in the sidewalk cracks and to their neighborhood duck pond. It cost five cents to buy a handful of duck pellets, and so Dillon treated her to several handfuls, which they balanced on the stone ledge that prevented people from jumping into the stream.

The ducks were fat, but the people kept throwing. Bloated, uneaten pellets of duck food floated on the water’s surface before finally sinking and coating the rocks at the bottom of the stream with grimy, brown slime.

Marcie leaned over the ledge, her stomach folding over the uneven, cemented stone.

“Why won’t they eat?” She threw another handful down to a trio of disinterested mallards. “Everyone’s here to feed them.”

Dillon felt around his pockets for some more nickels.

“They should really appreciate what they have,” said Marcie. “Here they are, fat and happy, when there are polar bears starving in Antarctica.”

Claire Holahan