Goodness, Duck Tattoo, where are you going? Duck Tattoo couldn’t answer because Duck Tattoo couldn’t talk, but Duck Tattoo clearly seemed to need something. It left its home in the water on my shoulder and headed south, down my forearm, to my wrist. Is it cold, Duck Tattoo? Are you migrating? Duck Tattoo circled my wrist-bone and traveled back up through the pond, then in and out of my armpit, down my ribs. Duck Tattoo looked lonely, but was it because I’d designed it that way? Was the expression new? Duck Tattoo paddled through the hair near my belly-button and came to rest on my left hipbone. It flapped its wings and looked up and down. What could it be, Duck Tattoo?
All day, I watched it search. It snapped at some moles on my neck, but the moles stayed put. Duck Tattoo deflated. Oh, are you hungry, friend? I went to the parlor and got some seeds tattooed on the palm of my hand. Duck Tattoo took a long time, but it found the seeds. It snapped at them, but they stayed put. Sorry, Duck Tattoo, I don’t know how to make this work. I thought awhile about it and then got some insects tattooed on my shoulder, near the pond. Duck Tattoo could smell them, maybe, and hurried there to snap at them. Duck Tattoo ate and fell asleep. Success. I slept, too.
I woke to find Duck Tattoo hiding between my toes. Oh, no, Duck Tattoo, what’s wrong now? Duck Tattoo just stayed put. I got more insects tattooed on my shoulder. Duck Tattoo smelled them, I could tell, but it didn’t go have a meal. I got a new pond tattooed around my ankle. I added flowers and trees and fish. Yet, Duck Tattoo cared very little about the water. Poor Duck Tattoo.
So I thought, yes, it was the loneliness. And I got Number 2 tattooed in the pond on my ankle. Duck Tattoo perked up immediately. Yes, go and see, Duck Tattoo. Duck Tattoo nudged Number 2 and then swam with it. They plunged their heads into the water, ate some of the fish, rose up and flew around my knee and thigh. They played hide-and-seek in the hair on my back. Number 2 tucked itself behind my ear. Duck Tattoo couldn’t find it quickly and became distressed. Number 2 only picked at its feathers and wings and waited. Duck Tattoo found Number 2 eventually, and after that, Duck Tattoo followed Number 2 around and around. It was sweet. At least, Number 2 thought so.
In time, Number 2 became vain. It liked to preen and walk around with its wings out. Best not to be too full of yourself, Number 2. But Number 2 didn’t listen. Duck Tattoo tried to follow Number 2 and appreciate it the way it wanted to be appreciated. This made Duck Tattoo tired. Of course it did. A few weeks passed, and Duck Tattoo was hiding again in my toes.
Duck Tattoo, don’t wear yourself out trying to be exactly what Number 2 needs. Do you see the irony here? You get so worried about being alone again that you forget to attend to your own needs. That’s how you end up by yourself. Look at you. My poor friend.
In fact, Number 2 wasn’t itself either. Maybe having no one to look at it made Number 2 upset or depressed. It found a spot in my armpit and stayed put. For days, it did. No preening. No wing-flapping or strutting.
What to do now, my friends? How to counsel you? Would a third duck only complicate life more? How about a new pond? No, friends, I think we need to work this out together, with just our thoughts and feelings. But I couldn’t make them leave their spots and meet each other. I couldn’t make Number 2 more humble or attentive. I couldn’t force Duck Tattoo to be less anxious and dependent. Please know I care about both of you, was all I could think to tell them.
I considered creating some circumstance where they could see that they needed each other. A disaster tattooed on my whole body. A hurricane, a flood. A pack of wolves. But once they were there, they’d never leave. And that would be worse than this estrangement. For a week, I agonized over what to do, and how to help them grow. God help me, I even had a dream of wiping them out and starting over. Engulfing them both in black, then designing something else entirely. Luckily, before my despair led me anywhere too drastic, Duck Tattoo and Number 2 solved the problem for themselves. Or, had it ever really been a problem? Had I misinterpreted? Out they came, at the same time, each trailed, I found, by 7 ducklings. 14 total. A miracle. They met on my chest, where my heart was, and together they waddled to the pond on my shoulder.
This is what you want, you two? Magic? Is this what you believe? I was moved and crying. They were too busy teaching the young ones to swim, plunge, hunt, and preen. Number 2 stood on my shoulder with its wings out. Duck Tattoo demonstrated how to stay together in a line. How to follow. Well, okay, friends. Family. Enjoy splashing, then. Let me get you some food. I gave them a cloud of flies, then sat back and watched.
Of course one day they’d all fade. But for now, there was this.
Tim Raymond has recent work in Joyland, Glimmer Train, and other places. He also makes comics, which you can find here. He lives and teaches in South Korea.