The family lore is repeated over and over. It becomes so familiar memory mixes with imagination to fill in the spaces. My sister, Maria, loved too much.
Here lies Mr. Duck
There’s a black and white photo of Maria. The corner tattered, worn from my small fingers gripping the edges, straining to see a past I was too young to remember. She is wearing a hand me down home-sewn jumper too big for her small body. Her hands by her side you can see the end of her braid peeking out from behind her right arm. Her long bangs make her head seem smaller than it is and her impish smile denies her childhood innocence.
She stands alone under the dogwood tree. If I look closely I can see a feather floating behind her. I can see the small gray tombstone bearing Mr. Duck’s epitaph:
He wanted to live but he had no luck
My sister and the dogwood are surrounded by a thin white frame. The year ’66 stamped directly above her head. I spend countless hours looking into her blurry eyes, the camera not yet designed to capture memory clearly.
The year I was born, my sister, four years old, displaced her feelings for me. She picked up Mr. Duck, held him to her chest, closed her eyes, and hugged him squeezing her feathered friend so hard, she took his breath away.
He’s as dead as if he were hit by a truck
They buried Mr. Duck under the dogwood. The white blossoms floated to the ground like feathers surrounding his grave each spring, A gentle reminder of the family pet and his demise at the hands of a toddler.
My sister was the youngest child that year. I sat in the round warm belly of my mother waiting to take my first breath. Mr. Duck was her confidant. Sometimes she would tell him how excited she was to have a little brother or sister. When she would share her fears, he would listen quietly, releasing an occasional quack in solidarity. Sometimes, he would let her dress him in her doll clothes, giving her practice as the big sister.
“Your sister strangled the family duck,” my father would say each time he saw me staring at her picture.
“It was an accident,” my sister would plead, the guilt still echoing in her voice. “I didn’t mean to kill him.”
I would giggle at the thought of my sister, so passionate about her friend, so happy to have the quiet company of her webbed-footed companion she accidentally took his breath away.
Gloria DiFulvio is a writer of (mostly) creative nonfiction. Her work can be found in Huffington Post, Ravishly, Sunlight Press, and other publications. She lives in Hadley, MA with her wife, Sally, Australian Shepherd, Legend, and cat Beanie. You can find more of her writing on Medium: Medium.com/@gdifulvio