The two ducks rose from the surface of the water and flew away. “Do you think it’s because they don’t like us?” Marian asked, turning around to speak to her mother. The little girl’s absent hands almost let go of the small oar she was using to help propel the boat forward.
Her mother, Alita, replied. “It might be, Ree. They might be afraid of us.”
“But we would never hurt them,” Marian said, bringing the oar back into the boat and leaving the task of returning to shore to her mother. She was preoccupied. “I want to see them again.”
“I don’t know if they’ll come back, sweetie. Ducks have their own families, you know.”
“They do?” Alita nodded and said, “Mm-hm.” “Do they love each other very much too?”
“I’m sure they do.”
“And do they do things together too, like go for a walk in the park or collect rocks?”
“I’m sure they do something like that.” A small breeze helped the boat along, lightening Alita’s load.
“They why would they be afraid of us?”
“Just because they don’t know us, baby. People and animals are often afraid of people, and animals, that they don’t know.”
“What if I tell them my name the next time I see them? Then will they stay?”
“I don’t know. No, honey, they won’t understand you.”
“Because they’re animals. Animals and people don’t understand each other. That’s part of why we’re afraid of each other.”
Marian began to cry softly, putting her little head into her hands. “I don’t want them to be afraid of me, I could never hurt them.”
Alita stopped rowing. The sun was starting to hide behind the mountains, but she stopped thinking about it. She held her daughter in front of her.
“I don’t want them to go away,” Marian continued. “I want them to be my friends.”
“It’s okay, Ree. They can be your friends in your heart.”
“It’s not enough,” Marian replied. “I can’t see them in my heart. It makes me sad.” Finally, she broke down sobbing, as though she was many months younger.
“It makes me sad too,” Alita said, holding her daughter tightly in the middle of the lake.
After a little while, Alita gathered the two of them together. They dried their tears and paddled back to shore, where they made some dinner and drew pictures of ducks in Alita’s old sketchbook. Then, Alita put Marian to bed and wrote in her diary about what had happened that day, trying not to cry again and almost succeeding.