Enlightenment Duck

A stoneware duck. Eighteenth century, Qianlong period. A snip at two thousand pounds.

The dealer lifted it away from her touch. ‘It is rare to find such an example. Perfect for a Korean wedding. They’re given as luck.’

 A pond full of ducks could be had for that, but with an curt nod, she assented. ‘Okay.’

‘Shall I wrap it?’

She plucked it from his hands and nested it in her bag. ‘No need. I have it.’

It really was an outrageous gift. Not to cement her position with her daughter-in-law’s family: she was unable to compete with such wealth. Rather, the effect she was after was of a raised finger; of being lost in thought, then not. Stillness. Realisation. Ah, they’d think, ah. She understands. Life was made for such moments.

On the underground home, an elderly man leaned in to her. ‘They mate for life you know.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Mandarin ducks.’ He angled his head away in apology. ‘I couldn’t help but notice.’ 

She pushed the ornament lower, smothering it with her scarf.

‘It’s yours?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Well, no. A gift.’

‘And the other?’

By now she was out of patience. ‘The other what?’

‘Duck. They’re given in pairs. You were lucky to find its partner —?’

Did she look as if she was made of ducks? 

‘Just the one.’

‘Oh.’ He raised his hands, quivering, aghast. ‘Ah well.’

At the next stop, she got off early. She blinked against the light. Fool, she thought, fool.

 

Duck, Guangdong province, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, 1736-1795. Stoneware, painted with enamels.

Duck, Guangdong province, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, 1736-1795. Stoneware, painted with enamels. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).

 

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Enlightenment Duck was shortlisted for the Bridport 2018 Flash Fiction Prize.

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