The train station was overflowing with scowling faces. Mothers half-heartedly pushed their over-excited little boys on luggage carts while businessmen talked loudly on their cell phones. The scarlet train chugged down the tracks and a chaotic hush fell over the crowds. All eyes turned to the wheels that creaked along and then slowly screeched to a full stop.
Barbara clutched tightly to her mother’s hand. She was being dragged by a force that seemed much stronger than a 25-year old woman, and struggled to keep her pink-shoe-clad feet on the ground. Her blonde pigtails bounced up and down as her mother’s hand forced her towards the steamy train. The hand that wasn’t gripped tightly by her mother was holding Duckie, her stuffed animal duck.
Barbara loved Duckie. Duckie’s faded cream yellow colored fur was the most familiar and comfortable thing in her life. Barbara and her mother were constantly boarding train after train, and moving hotel to hotel as her mother looked for a job. Her mother used to have a job, at Barbara’s kindergarten, but then they told her she had to leave. Barbara was still fuzzy on the details; her mother told her that six-year-olds didn’t need to worry about such things.
Duckie had been given to Barbara before Barbara could remember. It was her favorite possession because her daddy had given it to her, or so her mother told her. Whenever Barbara thought about her daddy, she could only remember a faint outline of a man, blurry and fuzzy in her mind, picking her up and spinning her around the room. She remembered scruffy skin, Axe body spray, soft hands...she remembered the day the door slammed and he never came back. She remembered clutching Duckie tightly to her chest and sobbing until she was letting out small, pitiful hiccups. Her mother offered her ice cream but she wasn’t hungry.
Now, she felt Duckie slipping out of her small, sweaty hand, and whimpered a little, but her mother was emotionless. Suitcase in one hand, her little girl’s heart in the other, she marched ahead to the doors of the train, yanking her child’s hand and squeezing enough to break it. Barbara’s mother had wrinkles at twenty-five. She dressed in clothes the perfect mix of a 60-year-old librarian and a 1950’s stripper. Along with her outfits she always wore a grimace that even her little daughter couldn’t crack.
Barbara tried to grasp the rough, memory-haunted fur of Duckie with her slippery hands, but as she cried out, Duckie slipped from her grasp and her mother yanked her up the step into the train. Duckie fell what seemed miles down into the crowd of people that was in reality, only a few feet away. Barbara saw the last remnant of her daddy being crushed by heartless feet and unforgiving suitcase wheels. She tugged on her mother’s skirt urgently, but her mother was talking to a greasy man with a cigar. Barbara tried to leap out of the train, but her mother was paying attention enough to yank her back by one of her golden pigtails. Barbara found tears streaming from her brown eyes as the train doors closed and the train hissed. She crumpled into the seat and tried not to think of Duckie, crushed and unloved and so, so lonely…
A man with untamed scruff and hipster sandals found remnants of a stuffed duck in a train station. He bent down, tried to rub off some of the grime with his equally dirty fingers, and found himself frantically trying to collect the stuffing that was strewn around the empty and dark station. He couldn’t undo the mess. He couldn’t put the stuffing back inside the lifeless, almost colorless stuffed duck. His knees hit the ground and he shook silently, holding the duck to his chest. His daughter used to have a duck like this. He wondered if he’d ever see her again.