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Essays from Karen Anderson: Three China Ducks

Illustration by Kacie Brown

Three china ducks sit on my desk. They’re supposed to be mallards but the markings aren’t very accurate. And besides, they’re chipped and worn.

You might wonder why I keep them and I wonder that myself. I’m not one for knick-knacks, but when I glance at them, it isn’t the ducks I see but my mother’s beautiful hands—picking up each one and arranging them like a little family.

I can see the end table where those ducks lived, next to the orange chair. They shared space with a brass lamp and a round glass ash tray. One of my chores as a child was dusting the living room, and my mother showed me how to be careful with her many decorative pieces.

She had strong hands that moved with so much grace and assurance. My hands—like my body—seemed thin and awkward alongside her loveliness. I don’t know how the mallards lost their toes and hope it wasn’t my fault.

After my mother died, my father remarried and most of her things disappeared. Somehow the ugly ducks came to me. In recent years, I’ve been trying to get rid of stuff, and I’ve picked up the ducks more than once as I pack a box for Goodwill.

Then I put them down again...

Not yet.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.