.

 

Horsetails

My mother was a puppeteer. It was surprisingly un-scarring.

Shh.

Let me tell you a story, beautiful. About Mother Mouse and her son Siegfried, who lived along the Upper Brandywine, where the horsetails are, in a little house by the side of the river.

One day Mother Mouse was sweeping and Siegfried kept getting underfoot, so she sent him out to pick thistles. She was going to make a thistle seed cake.

Siegfried went out with a big basket. On the way to the pasture he stopped and met Little Bear. And you know about Little Bear? He couldn't talk. He didn't have a mouth, even. They walked out to the pasture and saw some very promising thistles. But right as they began to pick, they heard a strange crying. It sounded like this "Qua-whoo, qua-whoo, qua-whoo."

They were a little scared, but went back behind the thistles, and what did they see? They saw a little duck, a duckling, and tears were running out of its eyes. They went up to the little duck and said, "don't cry," and Siegfried touched the its feathery green back.

Little Bear made some motions with his paws, and Siegfried said, "yes, I will ask him, Little Bear." Siegfried turned to the duck and said, "why are you crying, little duck?"

"Be-e-e-e-cause I ca-a-a-n't f-f-f-ly," said the duck, and tears ran down his eyes, over the front of his orange beak.

"That's okay," said Siegfried, feeling bad. "I can't either."

"But you're a mouse," said the duck. "You're not supposed to fly."

"Little Bear can't talk, and he's supposed to," said Siegfried. "And he's not crying."

"Really?" asked the duck.

Little Bear shook his brown head. The duck picked up a bit.

Siegfried said, "Come on with us and we'll pick some thistles, and then you can come home and have thistle seed cake with us, and maybe my mother can help you."

The duck said, "okay," and they picked some thistles into the basket, and all three went home together.

Mother was in the living room organizing the Mouse family photo album when they all came in the door. "Mother, I want you to meet my friend," said Siegfried.

"Hello Mother Mouse. It's very nice to meet you. I'm Ed the Duck," said the duckling. Even when he was sad he had good manners, unlike a lot of other ducks.

"I'm pleased to meet you, too, Ed" said Mother Mouse, brushing her whiskers and patting her apron. "Won't you make yourself at home?"

Little Bear and Ed the Duck began to play checkers, and Siegfried went into the kitchen and explained to Mother Mouse that Ed could not fly and that they had found him crying. Mother Mouse looked concerned and nodded. "I've heard about this," she said. "I'm glad you brought him home with you."

Then they all ate a nice dinner of grass pudding and thistle-seed cake.

Later, as they were sitting in the living room, Mother Mouse looked up from her picture sorting and caught a glimpse of something shiny under Ed's wing. I knew it, she thought. "Ed, can I see your wing?" Mother asked. Ed was very shy about his wings, but said yes because Mother Mouse had been so nice to him, and he waddled over to her and lifted his wing up.

"Have you been having trouble flying?" she asked.

"Yes!" said Ed.

"Well, I think I know why," she said. She pointed to a large shiny tube under his arm. "You have jet engines under your wings."

"I do?" said Ed. "I didn't know what those were."

"Yes, you're no ordinary duck," said Mother Mouse. "You're jet-powered. Let's go outside to a nice long patch of grass and see if those engines work."

They all went outside to the yard of the little house, and stood there for a moment. Mother Mouse said, "okay, now Ed, what I want you to do is not flap your wings, but just keep moving fast down the runway. Then just take off with your wings out straight."

Ed looked doubtful but did as he was told. When he got part of the way down the runway, a huge jet of flame burst out behind him, and he lifted into the air. Over the sound of the engines, he gave out a jubilant quack of glee.

He flew around in circles for a while, as fast as anything, and then finally came down for a smooth landing.

"How can I thank you?" he asked. "I thought I would never fly in my lifetime."

"You're very welcome, Ed," Mother Mouse said. "You know, I think Ed is not much of a name for a duck. I think you need something more in keeping with your jet-engine wings." She thought for a moment. "I think we'll call you Thunderduck. That's a much more exciting name than Ed."

Ed looked pleased and quacked in excitement. "Now, Thunderduck" she said, "I think I would like it if you would take me for a quick visit to my sister's in Pocopson. She's very far away by land and if we could pile on your back we would be there quickly. And she would be very excited to meet a duck with jet engines."

Ed--no, Thunderduck--was very happy to do this and proud to be asked to fly by so fine a person as Mother Mouse, so they piled on--even Little Bear, who really is very little--and got a good hold on Thunderduck's back and tore off into the sunset, towards Pocopson, leaving a huge trail of smoke and a huge jet roar.

Yes, now go to sleep.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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