Cold wind swept through the weathered coats of five-year-old Rebecca and her mother as they searched their small yard for the source of a faint quack. “Over here, mommy, look here,” Rebecca pointed under a bush.
The source of this quacky noise was a small skinny brown mallard duck that was limping around on only one good webbed foot. It hobbled slowly in one direction, bumped into a wooden post and then turned to try its luck in another direction.
The helpless little duck wandered about the best it could, stumbling into things and quacking wearily in hope of a miracle or at least a small morsel of food or drink of water.
“Mommy, what’s wrong with it?” Rebecca said, trying to get a closer look.
They got down on their knees in the sub-freezing cold, and cornered the duck against an old wooden fence to get a better view.
Rebecca’s mom lamented, “something’s wrong with one of its legs. Oh, and look, one of its eyes is bruised and damaged, and the other one looks almost completely crusted over. Honey, I think it’s blind.”
Rebecca’s mom gently grabbed the helpless duck. It put up little resistance since it was tired, dazed and hungry.
“Come on Rebecca, let’s take it inside.”
Inside the drafty wooden house they both sat down between their Christmas tree and slightly burning fireplace. Rebecca’s mom looked closer at the homeless and battered duck.
“Is it going to be OK?” Rebecca asked her mom in an unsure tone.
“Honey, it’s in pretty bad shape. Looks like some other ducks or something else has been pecking at it too. Poor thing probably hasn’t eaten in quite a while. I don’t know if it’s going to be OK or not.”
“Maybe we should take it to a doctor,” Rebecca thought out loud.
“But Rebecca, the animal clinic is probably closed now, being it’s Christmas Eve and all.” And in the back of her mind, she thought to herself, “I don’t know if we can afford an expensive vet bill right now.”
Rebecca looked up at her mom, “what are we going to do?”
Rebecca’s mom thought a moment and looked at the poor little duck that seemed like it was near the end of its rope.
“OK, honey, we’ll take it somewhere,” Rebecca’s mom decided. “We’ll try and find someone to help.”
They wrapped the ailing duck in an old worn towel. Its neck extended out and down from the towel.
They walked out into the icy cold evening, with the sun just setting below a crisp clear orange horizon. As they walked down the street, the duck made a faint “quaaaack” in desperation. The evening grew darker and colder by the moment.
After walking several blocks, they sat down on a park bench to rest a moment. Looking around, the only light visible in the dark night besides an occasional streetlight was about three blocks down the street.
“That’s the city hospital down there,” her mom noticed.
Rebecca looked and questioned, “do you think they can do anything for our little ducky?”
“We might as well give it a try, honey.”
They stood up with renewed encouragement and headed toward the hospital.
Upon entering the street-front hospital doors, they noticed only a handful of people there.
At the front desk, next to a small desktop Christmas tree, an older lady hurriedly looked up and snapped, “what can I do for you?”
“Um, hello, we have this small duck who doesn’t seem to be able to see and has a hurt leg,” Rebecca’s mom explained. “Is there anything you can do for it?”
The lady stood up and looked at the duck.
“That thing doesn’t look too good.” She added sternly, “sorry, we don’t take any animals here. Not supposed to and we don’t have any room for them. You will have to take that duck out of here. I think there’s an animal hospital down the street a ways.”
Disappointed, they turned and headed out of the hospital in the direction the lady had pointed.
After a couple of blocks, they noticed a weathered white sign up ahead with black letters proclaiming ‘Animal Clinic’. Arriving at the front door, their hopes were dashed as they stared at a darkened storefront and a ‘Closed’ sign.
“It’s closed, mommy,” Rebecca confirmed.
Rebecca’s mom sighed, and they both sat down on a nearby bus bench facing the cold deserted street with duck in arms.
“What do we do now?” she thought to herself, both cold and weary.
Rebecca looked around and pointed to the animal clinic, “mommy, there’s a light on in there now.”
They stood up, went to the front door and peeked through the glass panes. Light coming from a back room gave rise to renewed hope.
Rebecca’s mom knocked on the door. “Hello, anyone here?” her voice raised. “Hello …” she asked louder as she knocked several more times.
After a brief pause, a loud voice echoed from a back room, “just a minute … be there in a moment.”
Soon, the front lights turned on and a short stocky older man appeared.
He opened the front door part way. “Hello … what do we have here?” looking at the sick little duck. He sighed, “Oh dear …”
“I don’t think it can see,” Rebecca offered.
“We found it fluttering in our yard and are trying to find some help for it,” her mom added.
Rebecca pleaded, “Mister doctor, can you make it better?”
He looked at her worried frown and answered, “we’ll see what we can do. Bring it in.”
He took the duck and put it down on a waist-high counter and unwrapped the towel.
He looked at Rebecca’s mom and asked, “would you hold our little duck friend’s wings together against his body?”
He turned to Rebecca, “and you can help by talking softly to it.”
With precision, the seasoned older man delicately picked away the crust completely covering one of the duck’s eyes and almost obscuring the other one.
“Now we’ll put some drops in the eyes,” he said confidently as he put two drops in each eye. “I’ll give our friend a shot that will help with the infection.” The duck could barely manage a blink and muttered a slight “quaaaack”.
He turned the duck on its side, and looked at the hurt leg. “Hummm … doesn’t seem to be broken. Maybe just twisted or sprained.”
“What do you think?” Rebecca’s mom asked.
The man looked up and smiled, “with some tender loving care, and some medicine, I think this duck has got a good chance of a full recovery.”
Both Rebecca and her mom smiled a sigh of relief.
“I will keep our little Christmas duck here tonight,” the man said. “I’ll give him some food, water, and a good night’s rest and we will see how he is in the morning.”
“Can we come back to see him?” Rebecca inquired.
“Of course,” the man replied. “We will take him outside and release him when he is better.”
“Thank you for your help …” Rebecca’s mom paused, “how much do we owe you?”
The man laughed, “oh, don’t worry about that. Glad to help. Consider this a Christmas present and I thank you for getting this duck in here just in time. He would not have made it through the night.”
They turned and walked out of the clinic and headed toward home. After a few steps down the street, Rebecca looked back and noticed the clinic was dark again. She smiled and hurried along with her mom.
They soon reached the small hospital they had sought help from previously. The front desk lady and a friend were standing outside the hospital entrance talking.
Rebecca’s mom approached them. “Merry Christmas,” she said cheerfully displaying a big smile.
“How’s the duck?” the lady asked.
“He’s at the Animal Clinic,” Rebecca’s mom answered, “and the man that looked at him thinks he is going to be OK.”
“… and we get to go see him tomorrow,” Rebecca added with a smile and a voice of excitement.
Rebecca and her mom continued their walk home.
The front desk lady looked at her friend and commented, “they came in a while ago with an injured duck. Had to turn them away. What a way to spend their Christmas Eve. Out in the cold dark night with that poor unlucky duck,” she lamented.
“Unlucky duck?” the friend replied. “Nope. That’s one lucky duck if you ask me … and a couple of happy people too. This is one Christmas they will remember.”