Anatidaephobia

An excerpt from Michael Conley’s Flare and Falter

This story is excerpted from
Michael Conley’s Flare and Falter,
available now from Splice.

He wakes to an echoing quack. In the bathroom mirror, behind his shoulder, a duck roosts on the shower rail. When he turns around, it’s not there.

On the way to work he notices the same duck waiting at a bus stop. Something in its expression reminds him of his father.

The duck isn’t in any reference books. The closest specimen is a Swedish Blue, but his duck is yellow. He wonders when he started to think of it as his duck.

When he gets home, his laptop is on and his internet browsing history is open. A trail of moist flipperprints leads to the kitchen. The breadbin is crumbless.

He turns on the television. He spots the duck in the audience on Question Time, wing raised politely above its head, staring into the camera. Dimbleby ignores it.

Sleepless weeks pass. He keeps finding feathers on his pillow.

One morning, in the mirror, the duck seems closer than usual. Without looking directly at it, he shoots an arm out behind him, grabbing it by the neck. He raises it to eye level, studies its empty black pupils.

Quack, it says.

He howls. The neck snaps like a broccoli stalk. He stands in the bathroom for ten minutes, cradling the lifeless body. He decides to bury it in the garden.

When he returns, panting, his fingernails packed with soil, he doesn’t notice the full bath, the two large yellow shapes bobbing serenely, watching him dress for work.

About Michael Conley

Michael Conley is a writer from Manchester and the author of Flare and Falter. His poetry has appeared in various literary magazines, and has been Highly Commended in the Forward Prize. He has published two pamphlets: Aquarium, with Flarestack Poets, and More Weight, with Eyewear. His prose work has taken third place in the Bridport Prize and was shortlisted for the Manchester Fiction Prize. He tweets @mickconley.