The Return
Of the Duck

T. S. Eliot said that we measure out our days in coffee-spoons. Me? In the last few years I've been measuring out my life in Fruti jars.

I've tried them all --- milk cartons, Mott's apple juice bottles, anonymous plastic containers, Gatorade flasks. And the one that wins, hands down, every time, is Fruti.

It has to do with the size, the shape, and the tight-fitting top (very important --- especially when you're sleepy). And, I suspect, the anonymity: why is that nice man in a wheelchair carrying an empty Fruti bottle in his briefcase?

§     §     §

I used to think that I would never need a urinal again. I sure as hell wanted to stay away from them, because they brought back too many bad movies. The very word "urinal" puts me in the ward again: fifty years ago, me with that newly-lost innocence of body, on the ward with three dozen other kids, wondering how the hell I got there, wanting not to be there, and, worst of all, having to ask to pee. As if I were a babe again.

Urinals: cold metal things, with a handle, and a gaping mouth, called, for some reason, in our hospital, "ducks." Each one came with a small piece of mattress ticking to cover the top. And they sat there on the bed table, before and after use --- sometimes for hours.

§     §     §

I have a funny story to tell you about me and my Fruti bottle. It happened last year, and it goes like this:

Every winter, I head south into the wilds of Mexico. One place I stay is in the hills of Chiapas, quite close to the sea (but quite far from Commander Marcos). I live in an old but very comfortable, accessible trailer, which we park in an ancient mango orchard. It's a couple of miles from town; there are lots of trees, but no electricity.

I stay out there two or three nights a week. Peace and quiet --- no planes, no cars, no busses, no brawling drunks, nobody but me and my workers and the stars. The only sound is the sound of the bird the natives call the colonel. It sings, sometimes all night long, ko-lo-NELL, ko-lo-NELL. A strange, wild cry.

I bring out my bread, and my books (for candlelight reading), my jug of wine, and the Fruti bottle. The bread and wine stay by my side; the Fruti jar sits just outside the trailer door, on the ground.

Jose washes it out and sets it there in its usual place --- but, once, he neglects to put the lid on. After I go to sleep, and unbeknownst to me, several dozen barrenderas take up residence in the bottle.

Barrenderas are ants, black ants, big ugly black ants, the ones with the dangerous-looking mandibles. The name means "sweepers." They get that name because when they arrive, you get out of the way: their numbers are too large, their sting is too horrific.

You and the kids and the pets and the TV and anything edible go off to a friend's house for the night. During your absence, the ants sweep the place clean, and, best of all, drive out all the creepy-crawly things --- other ants, tarantulas, snakes, rats, and the scorpions. When you return, usually after twenty-four hours, the place is bug-free, clean as a whistle.

It is very very dark in the mango orchard. I have no knowledge of barrenderas, and I certainly couldn't imagine that they, like me, have an affection for empty Fruti bottles. At 3 AM (it's very dark; I'm very sleepy) I reach down and prepare to use it as best I know how.

Evidently the ants take umbrage at my relieving myself on their tiny little heads, so they rise up in a snit, and attack the offending shower-spout with their mandibles --- the way they best know how. And I do believe, by my troth, that in all my life, with its many moments of pleasure, and many moments of pain, I have never known such a sudden anguish in that most tender part of my body which, over the years, I have come to regard so lovingly and so well.

My workers, sleeping in a near-by hut, said later that they thought I was dying of heart-attack, or had a nightmare, or had seen a spirit. I had, I had! --- a nightmare of dozens of angry spirits, swarming over my privates, registering their irritation at me invading their space, trying to give them a golden shower at the time when they had no need, nor interest, in a bath.

§     §     §

The duck came back into my life a dozen or so years ago, around the time when I began falling down more than usual. As we age, the falls come more often, and get more and more dangerous. My body was weakening, I was losing my coordination --- but I didn't stop to figure out that age was taking me over. Sometimes we are the last to know when we get to that time when our bodies are no longer young and resilient. We think we are forever kids, Peter Pan; then there is a fall, and we are no longer young.

The worst fall took place the last time I got up to go to the bathroom, and it took a month for the huge black, purple and yellow moon on my hip to go away. There I was --- for the first time in decades --- in bed with my duck. It was not long after that I decided to fall in love with a Fruti jar.

I'm thinking I should be sending a testimonial to their company. "I want you to know how much I favor your bottles," I would say. "I'm not much for preprocessed orange juice, but after I've poured it down the sink...Wow!"

They'll send out a film crew, and at three AM, they'll start the video going, catch me in an intimate position with the Fruti juice jar. After I've filled it, I'll turn to the camera with a triumphal smile, hold it up, and say --- "For me, it's Fruti every time. And believe me --- I know!"

Then my PCA will daintily pick it up, and carry it out, and the screen will fill with a large selection of empty Fruti bottles. Apple juice. Tomato juice. Grapefruit juice.

And, of course, quack, orange juice.

---L. W. Milam

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