The Duck (a story in five parts)

by Reyna Marder Gentin

Featured in the The Blue Nib: Poetry, Fiction, Review and Essays, January 2020

That Day 

Our son Duck passed his road test. The nickname dated from when he was a toddler. That day, we watched from the covered porch as he pulled carefully out of the driveway, headed for
his first solo spin. 

It began to pour. We held our mugs while the coffee cooled and looked out at the slick road. Then Jeffrey arrived.

Jeffrey, a mallard — green head, brown feathers — swam in the nearby pond. Duck had named and fed him, and Jeffrey often crossed the street and onto our front lawn looking for his friend.  

He waddled directly toward us and climbed the two stairs onto the porch, staring steadily, quacking loudly.
“He’s got bad news,” I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” My husband hid his eyes in his newspaper. 

Having said his piece, Jeffrey headed back to the pond. 

I heard the music, loud and thumping, before I saw Duck’s car coming down the street. He turned his head and waved to me, triumphant, as the front tire slammed into Jeffrey, sending him flying.

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Saving Grace

by Reyna Marder Gentin

One day, Grace Stevenson stopped coloring her hair. All those hours and all that money spent trying to keep aging at bay, and John had gone off with a younger woman anyway. What
was the point? At seventy, she thought the gray made her look refined, worldly. That’s how she wanted to feel. Like she’d arrived at a certain stage in her life where her choices should
be respected.

She knew she wasn’t fooling anyone.

Look at this trip, for example. Jeffrey meant well. Their only child, he’d taken her side in the divorce all those years ago. He believed his father 100%
to blame for the failure of the marriage. Of course, Grace knew that wasn’t true. Nothing is ever that one-sided. She’d tried to explain that to Jeffrey,
to give him a more even-handed perspective. But he couldn’t take it on board. The evidence of John’s betrayal, in the form of then thirty-year-old Bridget with the naturally blond curls, had been too overwhelming. Jeffrey’s attempt to
step up and take care of Grace, to compensate for absence of husband by being uber-son, was infantilizing. And it was only getting worse the more dependent
she became.

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A Journey Down the Aisle

by Reyna Marder Gentin

They stand in the archway at the back of the chapel, watching the prisms of light as they pass through the stained glass and dance on the old wooden floors. It had taken some effort, but Jeannie had picked the least flashy church she could find. She wasn’t aiming for somber, but she needed dignified. She places her hand on her father’s arm, feeling the cool starchiness of his dress whites as he stands ramrod straight, his seventy-five years not yet bowing his body.

“Are you sure you want me in uniform?” he’d asked her the week before. “It’ll make everyone remember —”

“You can say his name, Daddy,” Jeannie responded. “It’ll make everyone remember Tim. I want them to remember him,” she said. Even her white silk tailored suit could have passed for standard issue, but at forty and the second time around, she couldn’t fathom a bridal gown.

She’d met Tim when they were both fresh out of college, and soon after he enlisted. She’d fallen hard. Oedipal or not, the attraction to a military man had been lost on no one. Her father had been circumspect.

“Are you sure you want that kind of life for your own children someday?” he had asked, not long after she’d started going with Tim. She knew her father meant the relocations — they had moved every couple of years from one base to another, changing schools each time. Did she want her children to be military brats as well?

But the truth was it’d been a wonderful childhood. Her mother had been the rock of the family, helping the kids to adapt to each new situation and creating a core of resilience in Jeannie and her siblings. And the postings themselves had been exciting — Virginia and California, and the Philippines and Germany as well. Jeannie had grown up with a profound sense of the world as an open place of adventure, filled with people to meet and cultures to discover.

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Complicity

by Reyna Marder Gentin

May, 2015 There was always a moment, right before she entered the clinic, that Hannah had an almost unbearable urge to turn and run. It was some combination of revulsion for the neediness of the women and dread of taking responsibility for their welfare that nearly propelled her in the opposite direction each day. It wasn’t rational. Hannah was relieved when she saw that all the chairs in the waiting room were empty. There were Monday mornings when there were three or four women waiting to file for restraining orders after a violent weekend at home. For the next hour, she lay low. When she got up to use the restroom located down the long hallway, she passed through the waiting room, expecting it to be empty as before.

The woman was sitting in the corner, so still, that Hannah almost didn’t see her. Her head was resting against the wall, her bronze curls stark against the white paint, her skin so pale that she almost blended in. Her eyes closed, she might have been meditating. Hannah’s initial reaction was to retreat into her office and let the young woman rest. Perhaps she was an apparition, and would not be there when Hannah next checked. But they were often pressed for time; if Hannah needed to file a petition with the court on behalf of this woman, she should get started with the interview. She cleared her throat.

The woman opened her eyes slowly, an effort, revealing a translucent blue rimmed in red. After she registered Hannah, she immediately lowered her eyes to the floor. She looked fragile, and Hannah wondered why she was there without a friend or relative for support.

“Can I help you, Miss?” Hannah ventured, taking a very small step toward her. She felt the same sensation she had when she saw a deer near the pond in the early morning; if she approached slowly, she might get a closer look – too abrupt a movement, and the deer disappeared into the fog. The woman was dressed neatly in jeans, a sweater, and boots – appropriate for the weather, but something was off. The clothes looked slept in, or slightly unclean. When she didn’t answer, Hannah continued, “I’m Hannah Robbins. I’m one of the attorneys here. Would you like to come in and speak with me for a few minutes?” The woman followed her out of the waiting room and into her office.
“What brings you here today?” Hannah asked when the woman was seated. The woman exuded a melancholy that was palpable. Many of the women who came to the clinic were tense, anxious, angry. Certainly there we

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A Reckoning

By Reyna Marder Gentin

It was the profusion of green that always startled Reuben as he climbed up the stairs from the train platform and walked toward the taxi stand, getting in line to be assigned to a car to take him to his parents’ house. Early September, and the trees were still full and heavy as he headed home to celebrate the Jewish New Year with his parents. It wasn’t always so verdant, even in this pristine Westchester suburb where he had grown up. Soon the trees would turn a brilliant red and orange and yellow, only to lose it all and stand bare and stark for months. For a brief time during his senior year, thoughts of the ocean and bikini-clad girls in his head, Reuben had contemplated applying to colleges in Southern California. His mother’s response had been swift and decisive.

“Why would you want to live someplace where the climate is the same the whole year round? God changes the seasons to show us the passage of time, so that we understand that things don’t last forever, and we act accordingly.” Yes, that was actually how she spoke. Reuben knew that his mother’s logic was faulty; certainly God also wanted the good people of California to live meaningful lives, even if the weather was so beautiful they could hit the beach everyday. But he had listened to her and headed off to Boston, where he froze his ass off for four years, silently cursing God’s seasons.

Reuben’s mother saw God’s handiwork in everything. Not in some nutty zealous way that he easily could dismiss either. Rather, she was the most intuitively religious person he knew. The world made sense to her, and when it didn’t, her own incomprehension made sense to her too. Reuben envied her.

To read the rest of the story, please click here to purchase The Westchester Review, Volume 9,
June 30, 2017
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