Outside My Window: Feeding Ducks

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area.

Laura crouches at the edge of the canal, crumbling pieces of bread between her tiny fingers with the kind of focus only three-year-olds can muster. She frowns at the crumbs as they escape her hands to float on the top of the scummy canal water, and is transformed with glee as the ducks dart about pecking at the pieces.

I stand behind her, a firm hold on the back of her red coat, and can’t believe how tiny she is. The smallness of my daughter is just part of life, and if anything I sometimes can’t believe how big she has grown, how the tiny creature that made its way out of my wife’s womb could have turned into this little person. We marvelled at her smallness then – it took weeks to get used to the delicate hands and feet, the paper-thin miniscule fingernails, the tiny whorl of her soft pink ears. I felt clumsy and huge at first, afraid I would hurt her with my big awkward hands.

Her hands still get lost within my palms, but now she has a soft nest of dark hair, vibrant green eyes, and an increasingly expanding mind. She is like a flower unfolding, waking up to the world. She asks questions about the world around her and I can see her soaking it all in. Every day of her life builds her personality – every sentence spoken to her, at this age, could change the rest of her life.

In five minutes’ time, her focus will have shifted – she will lose interest in the ducks, distracted maybe by a passing dog or a sudden fierce longing for ice-cream. But right now, this moment, this action of crumbling the bread between her fingers and letting it fall to the waiting ducks below is her entire world. Her sparse eyebrows knit together, the smooth baby skin rumpling slightly between them; her moist rosy top lip pouts in concentration. She achieves without thought a state that most adults can only begin to achieve in meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Laura turns her head and looks up at me, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. ‘More bread, Daddy!’ A tidal wave of love rushes over me as I smile at her imperious tone. I tug the plastic bag out of my coat pocket and hunker down beside her, tightening my grip on her coat with my other hand. We crouch together on the cold stone paving and look out on the still, murky canal water, the willow trees reflecting in its glassy surface.


Never let go

She was the girl who never learned to let go.

At nine months, her peers were learning to drop things, letting their toys go falling to the floor over and over, shrieking with joy at their new game. But she continued to clutch her toys to her, fearful of losing them. When her parents unclasped her sticky, chubby fingers from her lifelines of stuffed bears and building blocks, she would cry inconsolably.

Later, she failed to learn how to let go of a swing rope; refused to let go at the top of a slide; clutched ice-cream cones in her fist until they melted and dissolved into a pulpy mess. She wouldn’t let her teachers take her homework from her to correct, wouldn’t let anyone near her hair with a scissors.

Throughout her life, she braved ridicule and irritation in the face of spent friendships, failed at school and work assignments to avoid graduation or promotion, and into drawer upon drawer poured a sea of receipts and cinema tickets. She avoided funerals and flea markets. And one by one, every man she ever loved walked out on her.


We met as children. When I was seven, pale and skinny and already taller than all the other boys, a new girl joined our school class of scruffy and boisterous children. Her name was Judith Mirsky, and she had an English accent. She was demure, with an impassive face, straight brown hair and deep chocolate eyes. In her ochre-coloured school uniform, she looked like a sepia-tinted photograph. Next to us, with our ruddy cheeks and bright sea-grey eyes, she was like a glimpse of the past.

She glanced around the classroom at us from under a long fringe and hid her small hands in the pockets of a brown coat that was too big for her. But despite her apparently timid nature, despite her alien accent and appearance, she was greeted with curiosity rather than hostility.

In class, she was quiet, but knew the answers. Out in the schoolyard, Judith was transformed. She ran faster than anyone else and laughed harder than anyone else. A red flush seeped like blood from two pin points high on her pallid cheeks; her eyes turned jewel-bright amber. She became abrupt and sharp, the kind of girl who would pinch you when you weren’t looking, but not hard.

Judith and I were not exactly friends. And yet, her presence was notable throughout my childhood. We would bump into one another at the supermarket. Our mothers stopped to make small talk, and we made faces at each other across the laden shopping trolleys. She came to my ninth birthday party, and broke Steven’s action figure, because he wouldn’t let her play pirates with the boys. When we were in fifth class, we were both enrolled for swimming classes at the local swimming pool.

I had been to the beach on July days when the dull Irish sun deigned to shine. My father had waded into the sea with me, water streaming in rivulets through his chest hair, and held me afloat in the water, his big hands under my torso. I kicked and splashed, but as soon as he let go, I sank spluttering under the waves.

My experience thus far with swimming had therefore not instilled me with much confidence. Emerging from the warm, damp changing room into the cool air of the connecting corridor, I walked carefully along the ledges of the green tiled pond of disinfectant to avoid getting my feet wet. The clamouring echoes of the pool made my head ring, and I could feel goose bumps erupting on my skin as I approached the edge of the water. Several of the shivering children lined at the edge of the pool were in my class, and Judith was one of them.

There was no part of me that wanted to learn how to swim. Even my toes seemed to curl up in dismay at the prospect. They retreated back from the edge of the swimming pool with a mind of their own. ‘No!’ my knees shouted in agreement. The hair all over my body strained away from my skin in a desperate attempt to distance itself from the body that was, inexplicably, about to immerse itself in this expanse of deep water.

The children who could swim were separated from those who could not.

‘I’m a mermaid’, Judith said, poking me sharply in the ribs before joining the other group. I was eleven, far too old for believing things. But, I wanted to believe her. When I watched her small, lithe body writhe and contort under the water, I could almost, at times, see a flash of a tail fin, a scaly underwater glint.