Today has been a sad "growing up" experience in the Stanton household.
Several months ago, a trio of Pekin ducks started hanging out in our neighborhood and Sarah immediately took a liking to them. She named them Dixie, Quackie, and Moe (pronounced mo-ee), and in the great tradition of American kids, started feeding them bread. We allow her to perform these feedings once a week, and even tough that doesn't seem like much, the ducks act like they are her pets. Sarah will step outside and see them walking near the opposite side of the pond, and when she calls their names they waddle over at top speed like puppies running to their mum.
But this morning, when Sarah took the dog out to go potty like she does every morning, she found Dixie's decapitated body lying in the grass outside our lanai. I had barely turned on the water for my shower when Erika came in to tell me about the discovery, and seconds later Sarah came in crying. Erika advised me to make it a quick shower because Sarah needed comforting.
We have no idea exactly what happened. At first I thought Dixie may have succumbed to a fox or some other predator, but then I figured that doesn't make sense, because why would a predator go through the effort of taking prey and then not eat it? Erika, observing that on a few occasions over the last week we had seen the ducks as a duo rather than as their usual trio, theorized that Dixie may have been sick and succumbed to the illness -- after which a vulture or some other animal took a bite but didn't like the taste.
Anyway, all that is neither here nor there. I went out back with Sarah and put my arm around her shoulders as she showed me what she had found. Dixie lay on her back, her white plumage splattered with blood. Sarah pointed out that her beak was resting on the grass to the right of her body. Her voice trembling, Sarah said: "At first I thought it was a crumpled up Target bag, but then I saw its feet."
I told her I was sorry to hear about Dixie's passing, and that I felt bad she was the one who discovered it. I stressed that she should focus on the fact that Dixie lived a happy life because they met, and that she should focus on the fact Dixie always enjoyed it when she gave her bread.
Sarah wanted to bury her. We said we could not, because whatever took off her head would dig up the rest of her body and destroy it (although the real reason was I couldn't be late for work).
Sarah may have suspected the real reason, because she suggested we put the body on the front porch for the day so we could bury it when I came home in the evening. This left us having to explain that when an animal dies its body starts to rot and stink, and it gets covered by hordes of bugs trying to eat it, and this all happens in short order so we couldn't just leave poor Dixie sitting on our porch.
She understood, but insisted she still wanted to bury the duck after work, and so she asked if we could just "put her in a box on the porch." Erika and I explained that a box wouldn't hold back the processes of nature, especially on a humid summer day in Florida. Erika told her that Dixie's soul is what's important, not her body, and that her soul is in Heaven.
And so I grabbed a garbage bag, slipped on some vinyl gloves, and went out to retrieve the corpse. It was raining even though there were very few clouds. Sarah stood on the lanai and watched glumly through the screen. I obliged her when she asked me to hold Dixie's body up so she could see it one last time.
When I picked up Dixie's beak, I learned that there was still a good bit of flesh from her head attached to it. The flesh was covered with ants. That was a sight I did not let Sarah see.
I walked to the dumpster at the end of the street, and that is where I tossed Dixie's remains. When I went back inside, Erika was consoling Sarah on the couch.
I headlined this post "RIP, Dixie." But it is not a duck that I feel like I said goodbye to today. I feel like I said goodbye to part of my six-year-old daughter's childhood innocence. Dixie brought amusement to all of us, but she brought unbridled joy to Sarah.
Sarah will still feed Quackie and Moe, but I will never again hear her call out "Dixie! Quackie! Moe!" as she runs into the yard holding bread. I will miss that because she always sounded so happy. In memory, below is a picture of her feeding all three ducks. I believe Dixie is the one all the way on the right, but Sarah could tell you for sure -- just as she could tell you how she knew that Dixie was the only one of the trio who was a girl.