I placed him on the mantel in my dining room. Every night I checked him before I went to bed, and each morning I would come down, and peer warily into the room, a little unnerved, not knowing what to expect. We all learned in high school that perpetual-motion machines are a physical impossibility. But somehow, each morning, the duck remained a-bob, having performed his singular task through the night, for no audience and to no applause, merely because it was his lot in life. He was indomitable. He stood beside a 19th-century calendar clock, which duly recorded as the days passed, then weeks, then months. The bird was uncomplaining and undemanding. All he asked for was the services of a water boy, a task I gladly performed by topping off the glass every third day.
As I went about my life, succeeding at some endeavors, failing at others due to inattention, incompetence or lassitude, the Drinking Duck remained resolute and single-minded. Not merely good at what he did — let’s just say it: Perfect at what he did.
As with many worthy things, his devotion took a personal toll. His age in duck years soon became painfully obvious. The felt of his head became threadbare, disintegrating into the water. White mold began to spread across his ravaged face. Even his plastic top hat began to fail, half melting onto his head. But still he persevered, with dignity.
It is over. The duck has been stilled by the only thing to which he was vulnerable; violence done by the hand of man, the very hand that gave him life. My hand. Say he was felled by his God, to whom he bowed in obeisance for all of 72 days.
I did it because I was succumbing to pressures from my family, who feared the mold and, with unbecoming and uncharacteristic elitism, complained about the visual affront of a cheap plastic novelty item bobbing beside antiques. I shall someday forgive them for this. If the duck taught me anything, it is forbearance.
And so I pulled the plug, removing his sustenance and the source of his energy. I waited for the end, but it did not come. Even with the water gone, the drinking duck’s stout heart kept beating for hours, and his head ducking, until finally, just minutes ago,
his noble head as dry as toast
he bowed his last; gave up the ghost.
I’m not sure why it is that, when overcome with emotion, the human animal tends to express itself in phrases that end in the same sound. It’s seemingly inexplicable, but it somehow does the job, like the departed. And so:
Ode to a Drinking Duck
By Gene Weingarten
They dismiss you as curio, a gewgaw, a mere trinket,
For your job is very simple: There is water and you
But how many of us do the things we’re asked
And with loyalty and competence, and the patience
of a saint?
I salute you for your service, for your dignity and
… You’re a better man than I am, Drinking Duck.
E-mail Gene at email@example.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine