Every spring, the ducks came, and JB came with them. He sat on the wooden bench beside the pond, slowly breaking off crumbs of bread or bits of cracker and tossing them on the ground. When the bread was gone and the last cracker had been crumbled up, the ducks waddled back to the pond, and he stood up and made the slow walk across the street.

For almost fifty years, a heart and “JB+HB” had been carved into the backrest, faithfully carved out again everytime the city replaced the rotting wood. There wasn’t one now and hadn’t been one for five years. He had tried 2015 and nearly lost a finger and decided, with a shrug, it was sentimental trash anyway.

JB had volunteered for Korea. He had a bronze star and a purple heart tucked away somewhere. He hadn’t looked at them in thirty years and hadn’t thought about his time in Korea in twenty. What was in his mind today, as little bits of crust flew out from his fingers, were the punks and the sign.

The sign, which he refused to look at, was brand new and read “Thank you for not feeding the ducks,” and then, in finer print below that, a short condescending lecture on all the negative effects of duck feeding, from learned aggression to bad nutrition.

The punks had been his neighbors for the last month. If they had moved in fifty years ago, when he had bought the house, they (or their landlord) would have gotten the message that the late night arguments and wall-shaking rap would not have been acceptable. There wouldn’t have been wall-shaking rap then, anyway. Right now they were sitting on another bench, their bench, coming down off of something.

The bread was out, all the ducks had made their way back to the pond, except one, the largest, who stood staring at JB for a few seconds and honked loudly.

“I’m out. No more.” He showed the duck his empty hands, which prompted nothing but a harsh peck of the beak against his leg and another honk.

“I told you, you dumb bird. I’m out.”

The duck honked again, louder.

“Fuck off.” JB mumbled under his breath as he rose and slowly began his walk across the street, chased off by a honking duck.

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09 May 2020