This week, Mara Papavassiliou shares her flash fiction with Mona readers. Mara's piece features skilfully veiled threats that speak to an all-pervasive kind of violence, and questions of responsibility and culpability hang in the air at the story's conclusion. Check back in during the week as Mara provides us with some inside tips on how to master the art of flash fiction on the Mona Blog!
The ducks rest on the far-side shore of the dam. They don't notice Dana and her father and the family dog, Hank, creep downhill on the cracked pepper earth that leads from the farmhouse. Not till it’s too late.
‘Should I shoot one?’ her father’s question is ghost-like, mostly hushed air.
There is one male, with a puffed chest and feathers that bear the gleam of opals.
His name, Dana decides, is Duck King. She knows it is he that her father has lined up in the cross hairs of the shotgun.
Hank knows it too. He strains and pants, throttles himself with the choke-chain.
‘Come on, Dana,’ her father says, ‘I’ll do it if you say so.’
He’d taken the gun before and nothing had come of it but this time Dana knows it’s different. It’d taken her father three months to obtain the permits for the weapon. It was the largest he could obtain for a property the size they owned; even then, he’d paid off the local gun club to say he was a long-time member.
‘In Europe, they wouldn’t even think to use a shot gun this size for pest control,’ he’d said while cleaning the barrel one evening, ‘it’s not powerful enough. Would be animal cruelty, they reckon.’
It's close to midday but the fresh cool of winter morning hangs in the air. The brown water of the dam is still, its surface a perfect reflection of the leafless canopy above. The branches of dead trees stand in the places they were when the water was dammed. They reach up to the sky, cracked and jagged and pale as old skeletons.
Her father’s arm shakes ‘Tell me,’ he whispers, ‘yes or no?’
‘Well,’ Dana begins, taking a breath, ‘it might stop them eating the marron.’
Dana’s father does not move, does not even seem to breathe. ‘Is that yes or no?’ he asks again.
Dana doesn’t know.
There hasn’t been any sign of the marron they’d released in the dam for weeks, and Dana had spoken with confidence the day before about her theory that the ducks had eaten the marron.
‘I think you’re right,’ her uncle had said, ‘those stupid ducks.’
Dana had elaborated that killing the right duck could cause the ducks to leave the marron and their dam alone forever. Her uncle and father seemed to agree, for once. But that was a kitchen table conversation, carried in over tea and fried donut pitouli dipped in sugar. Dana’s uncle had repeated her words that evening to his wife and the friends that came to play cards and drink rykia with him, and it had taken on an unshakeable truth.
‘Should I shoot or not?’ There is anger in her father’s voice. Dana knows the tone well. She feels the red chafe circles her hand-me-down gum boots burn around her calves, and she see the muscles on her father’s bright white arms bulge with the strain of her deliberation, ice blue veins eking out of them.
‘I don't know,’ Dana says again.
Dana doesn’t know, but Hank the dog knows. He surges and strains against his leash, his body rigid and sure. He is angled straight toward the ducks as he is held back, like he doesn’t know what to do with the unvented instincts that tip his ears and nose and eyes to attention, the whole of him as ready to burst as a kinked hose rushing with water. To Hank the answer and the question are one and the same, and Dana feels guilty at his whining and salivating and dry-retching on his choke-chain, because he has made up his mind about the ducks, and does not understand her dilemma.
Hank jolts forward on his leash as her father asks again. ‘So should I shoot? Should I shoot it, Dana?’
More than anything, Dana does not want to be wrong. Her father glances at her from the corner of his eye. When Dana gives the command, her eyes shine with panic and her gaze darts from her father to the ducks to the dog and back again until the gun cracks and the birds fly and Hank the dog rears up in excitement, snapping his teeth at the ducks overhead.
Across the water, Duck King is nothing but a heap on the ground.
When it is done, they discover that no one at the farm knows how to pluck or gut a duck properly, so they let Hank have his way with him.
Back at the farmstead, Hank plays with Duck King’s body like a chew-toy. Puckered patches of skin sprout where the jewel feathers are loosened by Hank’s teeth and jaws, the rabid lips of the dog foaming with excitement, with saliva, with blood. Dana’s aunt finds Duck King’s body on the lawn soon after Hank has been distracted by a movement of sheep behind the neighbour’s fence. She throws what remains of him in the bin.
Dana’s uncle tests the salinity of the water. It returns a reading of sixteen parts per thousand. ‘Too briny for marron,’ he says.
The ducks returned to the dam and Dana sometimes goes out to watch them. She wonders if the other ducks remember the way Duck King died, and whether they are afraid now, or lonely, and when Dana cries about what happened, Hank sits down next to her to be sad with her, and he lets her pat the top of his soft, plush-toy head. Dana thinks of the delicate snap of bones in Duck King’s neck and wings, and of his precious feathers turning dull and putrid, mixed in with the mess of dinner scraps, and she thinks about how she was the one that had made Duck King die.
Dana pulls Hank close, squeezes at his neck and fur, tucks his head underneath her chin. Hank licks at Dana’s face, and she is not afraid that he should ever bite her, for she knows that he knows the true meaning of his teeth.
Mara Papavassiliou is a public servant by day, and writer by night. She currently lives in the Goldfields of Western Australia, where she is inspired by abandoned mine sites and the gothic landscape of the Great Western Woodlands. She has previously been published in Monash University’s Verge journal, and the Centre for Stories’ Under the Paving Stones, the Beach anthology. She aspires to write literary and speculative fiction.