"There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one."
-Everything and Nothing, Jorge Luís Borges
She is found beside the pond, stretched thin between the twilight of the day and the twilight of the evening. The sun has just finished painting the golden feathers embedded in her red hair and the blinding glare within her eyes. One foot remains in the water where it cannot be seen. And always her blue eyes search the horizon for something she has lost.
I find her there, trapped between the blank pages in my mind. Her eyes implore me always. She reaches out for me tentatively, as if she has forgotten my name, or is trying to. I glimpse her in fragments, in that clear blue gaze, in her attentiveness, and in my own dimming memories.
I came to her as God within a dream, illuminated her destiny, and told her thinly that she was only what I had intended for her to be, that her purpose was to be that which supported others. Her purpose had ended, and so she too must end her active role and return to that which she had been before. The story was written, the words were finished, and reality was looming with the waves above our heads.
"I don't remember much from before," she told me once in a shaking, perilous voice. "Most of the stuff comes after… It starts with Drosselmeyer, I think. Yeah, it starts there, but… sometimes I think that stuff came before…"
Of course at the time, I replied that this trivial detail was of no importance—because after all, everyone agrees that a duck is a duck.
Even now I hear Drosselmeyer's amused laughter and the gnashing of the clock's crooked teeth.
You see, it's so easy to forget that she was ever real, to forget that she once wore human hands and human blue eyes while the rest of us took it all for granted. It's so easy to bind her in a wedding veil of golden feathers and place her beside the pond in our minds. She's only a duck, she's only a duck, she's only a duck.
I have forgotten, in my haste, my ink-stained hands that write so dutifully and fervently are not God's.
When it rains outside I hear her laughter, her sparkling droplets of laughter, flinging itself against my windowpane.
The shadows stretch long in the twilight world; the trees beside the pond are painted black by their brothers and her cheeks are colored a faint rose by the fading light. I draw back the veil of golden feathers and look into those blue eyes and ask if she will help me build the human form again.
She reminds me dutifully of the eye color, the hair color, the words, the phrases, the smile, the pattern of steps. My pen follows her. The duck, the girl, the swan, the princess, the ballerina—I capture her and label her, I dissect her and stitch her back together in feverish haste, as if she is slipping away from me.
You can't expect any better from me. I am the writer, after all: it is in my nature to falsify and magnify and stitch things together in the wrong places. It's what I do.
In my mind I hold her frail hand. I smile at her and she smiles back. Neither of us mentions the worlds we have lost and the people whom we have forgotten. I am dancing with her at the bottom of a lake; she is stumbling and falling and she asks me why, but I have forgotten my own answers. I assume that I have always been right. We dance and we dance and I know that I can no longer see her—my eyes are blurred with these damned tears.
"It's okay, Fakir," she says softly, and though I cannot see I know there are tears in her eyes as well. "It's okay."
And God said unto the duck that she shalt remain a duck, for that was what God willed.
(And though she stands before me, a duck turned to a girl, I know there is something missing, some crucial word I have forgotten. My crippled hand aches with its weight. There is some light missing from her eyes; they burn like pale fire. Though I gaze into them, I know that I will only see my own reflection there.)
Some part of her is still lost, still waiting by that pond. She looks up through the waves, a pale glimmer of moonlight upon the bottom of the silt, and the inhuman loneliness in her eyes is blinding.
I have caught mere glimpses of her, like scattered light all around me. I could not see all her colors—she is blinding in her entirety. The words are only the symbol. In translation something is lost in the shadow upon Plato's cavern wall.
She is stitched together, my beautiful Duck, my beautiful paper doll.
I have laid my pen back down, now, and I don't wish to pick it up again—my crippled hand is tired of these rushed, incomplete phrases. I am tired of searching through this forest of endless words and letters.
You see, the story isn't a story. The story is a labyrinth, and at the center I will find her or I will find the minotaur.
She holds my hand in the twilight. It no longer matters, though; the ink has long since dried.
Sometimes in the darkness, I hear her dim, apologetic words: "It's not your fault, Fakir." A part of my soul dies.
It's so terribly easy, so frightfully easy to forget that which you love most (forgive me Duck, please forgive me). Even as I tell myself this, I close my eyes and see that empty spot inside her soul standing beside the still water.
A duck is a duck is a duck is a duck is a duck is a duck is a duck said the writer, and so mote it be.