Failing the Duck Test

Failing the Duck Test

Steve Bass

Brendan didn’t want to get in line with the rest of the class. They squirmed quietly next to the cubbies in front of the door, notepads of drawing paper and crayon boxes in hand. Elizabeth Motley stood at the end of the line, spinning in a circle and swinging her arms. Mrs. Hornblowt was taking them on a class field trip, which everyone was very excited about. Except for Brendan. There had been no yellow permission slip, his mom hadn’t packed him a special lunch, and they weren’t even taking the bus.

He was slowly pulling his notebook out of his backpack when Mrs. Hornblowt said, “Brendan, we’re all waiting for you. If you don’t move a little quicker, we’ll have to leave you behind.” Brendan zipped his backpack back up, not much faster than he had unzipped it. He always hurried his mom in the morning so that he could be the first one in the classroom; he liked to sit at his desk and spread his fingers on the cool plastic, and to just breathe in the quiet. Once other kids started arriving, they did things like throw their backpacks into the corner and yell and pick their noses and tattle, and Elizabeth would pinch his arm until he kissed her cheek.

Now Mrs. Hownblowt’s voice was hard. “Brendan, I need you to get in line now.” He dragged his feet on the carpet just like his mom told him not to, and got in line behind Elizabeth. She stopped twirling and smiled at him. Brendan tried to focus on his notebook. The class started toddling out of the classroom and through the field next to the school. Brendan kicked his feet in the grass and tried to get as much green on his new shoes as he could.

Mrs. Hornblowt led the class all the way to the far side of the field. They filed through a gate and in to the neighboring city park, which had a pond. Elizabeth turned around and walked backwards. “Do you like my butterfly?” Her hair was parted down the middle, and the clip on the right side of her head had an oversized plastic butterfly on it. It was pink and yellow and red and glistened in the sun.
“What butterfly?”
Elizabeth made the face that she always made right before she pinched him. “This one, dummy.” Before she could grab him, Mrs. Hornblowt stopped and told the class to sit on the grass in front of the pond. Brendan hurried past Elizabeth to sit between Owen and Kaiden, two quiet boys who didn’t pick their noses. Behind him, Elizabeth stepped on a line of ants and killed as many as she could.

As the class settled down, Mrs. Hornblowt said, “Today, we are going to play Eye Spy. But we’re going to do it a little differently than usual. I am going to describe an object, and I want you to draw what you think I am describing. This means, No Cheating. You all are very creative, and I want to see twenty three versions of what I describe. Owen, Brendan, and Kaiden, can I have you all move apart a little bit?” They inched apart and looked back at her. “Thank you.” She cleared her throat and turned to the pond. “Eye Spy, with my Little Eye, something that flies. It has orange feet, and a hard mouth. Only we don’t call it a mouth.”
Raymond shot his hand up, “I know I know Mrs. Hornblowt!”
“Good, but don’t say it. Draw it.” Raymond almost tore the top off his 120 Count (Surprise Inside!) box of crayons, spilling Maroon and Cornflower and Sunset Orange before settling on Blue and attacking his notebook with it.
Brendan whispered to Owen, “I forgot to bring my crayons. Can I use one of yours?” Owen only had an 8 count box. He reluctantly slid Gray out and handed it to Brendan. “Thanks.”
“Brendan and Owen, this is a Silent Activity!” Owen ducked his head until his nose almost touched his paper.
Brendan studied the Gray. It reminded him of the F-16’s on the Military Channel, like his mom said his daddy used to fly. Brendan carefully shaded in the wings with the side of the Crayon so the tip didn’t get dull. When the F-16’s took off, they spit orange and red fire out of their engines. Brendan bit at his cuticle, which always hurt more than he thought it would, and spit out a string of skin. The blood was more brown on the page than red, but better than gray. He pulled up a few pieces of grass and gave the plane a camouflage paint job. The cockpit was empty – Brendan had nothing to fill that with.

Mrs. Hornblowt gave the class fifteen minutes to draw, then rounded them up and led them back to the classroom. She stood at the door with a sheet of stickers in her hand. “Neat, Owen! Your duck even has a line of ducklings swimming behind it!” Owen got an Excellent! sticker. Brendan handed his picture to her and sucked on his cuticle, which still stung. “Oh,” she said. “Brendan, you were supposed to draw a duck. Eye didn’t Spy any airplanes on the lake. That’s ok though, it’s a very nice airplane.” She examined her sticker sheet for a moment, peeled one off, and stuck it over the empty cockpit of the F-16. Brendan took the picture back. The sticker said, Good Job.

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