Chick did not know ducks could be so sad. First, the gaggle of giggling geese had arrived one breezy afternoon and they had not left the pond where all the ducks would lazily float. Now the water splashed with goose gadabout and the honking pierced the quiet that use to be. The geese gorged on bugs and gobbled water as Chick stood on the bank of the pond helpless to the greed of those grouchy geese.
On top of everything it was raining. Had been for what ducks thought were days and the ground was cold and damp and Chick’s feathers were always wet. She shivered and she shook but nothing dried the down she was beginning to shed. Chick ducked into her new home, a battered and discarded mailbox the gopher had tired of carrying and left it at the pond.
There the rain tap tap tapped on the metal roof and in a better mood, she would have found it soothing. Instead, she moped and moaned, staring forlornly at the hill where Badger and Badger’s tree lived. Chick clucked and sighed, unable to express her sadness in any other way.
Badger had been in his hole again since the rain and the geese fell from the sky. There were days when he would be sitting on a root at the base of the tree and he was animated and talkative and Chick felt the rays of his attention and affection. Then he would be busy burrowing or chasing a squirrel from his hive of honey and he would barely grunt a hello. Chick would sit in the grass and wonder if Badger still thought of her as he did on the sunny days.
After she had moved into her mailbox home, she had asked him to venture down the hill and visit her. His mood darkened and he harrumphed his displeasure.
“I can’t leave my hole.” Was his latest excuse. “The way this works is you come visit me.”
“Friends have give and take. Even if it makes you scared, you should try to come see my new house. You should try to do things friends do.”
“Then find a friend who does those things.” Badger had grumbled more than any geese could.
Chick had huffed away, for what felt like the hundredth time, but the next morning she was back at the tree sharing honey and trying to figure out what she meant to Badger.
All of this kept her very occupied until the geese garnered her attention. Even in the rain that created puddles in the grass she had to float across, she made her way to Badger’s hole and descended into the dankness that was the world he lived in.
“You never knock.” Badger groused.
“Friends shouldn’t have to.” Chick fluffed her feathers at him and saw even in all his grouchy, he badger smiled. “The ducks have been gabbling and we are leaving the pond. The geese have made everyone miserable and grief stricken. The new pond is too far to walk here every morning.”
“Come with me.” Chick felt her throat all heart lumpy. “There’s a tree there, and probably bees and it’s even prettier than this one.”
“You keep talking about leaving. You’re always talking about other ponds and other meadows.” She could feel Badger’s anger. “I want to stay here. I don’t like change and I don’t like friends who try to change me.”
Suddenly the hole seemed so much smaller and Chick’s heart seemed so much more broken. “I thought we were best friends and always would be. That means we try to change together so we stay like this forever.”
“Badgers don’t change for anyone.”
Chick felt the last piece of her heart shatter and splinter. She wanted to stand there arguing with him as she had ever other time. She wanted to remind him of the mornings when they ate honey and everything felt so perfect and they were so happy. But standing there, seeing his cold badger eyes, she knew reminding him would not change anything. He had to want those mornings again, and he no longer did.
With all the cheerlessness of the entire world resting on her shoulders, Chick walked away from the friend she had loved more than she even loved herself. She waddled her way back to the duck pond where the mallards were haughtily discussing their impending move. Chick turned to the hill where Badger would live without seeing her every day. He didn’t care she was moving to another pond or even another world.
Chick toddled into her mailbox house and sat down on the flowers she had fashioned into a sweet smelling bed fit for even a swan. Over the gossiping geese, she listened to the rain trop trop tropping onto the roof and felt the rain leak from her eyes. Such a sad duck indeed.
Badger was in only one word that could possibly describe him at that very moment, despondent. He sat in the dankness of his hovel, his stomach rumbling as he had eaten the last of his honey and clovers the night before. He had been hiding for days from Chick, who showed up every morning for breakfast and every morning he peeked out of the burrow to watch her waddle away, her beak ducked sadly.
For days they had been the best of friends and the fizzy feeling in his badger stomach had made him fall asleep with a smile only a badger could manage. He didn’t think he would like having a friend who poked and prodded his feelings so much. He didn’t think he would like having a friend who could talk about the color green or a dandelion she had sat watching. But he did. He looked forward to when he would hear Chick humming as she walked and the little fluff of her feathers she did when she saw him. She thought he didn’t notice, but he noticed everything about her.
She taught him about ducks and he taught her about badgers. When they walked along the creek, she floated in the mirror of the water and would look at her reflection and think there is one all the other animals know, and then there is the real Chick I know. In return, he let her see the real him behind the fur and the growling exterior.
He knew in his heart Chick’s heart was full of the us that was. Yet, sometimes, they would sit on a patch of grass and the bees buzzed and the birds flew and she would ask him to tell her something important and the words would get stuck in the fizz of his stomach. He would get grumpy when he became tongue tied and twitchy when she poked a certain feeling too hard. He had not known ducks were so sensitive and Chick would drop her wings in a sad way and he would feel the change between them.
One morning, when Chick had huffed away having only asked him what his favorite flower was and he wanted to tell her it was not really a flower, but the honeysuckle bush that tasted as sweet as honey but smelled so much sweeter, but the words jumbled on his tongue. What did she think? He was a badger after all. Badger’s had certain behaviors and who was she to huff about them?
“Friendship is impossible.” Bear, the squirrel who lived above the honey hive, said as he piled acorns in a pyramid against the root of the tree.
Badger harumphed and watched the field to see if Chick would make the trek across the dew dotted grass that morning to yet again be turned away.
Bear clucked his tongue and shook his tail. “I know badgers are stupider than squirrels, but you Badger are the stupidest of them all.”
Badger growled and snapped his jaws. “Leave me alone, Bear.”
“Squirrels know a lot about love, Badger.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about.”
“The world is big, Badger.” Bear continued, balancing another acorn on top of an already lopsided and wobbily pile. “I was up in my tree and I heard her chirping about other ponds. You’re afraid she’ll go away to another pond and you’re afraid all these things about you that make her huff away will mean she will never come back.”
“Why can’t she just let me be me?” Badger sighed, no longer interested in arguing with Bear. Squirrels were smarter than badgers after all.
“Because one day she’ll have to move to another pond, and she is afraid too.” Bear clucked his tongue again. “And she’s afraid you’re so comfortable hiding in your hole you won’t want to venture to other ponds with her.”
“Why can’t she just stay in one pond and things never change between us?”
Bear walked over to Badger and patted his shoulder. “Just like the seasons, we change Badger. If we don’t change everything would always be the same and we would never meet ducks named Chick or see snow on the tree limbs or seas of flowers.”
“I make her huff and I think I hurt her feelings.”
“She makes you harumph and she hurts your feelings, but does that mean you don’t want to be her friends?”
Badger sniffled. “It never does.”
“Squirrels are smart.” Bear tossed an acorn over his shoulder and his entire pyramid of the nuts collapsed and rolled into the leaves. Bear shrugged. “Things fall down and you get a chance to rebuild it. Every time you make it a little stronger and a lot sturdier until you get it figured out.”
At that moment, Badger knew squirrels named Bear were the smartest of squirrels. He moved closer to the edge of the hill so he could look down and see it all stretched out before him. He could see Chick then, her black and yellow feathers lit by the sun as she made her way toward him, stopping to sniff a flower to watch a bug. But she was coming toward him.
Instead of hiding, he sighed heavily and waved sheepishly. At least he thought he waved the way a sheep would. Chick fluffed her feathers then and he knew no matter about the huff or the harumph, she still wanted to tell him about green and dandelions.
“I’m sorry I don’t always understand you.” She said as she sat down next to him.
“I’m sorry sometimes I stop trying.”
“I saw a grasshopper with dark green wings.”
Badger smiled and the fizzy feeling in his stomach made him feel warmer than the sun ever could.