It was as if the big blue sky opened up and out of it an ocean of water fell. The ground swelled with puddles and the animals groused with displeasure as not a dry spot was to be found. Badger sat on a tree root, shivering with a chill he could not shake, and wiping droplets of water from his eyes he was certain were not tears. It had been days since Chick had waddled away to another pond, and he was equally certain it was only a matter of time before he forgot her.
Yet when he ate honey and could no longer taste the sweet, he had to admit he did not want to forget her. The only thing able to make his heart sail with wings was the thought of the friend he had foolishly let leave. She was just gone one morning. Without a goodbye or even a wave of her wing. Just gone.
It didn’t help that Bear the squirrel had also left. He had sadly shaken his head, clucked his tongue and waggled his tail. “Now you have to go find her.”
“I’m never leaving.”
“Then you’ll be alone.”
Badger felt his head hurt at the thought of alone. Before Chick he had wanted his solace and preferred his own company. Now he could barely stand himself. He was not nearly as funny or as entertaining as he had thought. He ached for his fuzzy companion to chatter and cajole all the while he pretended he did not like it.
Badger walked down the hill, his paws tromping in the mud as it splashed onto his fur. He just kept walking until he was at the edge of the pond where Chick had sat many evenings refusing to splash in the water. Chick did not like swimming. She didn’t even like being wet. He wondered if she was dry and warm where she had gone.
The geese gabbed to each other as he sullenly stared at his reflection in the pond. He no longer recognized the Badger he once was. He had spent an entire day furious at Chick for changing him until he realized she had done nothing of the sort. He had changed himself. He did it to be with her, and she had been worth it.
“I’ll be glad when they fly south.” A turtle remarked as he emerged from the murky water and walked achingly slow to where Badger sat.
Badger could only nod, unable to speak because of the lump of unhappy lodged in his throat.
“I was going to move to another pond with the others, but it’s difficult for me to walk in the mud.”
Badger turned to look at the turtle who was talking as he nibbled on a blade of wet grass. “The others?”
“I’m Seymore.” The turtle ignored his question and lifted a wrinkled foot out of the puddle he was now standing in.
Seymore regarded him with a suspicious look. “A badger named Badger? Your parents were not very original were they?”
“They couldn’t agree on a name.”
And Badger ached more as he thought of his mother with her kind black eyes and the gentle way she would rub her cheek on his. She had pushed him out of a hole one day and told him badgers grew up and moved away. He had not wanted to leave her since his father had wandered off one hot evening and never returned. His mother had said. “Sometimes the world takes us and we do not return.” That had been such a long time ago.
Badger felt his furry body shake with great sobs of heartbroken. He knew then why he preferred the isolation of his burrow. If a badger did not attach himself to others then there was no one to grieve. He had been so good at not caring until Chick had showed up that day. They made each other better, they made each other not like to be alone and then they made each other heartsick.
“I know where your friend is.” Seymore said suddenly. “She told me where she was going just in case you decided to join her.”
Badger sniffled. “But what if I find her and she leaves again, but this time forever?”
“Turtles live a very long time.” Seymore stretched his neck out as far as a turtle neck would go. “I outlive a lot of friends.”
“So why make friends at all?”
“Imagine all the happy I would have missed.” Seymore said. “Happy is much better than down in the dumps.”
“I made a terrible mistake.” Badger finally admitted to even himself. “I need to find Chick.”
“Then let’s go.”
“And leave everything behind?”
“There’s nothing here anyway.” Seymore snapped his mouth. “Now pick me up, we’ll travel faster that way.”
Badger picked the turtle up in his paw and placed him on his back. “Let’s hurry.”
They walked across soggy fields of grass as Seymore told Badger stories of all the things a turtle who lives a very long time sees. They reached a black top road and Badger was afraid to walk across where the orange line split it in two. Cars sped past and he did not think he could be fast enough.
“There’s a trick.” Came a small voice from above them.
Badger and Seymore looked up where a bird sat perched on a black wire. “I’m Bluejay and I can see far distances. When there are no cars where the road curves on both sides, I’ll let you know. You can walk across then.”
“How do we know to trust him?” Badger whispered to Seymore.
“Birds don’t lie.” His new-found friend said matter-of-factly.
Badger felt very brave as he began his trek across the hard pavement as Bluejay kept reporting the road was clear. It wasn’t until he was almost to the other side that the bird squawked there was a car coming and Badger scrambled nearly toppling Seymore off his back.
“Thank you, Bluejay.” Badger said. Birds indeed did not lie.
The sun was moving across the sky as they made their way through grass taller than even the cows Badger had seen. It was difficult and hot and more than once Badger wished he could just plop down and rest. Each time he felt like giving up, Seymore reminded him how close they were. Getting to Chick was all he needed to make the tired go away.
Just before the sun moved behind the hills they reached a clearing. There were several trees there and a larger pond. On the surface, Badger could see the ducks floating harmoniously with the swans.
“We’re here.” Seymore said as he moved to slide off Badger’s back and into the grass.
Just then the rain stopped. There was a quiet like no other. Everything felt fresh and new just like Badger. He looked around, feeling anxious for the first time.
Then he saw her. She sat quietly beneath a tree. Her once fluffy feathers having fallen away to reveal a dark coat of down. She looked as miserable as he felt.
“Go to her.” Seymore said.
Badger did something he had never done before. He ran then. Well, as much as a badger could run in the mud. He ran toward her feeling like he did when he was just a baby badger and so excited about life. He splashed toward the one person worth leaving the comfort of his aloneness for.
Chick looked up then and he could see the happiness in her eyes. She stood her wings outstretched flapping them with all the duck joy any duck had ever felt.
“You’re here!” She said running toward him.
“I’m sorry.” He said even though he had practiced what he would say, he could no longer think of the words.
“Nothing matters except you’re here now.” She fluffed her no longer fluffy feathers and he knew she felt the joy he was nearly bursting with.
Badger laughed out loud, but a badger’s laugh sounds more like a growl. “I was so scared but somehow I made it anyway.”
Chick walked over to him, tucking her head against his neck. “I never want to be without the us-ness that is anymore. I’ll never leave for another pond again.”
“I can’t promise I won’t hide.” He felt her tremble against him.
“We’ll figure it out together.”
And so when Badger sat beside her in the warm grass and he told her about his bravery at the road, the bird named Bluejay and Seymore the turtle who would now become both of their friend, he knew he had finally found the sweetness of life. Together, even on the rainiest of days, they could find each other and bask in the swirly sunny that was “us” they had become.
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.