Song #96 – We Are All Basically Alone

Outside a restaurant in Queenstown, New Zealand one Sunday morning, a family of five takes a table for breakfast.

The family are regulars and know the menu as well as any waiter there, so they place their order without so much as a second thought before settling into their seats and resuming an animated discussion about the people of their church.

A few yards from where they sit a slight, scrappy blond child chases a duck around a patch of grass.

The child is dressed in nothing but a pair of camouflage-effect cargo shorts and, though he looks a little old for them now, the waistband and the unmistakable bulge of a disposable nappy are clearly visible. He plods and squeals clumsily about, taking heavy uneven steps towards the duck.

The duck – a greyish brown mallard with a majestic flash of purple on each wing –  manages to waddle and quack its way away from the child. It does so in rather a wobbly line, bobbing its head up and down much in the manner of a carved wooden pull-toy. This delights the boy no end and he shrieks with glee whenever the duck rears up and flaps.

The family of five, they watch this boy until their coffees arrive. They turn their attention to each other once more and do not look in the child’s direction again; not until they hear the roar of a motorcycle speeding past on the road.

Ten, maybe twelve, inches in front of the kerb was the duck. Alongside it – one soft, shoeless foot half on the pavement; the other on the grass – was the child, taking the same heavy uneven steps towards the road.

From another table, the father dives up out of his seat and belts over to scoop the child to safety. He makes so much commotion that the duck – who, up until now, has kept both feet on the floor – finally becomes frightened enough to take flight and disappears up into the sky.

The child screams out. His arms shoot out towards the duck and he cries, trying to kick his way out of his father’s grip to get down and chase it. He screams and cries and kicks, and screams and cries and kicks. He is furious with his father.

The father is furious with himself.

He finally manages to take control of all four of the child’s flailing limbs and he marches him back to their table. The family of five begin to fuss and coo over him to make him smile again, but all the child wants to do now is sleep. His face is nestled deep into his father’s chest and tries he with all his might to block out the outside world. He is done for the day.

I sit with my scrambled eggs and I try not to stare.

Tomorrow, the child will have forgotten all about the duck. Three years later, I will remember that this is the song I had had on in the car before I sat down.

Andrew Bird – Imitosis
from “Armchair Apocrypha”

Also listened to:
Alexander O’Neal – “Criticize” has one of the choruses I find I sing to myself the most – usually in a grotesque falsetto [site]
Alfredo De La Fe – From one of the finest mixtapes I’ve ever received: a nine-album disco compilation made for me by the wonderful Lucy Pope [site]
All Tiny Creatures – This was from a mixtape made for me by the enviably talented portrait painter, Joe Simpson (who often gets mistakenly addressed fanmail for the brave mountaineer that wrote “Touching The Void” and for Jessica Simpson’s dad) [site]
Amber Rubarth – “You’ll Love This Song” – a sweet, quirky American-folky pop, with a cute verse about songs with fast lyrics [site]

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