A journal of narrative writing.
Bait or Flight
by Amee Schmidt

It was early spring, so the baby ducks were with their mothers. The mother duck led the waddling juniors around the shore of the pond while searching for the right place to enter. The mother then went into the water, and the little ducks, in tiny, flopping splashes, followed. Jenny was excitedly skipping around in circles on the grass, tossing crumbled crackers to them. She asked Roger how to get the ducks to come to her.

“Settle down a little, make them feel comfortable. You’re scaring them with all that jumping.” Jenny did what Roger said. Roger took the crackers and tossed them lightly onto the still water at the edge of the pond, and then closer to him to make a sort of trail. Soon the ducks were inching out of the water, first the mother duck, and then the ducklings as they noticed what was going on.

“It’s amazing,” Jenny whispered.

“Joe taught me.”

Roger told her about his first spring in Northpowder. He had been in the carnival through the winter months, which consisted of two-day stints in dry southern towns. Most of the landscape consisted of hard, rocky desert and stifling heat. He was so excited to see a place that reminded him a little of home: Green grass and real trees instead of cacti. And flowers; he loved flowers. Everyone had worked hard to set up early, so Joe had brought him out here as a treat. The ducks were here, and Roger was excited like Jenny. That’s when Joe taught him to be calm and patient.

“See, son. They come right to you,” Joe had said. Roger was mesmerized. It seemed like Joe could do anything.

“I want to try,” Roger said, and Joe gave him the bag of bread crumbs. Roger practiced mimicking Joe’s tosses, being very quiet and calm. It was like learning the steps to a dance. First, he had to reach quietly into the plastic bag, then in one smooth, light movement, lift his arm and toss the crumbs.

“Good job, boy. That’s the way.” Joe tousled Roger’s hair. “You know,” Joe started, “being still and patient is the way to get anything you want.” Joe explained that people are like ducks; they just want to eat and be safe. “If you figure out what people want, you just need to give it to them. That’s how you gain trust.” It wasn’t until that moment that Roger knew how Joe had been so successful. He had so many people who worked for him, and they all seemed to love him.

* * *

“Hey, you in here?” Crandal hollers from the barn doors. Roger stuffs Jenny’s photo into the console.

“Yeah,” Roger says, as he climbs down from the cab. “Just about.”

“Sue’s coming by this evening. Roasted chicken and biscuits for your ride, she said.” Crandal holds up a bucket of white paint and two spindly brushes. He hands three putty-knives to Roger. They move out to the tattered picket fence and begin scraping. The rhythmic push of the knife up and down is calming, and Roger admires the curling layers of white skin as they float down into the grass. It reminds him of snow. He hasn’t seen snow since he was eight years old and joined the carnival. They’ve always worked the southern towns in the winter months to stay in business. It almost never snows in the south, and whenever the forecast called for snow, Joe would move them out of the area. Can’t have a carnival in snow. He wanted to see snow again, make a snowman or an igloo like he and Michael did as kids when his dad was still alive.

The sun has come out full, and the day warms quickly as the two men work silently into the afternoon. He’ll miss this. At lunch time, Roger spoons mouthfuls of cool beef and potatoes as he sizes up the now naked wooden fence.

Across the picnic table, Crandal soaks a thick piece of crust in brown broth. “We ought to get it done by sundown,” he says. “In this sun, it’ll dry in a couple hours, then we can do the second coat.” Crandal shoves the dripping crust in his mouth.

“Yep,” Roger answers.

“Why’d you do it?”


“The carnival. Why’d you do it in the first place if you hate him so much?”

“Hated home more,” Roger says.

Crandal nods, and they finish the rest of their bowls before going back to the fence.

* * *

His family lived in the basement of his grandmother’s house. Only it wasn’t his grandma’s house anymore. The bank had taken it and split it into three apartments. Theirs had two rooms and a curtain in front of the toilet. They didn’t have a kitchen. Just a hot plate and an old toaster oven Roger’s dad had found in the alley next door just before he died in a machinery accident at Hanover’s Dairy Farm. Roger’s mom hadn’t recovered from his death. She sat in the wicker rocking chair most of the day. Sometimes she made a sandwich, but mostly she sat.

Roger was short for his age with strawberry hair and lots of freckles. He wanted to be tall like Michael with dark hair like their father. Since he was four years older than Roger, Michael was the man of the house. The boys had to bargain in town to get food and candy, and they’d bring it home to feed their mother. Roger would beg at the bakery mostly, but sometimes he’d visit homes to ask for produce and eggs. Most of the townsfolk ignored them now, but some still helped out a bit.

Roger went into town that cloudy afternoon, a day he’d remember forever. The carnival had been around for a few days. Roger really wanted to go, but if he spent his time stealing rides on the Tilt-a-Whirl, Michael would beat him up for sure. So he found a tattered magazine without its cover in the dumpster behind the bakery. He often went through the bakery trash because bread didn’t really go bad. He sometimes had to pick off fuzzy mold, or tear off a hard edge, but it was still good and it was still food. He flipped past a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a title above his head that read “Man of the Year.” On the later pages, the magazine had pictures of green pastures and blues skies with tiny, fluffy clouds that looked like his mom’s makeup cotton. “Find your fantasy in Minnesota” the caption read. People were smiling and there were lots of buildings and signs and cars. Roger sat in the parking lot, munching on half of a crusted French bread, and reading as much as he could about Minnesota. It would be a happy place for him and Michael and Mom to go. Everyone in the pictures had jobs and houses of their own. It would be a better place. “I can’t wait to show Michael,” he said aloud.