Webby, the Sure-Footed Duck
A Mother’s Day Story
By Robert Chatham
Mr. and Mrs. Duck studied the beautifully blue egg.
“You did a nice job,” said Mr. Duck. “Firm. Symmetrical. Ovoid. It’s absolutely perfect.”
Mrs. Duck did not answer. She already knew the egg was perfect. As usual, Mr. Duck was simply stating the obvious.
“So now, we need to come up with a name,” said Mr. Duck. “May I make a suggestion? Henry Duck, Jr. I think that’s the one.”
“It’s a girl,” said Mrs. Duck.
“But how do you - ”
“What about Violetta? After my grandmother?”
“No. Her name will be Webby.” Mrs. Duck’s voice was firm.
“Well…” Mr. Duck leaned his head to the side, considering. “I suppose it has a nice ring to it. But maybe we should think about it for a while. You remember our disappointment after Billy was born..."
Mrs. Duck shook her head. "No. Definitely Webby. I have a good feeling about it."
Mrs. Duck sat on the egg day and night for an entire month. At last, the egg began to quiver. From within came a tapping noise. Mr. and Mrs. Duck crowded together to watch, and Billy ran to tell all of her friends that, at last, her new baby sister was hatching.
The two parents gently helped the chick peck away the shell. And, at last, the baby duck lay before them, a little fuzzy ball of happiness. A perfect face, a perfect bill, a perfect round little body, and beneath…
“What’s wrong with her feet?” asked Mr. Duck.
Mrs. Duck stared. Where there should have been two webbed feet, Webby Duck had ten little, fully formed toes.
Dr. Quackers took a long look. “Yes,” he said at last. “Those are definitely human toes.”
“Oh my god,” her mother cried. “What can we do?!”
“Well, not much. She’s just a baby duck; too young to have surgery. Her toes might grow together crooked and she’d swim in circles all the time. But this is truly nothing to worry about. It shouldn’t hinder her swimming abilities much, if at all.”
“There has to be something we can do!” said Mr. Duck. “All the other ducklings will laugh at her.” Webby looked down at her feet sadly.
“And what if her feet end up attracting the attention of duck-eating dinosaurs?” asked Mrs. Duck.
“Well…” Dr. Quakers rubbed his bill thoughtfully. “I could build a pair of artificially webbed feet. She’d look normal, at least.”
Mr. Duck sighed heavily. “I hoped we wouldn’t have to go through this again.”
“Will they be as expensive as Billy’s synthetic beak?” asked Mrs. Duck.
“I’m afraid so,” said Dr. Quackers.
Mr. Duck shook his head in surrender. “Just put it on our bill.”
And so Webby, only a week old, was given prosthetic webbed feet. Dr. Quackers was a genius; they looked just like the real thing. When Webby went to school, none of the other ducklings had any idea that her feet really had ten perfectly formed human toes. Just as no one knew that underneath Billy’s cute, upturned prosthetic bill was an enormous penguin-like nose. There was only one problem: Webby hated her false feet.
The flippers itched. No matter how careful she was to dry them out every night, little droplets of water managed to work their way between her toes, and she always had athletes’ foot. The plastic smelled like the tires she occasionally saw floating in the lake. She could swim faster without the artificial webbed feet. And they never quite fit; her real toes grew so fast that no matter how often Dr. Quackers altered her so-called shoes, they were always just a bit too tight. “Once you’re fully grown, then I can make you a permanent pair that should fit the rest of your life,” he promised. But that didn’t cheer Webby up.
She wanted to throw them away at least three times a week. Only one thing stopped her: she didn’t want the other ducklings to laugh at her. They would. Some of the ducklings were mean.
“Bullies aren’t the worst of your concerns,” said her mother. “If you don’t wear those feet, the duck-eating dinosaurs might get you.”
“What are dinosaurs?”
“Enormous, duck-eating lizards. They lurk around ponds like this looking for weak, helpless ducks. If they knew you didn’t have real webbed toes, you’d be their number one target.”
“I haven’t seen any dinosaurs before,” said Webby.
“Exactly,” her mother said firmly. And that was that. Webby would wear the feet, no matter how uncomfortable they were. End of discussion.
When Webby was six months old, her parents threw her a surprise party. “You’re a grown-up duck now,” said Mr. Duck proudly, handing her a box filled with gourmet watercress and chocolate-covered ladybugs.
“That doesn’t mean you have to leave the nest,” said Mrs. Duck. “You know that you’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Your sister’s still here, and she’s nearly a year old!”
Billy made a face, and Mrs. Duck shuddered. “Billy, why aren’t you wearing your little beak?”
“Because it’s dirty. I’m tired of smelling dirty plastic all day.”
“But if you don’t wear it, you’ll never attract a handsome mate. You remember what happened to little Caroline. She ended up marrying one of those big honking geese. Now she’s laying Cadbury eggs somewhere in California.”
“Cadbury eggs? How is that even possible?” asked Webby.
“It just is,” her mother said firmly. Billy sulkily went to get her prosthetic bill.
Mrs. Duck took out another box. “I have another gift for you, Webby,” she said.
Webby opened it to find a very, very fancy set of prosthetic webbed feet. “Oh, thanks,” she said wearily.
“Now that you’re an adult, Dr. Quackers made you an extra special pair. These should last you for years and years.”
Webby put on the webbed feet, which still seemed a little too tight. “They’re great,” she sighed.
Late at night, after everyone had gone to bed, Billy sneaked into Webby’s room. “It’s too late,” said Webby. “I already ate all the ladybugs.”
“Don’t be a jerk. That’s not what I was going to ask,” said Billy. “This summer, I’m planning to visit Pyramid Pond. Do you want to come with me?” Pyramid Pond was a famous pond many, many miles away. Wilma and John Mallard, friends of their parents, had once brought them an entire slice of sourdough bread they’d scrounged on a vacation. Webby had never tasted anything so good, and she was already salivating at the thought of more. Still…
“I don’t know,” said Webby. “I’ve never left our nest before.”
“Don’t worry,” said Billy. “I’ll take care of you, little sis.”
Mr. and Mrs. Duck weren’t happy that their daughters were going on vacation alone. Still, they understood that their girls were growing up. With heavy hearts, Mr. and Mrs. Duck flapped goodbye.
It was a long journey, and not very exciting. Billy and Webby flew over mucky swamps, small towns, and busy highways for many, many hours. At last, they saw a triangle-shaped body of water below and descended. The two ducks landed in an empty corner of the pond. “Hooray!” cried Billy, popping off her fake beak.
“What are you doing?” cried Webby.
“Letting loose. I don’t need this thing.”
“But mom said…”
“Mom’s not here, is she? We’re on vacation, miles and miles away from home. We can do whatever we want!”
Webby shrugged nervously.
Billy’s head whipped around. “Oh, my. Canadian geese. I’ve heard about them! I have to go check them out. I’ll meet you back here tonight!” And with a flap, Billy flew away.
Webby’s heart sank. So it was going to be that kind of holiday. Billy would flit around until she was ready to go home while Webby would sit around, bored. At least I brought a book, she thought, pulling a copy of "The Trumpet of the Swan" from under her wing.
She was right in the middle of a good part (Louis was attacking a particularly annoying boy named Sam Beaver) when someone said, “That’s my favorite book.”
She looked up. The duck in front of her looked like nothing she’d ever seen. He was tall and had a tuft of hair just below his beak. He was incredibly attractive, in a strange way. She opened her mouth, flabbergasted, and realized that she had no idea what to say.
“Second favorite,” he amended. “I like 'Duckleberry Finn' even better.”
“I’ve read that,” said Webby. “My favorite is the 'Drakes of Wrath'.”
“You know, there’s this little place around the corner that has fantastic millet. Sometimes, even sourdough crumbs. You want to go?”
“Okay,” said Webby.
The moustached duck’s name was Wobblert. “Because my egg wasn’t perfectly round,” he told her.
“My name is Webby,” she said.
“I guess I know why they named you that,” said Wobblert.
Oh no, thought Webby. Her parents had warned her about bad ducks like this. Now, he would try to ogle her legs.
“Because they’re really into Spider-Duck, right?” Wobblert said with a smile. Webby grinned.
Webby and Wobblert spent the whole day together. They splashed in the pond and played hide-and-go-seek in the reeds. They ducked underwater and snarfed minnows. They explored all of Pyramid Pond together.
Webby squinted at the shore. “There’s something really big over there.”
“Oh, boy! A bunch of humans,” said Wobblert. “Want to go see if they have any bread?”
“Okay,” said Webby. She followed Wobblert onto the shore and up to a crowd of enthusiastic third graders. They wolfed down the wheat crusts that the children tossed.
When they finished eating their fill, they climbed back into the water. Wobblert was very quiet.
“I’m having a really good time,” said Webby.
“Me too,” said Wobblert.
“I guess my sister’s probably looking for me,” said Webby.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Is something wrong with your feet?”
Webby froze. “What? Why do you want to know?”
“For a minute, it looked like you were kind of waddling funny.”
“Sorry,” Wobblert said. “That was probably rude of me.”
“No. I guess I should have mentioned it before. These… these aren’t my real feet. They’re made of plastic.”
Wobblert smiled. “That’s why they look kind of… shiny.”
“They’re a little tight. That’s why I limp.”
“Why don’t you take them off?”
“I don’t know,” Webby said uneasily. “What about the duck-eating dinosaurs?”
“Dinosaurs?” Wobblert laughed. “All of the dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago!”
Webby took off the fake feet. It was the first time anyone outside of her family (besides Dr. Quackers) had seen her toes.
Wobblert’s eyes widened. “Those are so cool,” he said. “They aren’t all connected like mine. I bet you could do all sorts of things that I can’t! You could pick up little bugs or cook tasty pancakes…”
Webby blushed. “No, I couldn’t. My parents said that I have to wear these plastic feet all the time.”
“Well…my real toes look weird.”
“I think they’re adorable,” said Wobblert.
Webby heard an enormous flapping, and then Billy landed in the lake. She was wearing her prosthetic nose again. Webby quickly hid her toes in the water. “What a vacation! I’m exhausted.”
“Billy, this is my new friend Wobblert,” said Webby.
“Cool,” said Billy. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Well, too bad. It’s time to go.”
Wobblert piped up. “Excuse me. I’ve always wanted to go on vacation. Would you mind if I came with you?”
Billy shrugged. “Entirely up to you.”
“Then I think I will.”
Webby smiled a big smile.
Mr. and Mrs. Duck were not very impressed with Wobblert. For one thing, they’d never seen a duck with a moustache before. For another, he didn’t seem to respect the idea of duck-eating dinosaurs.
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Duck. “The boy seems nice enough, but he seems to think that tuft of hair gives him license to do whatever he likes. It’s the kind of behavior that attracts the duck-eating dinosaurs.”
“Maybe once he goes home he could be your pen-pal. By the way, have you noticed how much Victor McDuck’s grown since you left?” asked Mrs. Duck. “He’s such a nice duck, and his uncle is so wealthy, and he has such a crush on you.”
But Victor was gross; he was the kind of duck who ate the kelp that collected between his toes after he swam. Webby was not impressed. “I like Wobblert,” said Webby.
“Some duck,” sniffed Mrs. Duck. “He’ll make a fine meal for the dinosaurs, and then where will you be?”
“When’s the last time anyone saw one of these dinosaurs?” asked Webby.
Mrs. Duck shook her head and pursed her bill. “A very, very long time. We’ve been lucky.”
But Webby didn’t think it was just luck. Lately, when she and Wobblert played together, she’d started taking off her prosthetic feet. And no matter how long she left them off, they still hadn’t seen any duck-eating dinosaurs.
Wobblert insisted that the dinosaurs didn’t even exist. “Even if they did,” he said, “Why would wearing these weird fake feet keep them away? Wouldn’t they want to eat you no matter what?”
“I don’t know,” said Webby. “Maybe we just don’t understand. We could ask my parents…”
“Look, if you don’t like those feet, you should throw them away. They’re cramping your style.”
“But…” Webby didn’t know where to begin. Her parents had spent a lot on the fake feet, and she’d worn them since she was just a chick. It seemed like it was better to not rock the boat.
“You can do what you want,” said Wobblert. “I just think they’re a little ridiculous.”
Webby didn’t say whether or not she agreed, but as time went by, Wobblert noticed that she wore the feet less and less.
One night, Webby tried talking to Billy about everything. “I mean, maybe we could both tell Mom and Dad that we don’t want to wear this junk any longer. And we could explain to them about how there aren’t any duck-eating dinosaurs…”
Billy shook her head. “No way. We’re totally not having that conversation.”
“But aren’t you tired of wearing that smelly beak?”
“Of course I am. But imagine how mom and dad would feel. You know how much they gave up to buy it for me?”
“But you didn’t wear it when we went on vacation…”
“Exactly. And the next time we go on vacation, I’ll take it off again.”
Webby didn’t understand.
Wobblert and Webby played together all the time. They baked watercress pies together. They listened to Swan Lake. Every week, they visited a duck market two ponds away and stocked up on cheese and brown bread. They were wild about crusty bread. After a long while, Wobblert and Webby decided to get married. It seemed like a good idea. Webby proudly told her parents the good news.
Mr. and Mrs. Duck were shocked. “What kind of father is he going to be?” demanded Mrs. Duck. “He doesn’t even think you should wear those feet. I’ve seen you splashing around without them. Can you imagine how he’d take care of a baby duck? The dinosaurs would eat it up in two seconds flat! Snap, snap, snap!”
“Your mother is right,” said Mr. Duck.
“I already talked to Wobblert about it,” said Webby. “He said that if you’re so afraid of duck-eating dinosaurs, we should all go to Pyramid Pond. There’s never been a dinosaur attack at Pyramid Pond.”
Mrs. Duck opened and closed her mouth, flummoxed. “But… but…”
Webby waited patiently.
“But… if you’re going to marry him, then who’s going to make sure you wear your prosthetic feet?”
“Nobody,” said Webby. “I’m tired of wearing them. From today on, I’ll feel the water between my toes!”
“But your name is Webby. If you don’t wear your webbed feet, then...”
“That’s not my fault,” said Webby.
A week later, they were wed on the roof of a nearby chapel. Webby wore a beautiful blue dress, and – though the groom threatened to wear his Donald Duck outfit – Wobblert wore a nice suit. Webby didn’t say anything, but she secretly thought it made him look like a penguin. Mrs. and Mr. Duck attended, though both wore an air of distaste.
Wobblert and Webby didn’t end up moving to Pyramid Pond. They stayed in the lake where Webby was born. She never wore her prosthetic feet again, except during fancy dinner parties, and they were never attacked by the duck-eating dinosaurs. Eventually, Billy married Victor’s brother Huey, and she ended up taking off her artificial bill. Mr. and Mrs. Duck were disappointed, but they eventually stopped complaining. Still, every Ducksgiving, Mrs. Duck gave her daughters boxes of Dino Repellant.
One day, several months after they were married, Webby laid an egg. A symmetrical, ovoid, perfectly beautiful blue egg.
“What do you want to name it?” asked Wobblert.
“I think we’ll wait until she’s born and see,” said Webby.
“We have to call her something,” said Wobblert. “I can’t spend a whole month referring to our future chick as ‘the egg.’ Maybe we could call her Eggy. Or Shelly.”
“Absolutely not. I don’t want to give her a name that she can’t grow into.”
Webby thought a while. “How about something simple… like Audrey?”
“That,” said Wobblert, “is why we’re best friends.”