8 Dear Madelyne: I thought it would be fun to work together

Dear Madelyne:
I thought it would be fun to work together on the creative project linked to the wonderful duck sketch you sent me recently.  The watercolor sketch was of a duck in the lovely book I sent you earlier this summer about a dress designer and her animal friends. 
Here is a questionnaire for you to respond to if you want to—no pressure.
Should “our” duck be male or female? M
Propose at least two possible names for “our” duck. Alfred
Which format do you prefer for this project—narrative poetry (a poem that tells a story) or prose (such as a short story or a fairy tale or a beast fable) or a one-act play?
Should it be funny or serious? Fairly-tale/ both
Would you like it have any romance (such as a courtship or a wedding) or to focus on family relationships or friendship? friendship
If you have any other special requests, let me know.  (For example, would you like to be a character in the project?)
Patricia Harkins- Pierre, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Chair of EHMLA (English, Humanities, Modern Languages and Philosophy)
CLASS (College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences)
University of the Virgin Islands
pharkin@uvi.edu / 340-693-1357
Alfred’s New Friend (Century Schoolbook Type/ 14 pt./ MLA format)
Once upon a time, not so long ago, on a small green island in the great Caribbean sea, there was a large, handsome white duck named Alfred, with blue eyes and bright orange, webbed feet.
Alfred knew he was loved. His mother had told him so often when he was just a young duckling with six brothers and sisters who loved him as well, even though he sometimes annoyed them, and sometimes they annoyed him too.
Alfred knew he was smart. His father had told him so just before he left the farm where he was born and raised for the first six months of his life. “Alfred, my boy,” he said, bobbing his white head up and down to emphasize his point, “You have your mother’s good looks but never forget you also have your father’s fine brain.”
Alfred knew he was special. Becky Jones, the 12-year-old girl he had learned to love almost as much as he had loved his favorite sister, told him so often. She told him so when he first came to live with her just before Christmas almost two years ago and she still told him so every morning when she fed him breakfast in his pen.
First, she would empty his large water bucket and use her father’s long hose to fill it with fresh cistern water. Then she would pour some of his special dry duck food into the bowl with his name on it that she had given him for his first birthday. Finally, before she went back to the house to eat her own breakfast she would bend down and softly say, “You know, if Billy saw you now, he would have every right to call you Mr. Messy—you are the messiest eater and drinker I ever saw. Look at how you fling your food around.” Just in case she had hurt his feelings, she would always add, “But Daddy says that’s the way all ducks eat and drink. Don’t worry. No other duck in the world could ever be as special to me as my Alfy.”
No wonder Alfred was very fond of Becky. She always spoke to him in soft voice, and she fed him treats often—dried mealworms that Becky’s mother ordered online were his favorite treat, so crunchy and tasty. Becky stroked his head, and sometimes held him gently in her arms. When he followed her in the backyard she laughed, but never too loudly. And she never scolded him because he was messy. He often wished she understood him when he tried to talk to her though.
Alfred was not very fond of Billy, however. Billy was Becky’s younger brother. He had just turned 8. He liked to shout and jump up and down, and sometimes he chased Alfred or called him mean nicknames, like “Mr. Smelly Bird.” Once he even threw sticks at him. Alfred never tried to talk to Billy. In fact, as soon as he saw Billy come into the back yard alone, Alfred would do his best to hide inside his own little house in the pen Mr. Jones had built for him or fly low and fast over Billy’s head and beat his wings, to chase him away.
Mrs. Jones liked Alfred, who provided lots of manure for her small garden and who never nipped at her ankles or tried to push his way past her into her tidy house. She scolded Billy whenever he teased the duck. “Now Billy,” she would say. “Alfred is a very nice duck. He comes whenever I call his name. He could teach you some good manners. Why not be his friend?”
But Billy just stuck out his lip, sucked his teeth rudely, and scowled at both his mother and Alfred.
Mr. Jones liked Alfred because he never quacked without a good reason and he appreciated whatever Mr. Jones made for him, like the cement pond or his very own house where he could shelter from a heavy rain or the hot summer sun.
Whenever Alfred swam in the pond, he would bob his head often to show much he enjoyed the clear, calm water, and when he got out, he would shake his tail feathers in delight, glad whenever Mr. Jones saw him.
“I never knew a duck could be grateful,” he’d say, smiling at Alfred. “If I’d known what a good pet a duck could be, messy or not, I would have gotten one years ago.”
Mr. Jones tried to reason with Billy whenever he was mean to Alfred, but it did no good as far as Alfred could tell. Billy would just wait until Mr. Jones’ back was turned and then he would stick his tongue out at Alfred or cross his eyes.
“Billy,” Mr. Jones explained one afternoon when Becky was cleaning Alfred’s big pen (which she did faithfully almost every day), “All ducks are messy. It’s not Alfred’s fault.”
“But, Daddy,” Bill interrupted, “Alfred just pees and poos anywhere, anytime he feels like it. Yuck!”
“Ducks don’t have sphincter muscles,” Daddy said, and added seeing Billy’s puzzled expression, “That means they can’t control when they defecate or urinate. That’s why we can’t litter train Alfred and why we keep him where he is free to pee or poo without causing problems for him or for us.”
“Aren’t we lucky to have such a smart duck? He comes right whenever I call his name—which is more than you do, young man— and even though his wings aren’t clipped he knows his home is with us and never flies away.”
Billy just pinched his nose between his plump fingers. “Alfred is a stinky bird, Daddy. That’s all.”
Becky heard him. “I keep Alfred as clean as I can,” she protested. “You know how much he likes to swim in the little pond Daddy made him, and on top of that I give Alfred a bath after I clean his pen. He doesn’t mind baths, not like you. See how pretty and white his feathers are and his beautiful orange feet, Billy?”
Billy glared at Becky and Alfred. “I want a dog,” he said. “We could house train a puppy. Ducks are no fun. Even a cat would use a litter box and play with me. Stinky Alfred will never be my friend.” He shook his finger rudely in Alfred’s face.
Alfred waddled quickly to Becky’s side; then he quacked at Billy from behind her legs. “Who would want to be your friend?’’ he was saying but no one, not even Becky, understood what he said.
And no one, not even Becky, understood how lonely Alfred was. He loved Becky but only another animal could understand when he talked. Yet he was glad the family had no dog or cat; he didn’t like dogs and cats at all.
Alfred was still a young duck, only two years old, and the only dog he had ever really known was the big guard dog on the farm where he was born. It was true that this dog had often protected Alfred and his siblings from foxes and even bobcats, but the farm was very far away, across a wide ocean. There were no foxes or bobcats here, and anyway the guard dog had been very proud and thought birds were stupid. If Alfred got too close to him, the dog would growl to warn him away.
And as for the cats—on the farm where Alfred was born, one of the farmer’s cats, a big grey tabby, had caught, and eaten, Alfred’s favorite sister. The guard dog was old, and sometimes after a night on patrol, guarding the ducks and the chickens too, he would be very tired the next day. On the fatal morning the cat silently climbed over the fence into the duck pen and pounced on Alfred’s sister, the old dog had fallen asleep in the sun. He had been no help at all even though the whole duck family had flapped their wings, and quacked and quacked in alarm.
If only his favorite sister had lived long enough to come with Alfred across the sea to his new home, Alfred thought, he wouldn’t be lonely now. His favorite sister had been such a loving little duckling, so playful and pretty, so trusting and brave, she had never seemed to mind loud noises and even the old dog was her friend. She wouldn’t be afraid of Billy, and she would find ways to play with him. Then Billy wouldn’t mind so much that ducks are messy.
Once Becky had told Alfred a story about angels. She often told Alfred stories she learned in Sunday school and Alfred always listened, his eyes bright with interest. “There are good angels and bad angels,” she told him as he sat on a thick blue towel in her lap, and she stroked his feathers. “Angels can protect us, and they sometimes come with answers from God when we ask Him for something.”
Alfred was so excited that he forgot Becky couldn’t understand him when he talked. “Do angels ever look like dogs?” he asked. “I hope they don’t think birds are stupid. Do they have good hearing?”
Becky just kissed him on the tip of his beak. “Funny bird,” she said. “What are you quacking about? Are you hungry? I think Mom has some new mealworms. If she doesn’t, how about some strawberries? Ducks just love strawberries for a treat!”
When she stood up Alfred trailed at her heels, following her to the bottom step of the back porch, where he waited politely. Only his bobbing head showed how excited he was. His sadness that Becky hadn’t understood what he said—again—was clearly almost forgotten.
That night he dreamed about his favorite sister. She was just a tiny duckling, with butter yellow feathers. As he watched she grew taller and taller, until her feathers were silky white, and she was almost as big as Alfred. “Are you really…?” he began.
She shook her tail feathers, which was her way of laughing . “Yes,” she told him. “I am your favorite sister. And I have a message just for you.”
“Are you an angel?” Alfred couldn’t help asking.
“No,” she said. “But I do have good news. Are you ready to listen?”
He bobbed his head up and down, too excited to quack.
“Tomorrow is the day you will find a new friend. I promise.” She gazed at her brother fondly, her blue eyes shining
“You mean Mr. and Mrs. Jones have finally decided to get another white duck? I won’t mind sharing my pen or even my house and my water bucket!”
His sister put her head on one side. “And you won’t mind sharing the pond, and your food bowl too?”
“No,” he said. “I won’t mind sharing my pond. And I’m sure I won’t have to share my food bowl. Becky will get the new duck a bowl of her own. I hope the new duck looks just like you.”
His sister didn’t answer. She just bobbed her head.
And then Alfred woke up.
He was so excited that he barely noticed what he ate that morning. He tried to tell Becky about the dream and his sister’s promise. All Becky heard was, “Quack. Quack. Quack!”
“Settle down, Alfie,” Becky said, yawning. “Are you ok?”
But Alfred couldn’t settle down all day. Becky and Billy came home from school at the usual time in the afternoon. Mrs. Jones was already home, as always, to greet them with hugs. Becky let Alfred out of his pen, and he followed her anxiously around the back yard, sure she would tell him about the new duck any moment, but she only fed him a snack and sang to him as she cleaned his pen and gave him a bath. “What’s wrong, pretty bird?” she crooned. He tried to tell her but of course she didn’t understand.
By the time Mr. Jones came home from work, and supper was over, Alfred was beginning to think he was just a silly duck for believing in a dream. No one had said anything to him about a new duck, or even a new chicken, to be his friend—someone who could understand him when he talked and share his time when Becky was at school and Mr. and Mrs. Jones were at work or too busy in the house to pay him any attention at all.
And then the miracle happened.
Billy came slowly down the steps of the back porch just before dark. Alfred got ready to waddle, or even fly, away from him as quickly as he could.
“I wish I really would meet a new friend,” Billy suddenly said in a low voice. “No one listens to me.” He wiped the back of one grimy hand across his face and began to sniffle. Then he sat down on the bottom step with his head in his hands and began to quietly cry, big tears rolling down the end of his nose.
Alfred was so surprised he stopped and stood very still, watching. Billy wasn’t being loud now. He wasn’t saying anything mean or throwing sticks at Alfred. He looked very sad and alone.
Alfred was curious. What had happened to Billy? He slowly waddled toward the little boy. He knew what it felt like to be sad and lonely sometimes.
“Billy,” he quacked. “Your mama and daddy love you. Becky loves you. You aren’t really alone. Not like I am.”
Billy sat up. “Becky doesn’t love me like she loves you,” he said.
Alfred was so surprised he could only bob his head up and down once, twice, three times, as he stared at Billy. He didn’t know which was more amazing, that Billy could understand what he said, or that Billy wasn’t teasing him or making a rude noise.
The streetlights had come on and Alfred knew Mr. or Mrs. Jones would soon call Billy inside or Becky would come out, ready to be sure Alfred was safe in his pen before it got late.
Billy had stopped crying. He mumbled, sniffling, “I had a funny dream last night. I wanted to tell Becky about it, but I was afraid she would laugh at me or think I was silly.”
Alfred stopped bobbing his head. “Tell me about it,” he said and moved closer slowly, so close Billy could touch him.
“Well,” Billy told him, “It was about a white duck, a girl duck. She said she was your favorite sister…”
“Go on,” Alfred said, and before he could stop himself, he nudged Billy’s dirty hand with his beak.
“Well,” Billy confided, reaching out to stroke the top of Alfred’s head, not as softly as Becky would have, but not roughly either. “She promised me I would meet a new friend today…”
When Becky came outside a few minutes later she had to put her hands over her mouth to keep from gasping at what she saw. Billy and Alfred were both asleep, sitting on the bottom step of the back porch side by side.
“Oh,” she whispered to herself. “I wonder what happened. It’s almost like a miracle.” Smiling, she turned back into the house.
Part One: Answer only five of the six questions about “Alfred’s New Friend.”  Each of your five answers should consist of several well focused and developed complete sentences.  Total words for the assignment overall = 250-350 words.
1. Explain why you think the title of the story works well or doesn’t work well.  Suggest at least one alternate title you think could work and defend your choice/s.
2. Who is the protagonist of the story (the major character) and who is the antagonist (who seems to oppose him or her)?  Defend your answer with specific details from the story.
3. Compare and contrast the siblings (sister and brother) in this story–or the parents (mother and father).  Which of the two characters you chose do you prefer and why?
4.  This story might be categorized as written in the tradition of ‘magical realism.’  Look up the term in the appropriate Lumen OER Intro. to Literature Module or in another on-line source and explain why.  Focus on specific elements of “Alfred Makes A New Friend” in your answer.
5. Propose a new ending, or a continuation, of the story.  Have fun exploring one of these options, but be sure to be specific and stay focused.
6. Who do you think would be the best audience for this story?  It’s fine to explore the possiblity of more than one appropriate audience.