I found this digging through a memory box of old scribbles. I wrote it for an English assignment in grade nine, where we were instructed to retell a well-known story through the voice of Holden Caulfield.

Even though I only read it because it was forced upon me as a novel study, The Catcher in the Rye has remained one of my favourite books.  KM

Holden the Ugly Duckling

Holden the Ugly Duckling

Now I don’t really remember how it happened, or why it happened and all. I mean, I was still in a goddam egg back in those days. I mean, can you really expect me to remember stuff that happened before I even hatched? Of course you can’t.

Anyway, I was pretty miserable there. I really just couldn’t stand it. My three brothers, they were real jerks to me all the time, I’m not kidding you. Them and their goddam yellow feathers. Actually you know, it wasn’t their feathers that were the problem. It was mine. The three of them got to be yellow, but me, I was gray. Plain, old, boring gray. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except the three of them were so yellow. They even started calling me the “Ugly Duckling,” for God’s sake. They gave me a real pain in the ass.

I just didn’t get why I looked so different from them. Every time I tried asking my mother, she’d just smile this real phony smile and try to change the subject. She was nice and all, but sometimes she was a little out of her mind, especially when someone’d start asking questions. Her nerves are shot to hell.

Anyway, after so long I just got so sick of it I couldn’t stand it. You can’t really blame me. You really can’t. It’s awful to be stuck in a place you’re not wanted, awful I tell you. You always got to be on your best behaviour and all. After so long, I just felt so phony that I couldn’t take it. Feeling like that depresses me.

So I took off. I didn’t even bother saying goodbye to my old mother or the three yellow bastards. I knew what they’d say. My old mother would cry and beg me not to go, make this big scene about it. The yellow bastards would put on this act of being sad and depressed that I was leaving, but really they’d be smug and glad to be rid of me. It made no difference to me what any of them thought. Sure I felt kind of bad for leaving my old mother out to dry, but what else could I do? Nothing, that’s what.

I didn’t have much of an idea where I was going. The field around our nest was pretty big, but I didn’t know anything about what other folks were in the area. For about a hundred hours I just wandered around not doing anything, before I had an idea. I figured I wasn’t the only gray duck in the world. I figured I could probably find some other gray ducks and maybe go live with them. I headed over to the pond where most of the other ducks swam, thinking about what I’d say to the gray ducks when I found them. They’d notice right away that I was by myself and ask if I wanted to go for a swim. I’d tell them the whole story, about my touchy old white-feathered mother and my three bastard yellow-feathered brothers, about how they chased me out of the nest because I was too ugly. They wouldn’t think I was ugly, and they’d show me where they nested and I’d stay with them. I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t help it. I really can’t. I get a bit carried away like that sometimes, when I’m by myself and all.

Anyway, I was so busy thinking about the gray ducks that I almost stepped on somebody. She was walking real close to the ground, with her face right in the dirt, and she let out the cutest little squeak when I almost stepped on her. I apologized a thousand times while she got up and dusted herself off. Down of the ground like that in the grass, I didn’t notice how gray her feathers were, but I could see when she stood up. I began to get very happy and excited, so I asked her what her name was.

“I’m Mouse,” she said. She had a sweet little high-pitched voice that really knocked me out.

She didn’t bother to ask my name, so I didn’t bother telling her. “I’m new around here,” I told her. “And I’m looking for some other gray ducks. You’re the first one I’ve met – do you happen to know where I can meet some others?”

Then she laughed, this awful, squeaky laugh. It made me feel really nervous. “I’m not a duck, you silly.  Do I look like a duck to you?” She spun around in a circle. “These aren’t feathers, this is fur. And you’re the ugliest ducking I’ve ever met.”

She squeaked again as she walked off, sticking her face back down on the ground again. I was feeling pretty stupid, it took me awhile to get moving again. That goddam Mouse ruined my hopes and I was starting to feel depressed again, even more than I did before I left the nest. She was a real piece of work, that Mouse.

Anyway, I started walking again, and I was almost at the pond when I heard the strangest noise I ever heard. It wasn’t a chirp, and it certainly wasn’t a squeak like Mouse’s. If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what it was. It was very low and weird. I kept waiting to hear it again, and after a few seconds I did.  This time I saw the gray lump that it came from. He looked wet, like he’d just hatched, except not as skinny. He had big black eyes like the other ducks I’d seen. I started to get very happy that I heard the sound.

“Hey you!” I called out. “You’re a gray duck like me, aren’t you?”

His voice was low and rumbly, like the sound. “I’m not a gray duck at all.  I’m Toad.” A fly flew by, and Toad caught it on his tongue and sucked it into his mouth. It was pretty goddam disgusting to watch.  Then Toad jumped forward, kicking out the longest legs I ever saw. When he did, some mud shook off his back and I saw that he wasn’t gray at all. More like brownish-green or something, I don’t know. He made that sound again as he hopped away from me.

By the time I made it to the pond it was getting pretty late and nobody was around. It was almost dark and pretty goddam cold. Not walking weather, that’s for sure, but I kept walking around the pond because I had no place else to go. I mean, where could I have gone? Nowhere. I didn’t have a nest to go home to anymore, not since I ran away. I thought about giving up on finding another gray duck, and I was pretty goddam depressed. I mean, I almost wanted to die. I almost wanted to swim out to the middle of the pond and stick my head under the water until I died, or got eaten by a snake or something. After awhile I got tired of walking and just sad down by the water’s edge.

I guess I must’ve fallen asleep or something, because when I opened my eyes it was really dark and the moon was out.  It was huge and silvery in the pond and lit up the whole sky. I looked at my reflection in the water for a long time. At my gray feathers and all.  It depressed the hell out of me.

Then all of a sudden, I saw these neat ripples across the pond and heard a flutter of wings. I watched with amazement as this beautiful white, long-necked duck landed on the water and folded her feathers real neatly. She sailed across the pond real smooth, and she was so pretty she just about killed me. For a half a second while I watched her I forgot about being so depressed. I wanted to say something to her, but I was afraid that would ruin it.

She saw me, though. When she did she glided over real fast, calling out my name. I didn’t know how she knew my name, but I swam out to her anyway.

“My baby!  I’ve found my precious baby!” She ruffled my feathers with her beak.

I had no idea what she was talking about. “Baby? I can’t be your baby. You’re not a gray duck!”

“Of course I’m not,” she said, smiling. “You’re not either. I’m a Swan, and so are you.”

Now I was really confused. “A Swan? Me? I don’t look anything like you.”

“Not right now you don’t, but you will when you’re older. You’ll be the most beautiful Swan in the world.  You’ll see.” She turned to swim back across the pond, nodding for me to go along.

I wanted to follow her. I really did, you know. But it was too unreal. Her voice sounded funny too, like real smooth water. And I’m crazy, you know. I started imagining all these crazy things that would happen if I followed her. Secretly she was a snake pretending to be a beautiful Swan and she would eat me. She would bite off all my gray feathers then swallow me whole. Like I said, I can get really carried away sometimes, but that’s really what I thought.

Swan’s back was still turned to me, so I ran and hid behind some reeds while I still had a chance. I watched her when she realized I wasn’t there. She circled the pond for years, trying to find me, but I didn’t move. Finally she gave up and flew away, straight off the water. I guess anybody’d give up after waiting so long like that.

The second she was gone I wished I’d gone with her. If you really want to know, I don’t know why I didn’t go with her. Thinking about Swan made me really depressed, so I went back to staring at my reflection. It was lonely as hell, but it was something to do.