They’re shocking, coot feet. Unexpected, really. One minute I’m watching a small, black duck make its elegant approach toward the shoreline, barely a ripple on the water in its wake. The next minute, that “duck” hops ashore on a pair of phlegm-colored legs that give way to three angst-inducing toes. Actually, make that “toes”, each a chain of oblong, blue lobes connected by a tendon that ends in a talon. Along with a solitary bonus “toe” emerging from its heel which, in case you were wondering, is every bit as disquieting to witness as you might imagine a “toe”-like appendage coming out of your heel would be. (You’re fiddling with your shoe right now, aren’t you?)
Plodding along the lakeshore, bulbous blue toes splayed on spongy grass, coot feet are the clown shoes of the avian world. They are not attractive, these coot feet. If a coot came to your front door wearing a pair of people shoes and slipped them off on the porch so as not to track mud into your house, I wouldn’t blame you if you asked the coot to put its shoes back on and gladly mopped the house later. They’re that shocking, coot feet. But I’m pretty sure the coots don’t care.
It isn’t just the feet. Coots creak like the springs of a cheap motel mattress. They belch with abandon, oblivious to the social graces. They cackle like a gaggle of octogenarians who’ve just heard their first dirty joke in years. Not for them, the decorous quack of the ducks. They’re up for anything, these coots, and they don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. The ducks hover off to one side, mortified, barely tolerating the coots in their midst, then strut away with a dismissive swish of their tail feathers. “Don’t look at us,” they quack. “Not related. Looks like a duck, but that’s as far as it goes.” The coots really, truly don’t care. They cackle on, oblivious to the ducks’ recriminations. Whatever that joke was, it was a good one.
If I’d encountered a coot in my twenties, I might have stopped for a moment, then kept going. I might not even have stopped at all. Not so now. Suspended midway between my twenties and octogenarian status, I stand by the lake, forget my aching feet and stay for a while, hanging with the coots. Screw the ducks. I want to hear the joke.Amanda Jaffe’s writing has appeared in print and online in PASSAGE, AWA Magazine, The Finder, The American Interest, Anak Sastra, The Smart Set, presspausepress.org, and The Razor, among others. She also contributes articles about the charitable food system to Food Bank News. Find her writing at www.amandajaffewrites.com and on Instagram at @amandajaffewrites.