In today's story, Duck à l'Orange, a duck reminds our friends Sheryl and Ted of the goose that was once in their house
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came to me randomly when I started thinking about common expressions, and then switched to French phrases.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 49 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Duck à l’Orange
Today’s prompt is a bit of a mystery. Meaning, my mind is a mysterious place. I recently put out a request for friends and listeners to send me some writing prompt suggestions, but I wanted to go ahead with the next story while I’m waiting. So, I asked myself for a good prompt…
Idioms and clichés are often good options, but I wanted something different. I thought it might be fun to use a French expression, which—for unknown reasons—immediately brought up the phrase Duck à l’Orange, but I heard it in Blanche Devereaux’s over-the-top accent because I watch The Golden Girls a lot!
That train of thought led me through some rapid turns before screeching into the station with an idea for today’s story, but—to avoid spoilers—I’ll leave that for the upcoming commentary episode.
For now, let’s dive into the story:
Duck à l’Orange
“Oh, not again!” Sheryl walked into the front hall, saw Ted kneeling by what appeared to be a goose wearing an orange coat, and turned to go back into the kitchen.
“Wait!” Ted called after her with a laugh. “It’s a duck not a goose!”
“Like that’s better?” Sheryl shuddered, averting her eyes as she remembered the morning she’d come downstairs to find a goose in their living room.
“It’s not a real duck,” Ted assured, still laughing lightly. “It’s a statue for the garden.”
“Oh.” Sheryl peered around him at the white duck in an orange coat.
“His name is Al,” Ted said proudly. “Al Orange.”
“Oh,” Sheryl repeated with even less enthusiasm.
“Get it?” Ted persisted. “He’s a duck, wearing an orange coat, and his name is Al Orange. You know, like duck à l’orange?”
“Yeah,” Sheryl sighed. “I get it.”
“Oh, come on!” Ted laughed. “That’s hilarious.”
“I need more coffee.” Sheryl headed back into the kitchen.
Ted followed with Al Orange tucked awkwardly beneath one arm. Sheryl frowned at the statue, keeping her distance as she poured coffee into a yellow mug. She had a pretty good idea what was going on, and she wasn’t about to get involved.
Ted set the stone duck on the kitchen island and brushed a bit of lint from his orange coat.
“Should I put him by the azaleas or back by that patch of daisies?”
“I don’t care,” Sheryl told him, after a long swig of coffee. “Just please get him off the island before he comes to life and tears up the place.”
“What?” Ted chuckled, still admiring the duck. “He’s pretty realistic, but I don’t think we have to worry about that!”
“Don’t we?” Sheryl wasn’t convinced. She skirted the island, heading toward the back door. “Let’s just put him outside and be done with it.”
“You’re in a mood,” Ted frowned, annoyed at Sheryl’s response.
“I’m not,” Sheryl retorted, crossing her arms petulantly.
“You are,” Ted insisted “I come in with a perfectly good duck for the garden and you’re in a mood about him.”
“I’m not in a mood about him,” Sheryl responded through clenched teeth.
“Oh, yeah, this isn’t a mood?” He crossed his arms and clenched his jaw in a fair imitation of Sheryl’s defensive position. Sheryl dropped her arms and flapped her hands nervously.
“Oh, everything is a mood to you!” She snapped crossly.
“Huh, well, I suppose that’s true,” Ted nodded thoughtfully. “I mean, anything anyone is feeling at any time is their mood of the moment.”
“Exactly,” Sheryl agreed triumphantly, as if she’d made a crucial point. “I’m in a mood. You’re in a mood. Everyone’s in a mood all the time. But my mood isn’t the mood you think it is.”
Ted cocked his head, looking from her to the stone duck. At some point, he’d lost the thread of the conversation and could only nod in vague agreement.
“So, you’re in a good mood?” He ventured uneasily.
“Yes. Yes, of course, I am,” Sheryl agreed, glancing toward the sky as if afraid she’d wouldn’t be believed by an invisible listener.
“Okay,” Ted frowned, then shook away whatever thought had half-formed in his mind. “So, you like Al Orange?”
“Yes, he’s a lovely duck,” Sheryl agreed and quickly opened the back door. “Now go get him settled and we can have some tea.”
Ted started to pick up the duck, then left him on the island as he looked up at Sheryl with a gleam of realization.
“Oh, I get it,” he told her. “You think this duck is a gift from her.”
“What? No,” Sheryl scoffed, glancing back at the sky nervously.
“She didn’t send us the duck,” Ted reassured. “I went out and bought the duck myself.”
“Okay, good,” Sheryl told him, gesturing toward the open door. “So, let’s get him into the garden.”
“You don’t believe me.” Ted sounded hurt. “You think he’s a gift from her. But she only sends us weird things. Like that live goose or that big stone block. Al Orange isn’t… Wait a minute! You don’t like Al Orange! You think he’s weird!”
Sheryl paled and her eyes grew wide.
“I never said that.” She bit her lip and glanced at the duck in the orange coat with a forced smile.
“You don’t like Al Orange!” Ted accused again. “You think the only way he’d show up is if she sent him here. You don’t think I’d buy him myself. Even when I told you I did.”
“Yeah, but, Ted…” Sheryl tried for a soothing tone. “We’ve been over this before. She’s the writer.”
“I know.” Ted looked down and sheepishly kicked his foot against the linoleum.
Sheryl lowered her voice. “And the writer is the one who makes all of… this… happen.”
She gestured around the room, indicating their house, their town, and their whole lives.
“Well, yeah,” Ted agreed, still looking down.
“So, the writer did bring the duck here, even if you bought the duck. The writer wrote that you bought the duck.”
Ted sighed and resolutely raised his gaze.
“Yeah, well, the writer wrote for you to drink coffee, too.”
Sheryl’s lips pressed into a firm line. She didn’t have a good response but felt that he was wrong and was crossing a line with that suggestion.
“She did,” Ted insisted, seeing Sheryl’s eye twitch in response. “If she wrote me going to the store, she wrote you drinking coffee. And she wrote you getting dressed and having breakfast… And she wrote you opening the door and standing there next to it. So, what does it matter if she wrote me buying the duck?”
“Well, it…” Sheryl floundered. “You’re taking it a bit far. We don’t know that she writes all of that, exactly. I mean, she does, of course. But the simple stuff, the everyday stuff doesn’t matter so much. It’s when she gets bored and writes in something weird that—”
“Aha!” Ted interrupted, thrusting a finger in the air. “You do think Al Orange is weird!”
“It’s a stone duck wearing an orange coat!” Sheryl cried in exasperation. “And you’ve named him Al Orange!”
“So? I like Al Orange. I think it’s the perfect name for a duck.”
They stared at each other across the kitchen. Sheryl glanced back at Al Orange, making sure he was still a stone duck. Nothing more.
“She does this to get a rise out of us,” Sheryl muttered softly.
Ted shook his head, though he knew she was right. They’d known for some time that the writer seemed to let them be for long stretches only to pop in with a strange object when she was bored. They suspected she did it to see how they would react. Although, if she was the one writing everything they did and said…?
Ted’s head began to hurt the way it always did when he gave the writer too much thought.
“Maybe we shouldn’t give her the satisfaction,” Ted answered in an equally quiet voice.
Their eyes met across the kitchen, this time in silent agreement.
“Shall we put Al Orange near the daisies?” Sheryl asked brightly.
“That’s a good idea,” Ted agreed with relief. “And then we can have some tea.”
“I would love some tea,” Sheryl agreed, smiling as she followed Ted and the duck out the back door.
Thanks for joining me today. If you liked this story with Sheryl and Ted, they also feature in Episode 4, A Goose in the House, and in Episode 19, Writer’s Block.
If you’re enjoying this podcast, please tell you friends! You can also connect with me through the Freely Written Facebook page or learn more about my novels and other projects on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also support me through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]