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by Santino Prinzi

Agnes was sitting by the pond feeding bread to ducks. She’d spent her life rushing around, but there was no need to rush now; three-quarters of the stale loaf remained in her lap. She found little joy in plucking tiny morsels of bread with her fingernails and flinging them in arches into the water. Without her mother and father, without her husband or children, it wasn’t the same. She lit a third cigarette. Ducks clustered at her feet, quacking and clamouring for crumbs, but Agnes threw the little bread-balls as far into the water as possible; she wanted them to work for their dinner.

“Excuse me. Bread is bad for ducks, don’t you know?”

A young woman: twenty, twenty-one maybe, hair dyed green, lip pierced. She was sneering at Agnes. The young woman reminded her of one of her many grandchildren who never visited.

“You shouldn’t be feeding them bread. They need cracked corn, barley, pumpkin seeds, or oats. Even grapes will do, but you need to ensure you halve them, otherwise they may choke.” Her voice was gooey marshmallows, but patronising, as if she thought Agnes was deaf. “I quarter mine, just to be sure.”

Agnes rose to her feet, taking care to steady her balance. She shuffled to the pond’s edge and the ducks swam closer.

“Please be careful, please! You’re really close to the water!”

She kept talking, but Agnes wasn’t listening. The hopeful ducks were close to her now, as if they were about to hop out of the pond. She held the loaf of bread as high as she could muster, then slammed it down into the water, onto the duck, who quacked and squawked and disappeared beneath the murky water. It rose to the surface. Dead. Killed by the impact.

The girl was silenced, unable to fathom what she’d seen. The duck floated out towards the middle of the pond. The other ducks and ducklings swam to the other side of the pond, some flew away, but all were loud and restless, as if they knew something about the pond had changed.

Agnes lit another cigarette. She offered the green-haired woman a cigarette too. She took one and regarded it like a museum artefact before Agnes lit it for her.

“Life’s all about moderation,” Agnes winked, mimicking what the doctor always told her. Excess never did her any harm, only took everyone she cared about away from her.

Now that the bread was gone, Agnes didn’t know whether she fancied a McDonald’s or was heading to the pub. They sat on the bench and smoked, wondering about limitations and how you could break them.

Santino Prinzi is the co-director of National Flash Fiction Day in the UK, a senior editor for New Flash Fiction Review, an associate editor for Vestal Review, and the flash fiction editor of Firefly Magazine. His debut flash fiction collection, Dots and other flashes of perception, is available from the Nottingham Review Press. His short stories, flash fiction, and prose poetry have been published or is forthcoming in various places, such as Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Great Jones Street, Litro Online, Bath Flash Fiction Award Vol. 2, and Stories for Homes Anthology Vol. 2. To find out more, follow him on Twitter (@tinoprinzi) or visit his website: tinoprinzi.wordpress.com.