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Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
There’s never been such a lovely spring, Nell thought. Frogs – or were they toads? – trilled from the pond, and there were pussy willows and catkins – what was the difference? – and then the hawthorn bushes and the wild plums and the neglected apple trees came into bloom, and an uneven row of daffodils planted by some long-vanished farmer’s wife thrust up through the weeds and dead grasses beside the drive. Birds sang. Mud dried.
In the evenings, Nell and Tig sat outside their rented farmhouse on two aluminum-framed lawn chairs they’d found in the back shed, holding hands, slapping away the occasional mosquito, and watching a barred owl teach her two young to hunt. For practice they were using the twelve ducklings Tig had bought and installed on the pond. He’d made a shelter for the ducklings – like a little house without walls, set on a floating raft. They could have gone in under the roof and been safe, but they didn’t seem to know enough to do that.
The owl swooped down in silence down over the surface of the pond where the ducklings ignorantly paddled, snatching a duckling a night, carrying each one up to the cavity in the dead tree where she had her nest, then rending the duckling apart and sharing it out to the young to be gobbled down, until all twelve ducklings were gone.
‘Look at that,’ said Tig. ‘Such grace.’
At the beginning of May the businessman who owned the farm said he was selling it. He gave them a month to move out. Since there wasn’t any lease, they had to go. But they couldn’t move back to the city, they were agreed on that. It was just too beautiful up here.
They drove a half hour farther north, where the prices would be cheaper, and scouted around on back roads, searching out the For Sale signs. Up near Garrett they managed to find something in their price range: a house, a barn, and a hundred acres. It had been on the market for more than a year. Vacant possession, said the owner, who was showing them around himself. He lived on another farm; he’d been using this barn to store hay. But now he was selling both properties, cashing in. ‘I want to see a bit of the world before it’s time for me to be putting on the wooden overcoat,’ he said…