In the Still of the Night
The boys finish work at one in the morning, roll down the shutters, the noise like bones rattling, and go, laughing and joking to their homes, a night-club, the whorehouse. We wait till the sounds fade. Now is the time. We stretch our cramped legs and wings, flex our roasted necks. The Dance Mistress says "All ready?" We cackle our assent. We slip out of our headrings. Each relieves her neighbour of her shackles. We form a circle on the restaurant floor. We have only one week left to prepare for the International Peking Duck Synchronised Dance Festival, telecast world-wide to an audience of millions. The Mistress puts a coin in the juke box and selects our usual warm-up music - "The Ugly Duckling." We particularly like the line about "feathers all stubby and brown." Stubbing and browning happen during the roasting. And off we go! Four waddles to the left, four to the right. We bow towards the centre of the circle, then about face and shake our butts toward the centre, the way ducks do. Now we stretch our necks - in the jargon of duck synchro-dancing "haute de la tete flambé" and quack for several measures in time to the music. Someone is slightly flat. We start again. Practise makes perfect. Once warmed up, the Mistress fires up the juke box with "The Dance of the Little Swans" from "Swan Lake" (All ducks live in hope!) This is a "pas de quatre" and if you check out the picture, you'll see there's just enough of us. Tonight Daisy Duck is keeping cave and when she suddenly quacks "Ici en approche!" we freeze and the Mistress kills the music until the passer-by has passed by. So the rehearsal goes on until dawn when we must flap back onto the counter and shackle ourselves. Soon the boys will return, sharpening their carving knives in anticipation of customers looking for their breakfasts. Which of us will survive? Who will need to be replaced? Once we are back in our headrings the Mistress whispers "Tutus tonight, ladies. Dress rehearsal!" And there's not one of us who doesn't pray that she will be spared.