Flash Fiction III: The Turtle and the Hare

The old man was something like a turtle. That is, his back was heavy and his neck long. He trembled with his own weight. When the young girl looked at him, she was reminded of the sloths in the rainforest who move so slowly that green moss grows on their skin. He was a terrible, green old man.

She saw him often downtown. The café next to her favorite ice cream shop was his usual lunch place. He never said a word, besides whispering his order to the waiter. He made her cringe. I’ll never be such a wrinkled old thing, she told her friends. I’ll wrap my body in thick creams and lotions, and exercise my muscles, and I’ll stay firm and quick. They told her how beautiful she was, and how she was sure to stay so beautiful for a very long time. She knew this to be true.

The old man’s grin grew sleepily across his face. Complacent. Behind his lips, his tongue and teeth practiced the words he would say to the young girl once he got his chance. Until then, though, he remained seated. Mind plodding, plodding, plodding.

He saw the girl every day that week. She was accompanied by a different young man each time. The old man would listen to them speak, squint his ears hard against the din of the street, but she spoke too quickly, and he could never keep up with the boys’ names. Never mind that. He set to focusing on the steps she would take, memorizing her path, setting the course. Her stride had a strong bend, a sharp turn. He admired her movements. He learned to read the language of her careful steps.

At the end of the week, the old man heard the girl mention to her catch of the day that she was meeting a few friends at the lounge on 32nd street later that night. You should come, she said. The old man folded his napkin carefully and placed it on his plate. His slow heart thumped, and he studied her feet as she got up with the boy and walked away. He thought, I accept your challenge.

The young girl wore a soft dress to the lounge that night. It’s genuine suede, she told the bartender. The old man liked the way she positioned herself on the barstool, so that the orange light of overhead lamps accentuated the muscles in her thighs. He was comfortable, and the girl loosened up as she filled her tiny tummy with stinging alcohol. The boy from the ice cream shop never showed, but she had no shortage of broad shoulders on which to hang. She swung her hips in time with theirs, rolled her head back and forth. She was a slow-moving hurricane. She whispered into each of her dance partners’ ears, I have never yet been beaten when put forth at my full speed. A faded giggle. I could dance ‘round you all the way.

The old man chuckled. He could not keep his tired eyes off of her gyrations. Swinging and rocking, pressing into chiseled chests. It was like a beating drum somewhere below his stomach, an urgent rhythm, a speed his heart had never experienced. She spun circles throughout his vision. Dizzy, they were both dizzy, bouncing particles across the club through the sound waves.

The young girl awoke in a pile of shredded genuine suede. Not her bed. She couldn’t remember which one of the dancing boys she had gone home with. Gotta go home. The cotton quilt was too heavy a weight. She was plastered to the mattress by her own sweat. Gotta get going. Placing her feet on the ground took centuries. Each twitch of a muscle was an effort. Her own skin was so heavy. And, across town, the old man was already up, stretching his legs on the hardwood floor. He hadn’t felt so spry, so light, in years.

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