'Lost Lad & Turtle' by Mandy Huggins


In the midday sun, a lathe-thin cat toys with her lunch; a just-caught fish, its sleek scales now coated with dust. Eventually she settles under the table to eat, whilst fat black beetles hover like helicopters, their shiny bodies as thick as thumbs.
I think of the dung beetles we watched on the donkey track that day. They toiled in the shade of the olive groves, two of them, almost neck and neck, pursuing each other up the hill. You claimed your champion; the larger of the two, and you named him Turtle. I was left with the smaller beetle, the potential loser, and I named him after you: Lost Lad. The name I gave you when we met, when you told me you were a lost cause. One of the lost boys.
Turtle and Lost Lad stood on tiptoe, pushing their smooth golf balls of dung in a laboured race to the top. The balls juddered along the path, stumbling against small stones, stuttering to a near-halt as they adhered to fallen flowers and nubs of twig. Occasionally one of the beetles would stagger sideways. The ball would lose momentum and roll back an inch.
You placed a thin stalk of dry grass across the path: the finish line.
Then Turtle spurted ahead. He nearly made the stalk, and then stopped. He waited for his race mate, giving him a chance, and only as Lost Lad drew level did he set off again. Their balls touched the finish line in unison.
You turned to me then and asked if I would wait for you. You would be back here in one year’s time. We would walk up the donkey track again, side by side, serenaded by cicadas.
And I believed you, my lost lad, but you did not return. I should have seen that you were like the cat, not the beetle, and I was simply your plaything in the dust.

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