Absence

On the first day, the turtle crawled under a hollow log. On the second, he buried himself in the wet mud; he felt the balmy heat in the air, and knew tomorrow would be hotter, and dry. He buried himself in the mud to wait it out, for he knew the fourth day would be cool and wet.

The third day it was hot, and he slept. The fourth day it rained, and he emerged from the wallow, mud dripping from his cracked leather skin, sluicing off his beak and down his long, green neck. He had never felt the rain on his back before, and as he crawled through the jungle he shivered in wonder, and arousal, and sorrow.

On the fifth day, he feasted on a nest of baby dragonflies. In the late afternoon he dared to climb to the top of a weathered rock he had often passed in his distant youth, when he was no bigger than a bowl of acorns. It had never been a rock he would climb, not in youth, not in health, not in time. And, he would admit, no matter the shame and loneliness in it, he was triumphant basking atop it on the fifth day, the fading sun roasting his back to a fine, gleaming sheen, like pebbles of charcoal on the spine of a dragon.

On the sixth day the beasts found him. The wolves broke him, the foxes dragged his pieces away, the birds and the cranes came to snap up the tough sinews that lay inside his toes.

Six days. It had been six days since he learned how to strip off his shell and go wandering in the wild. Six days he lived knowing his life was marked, against the natural order of the world and all within it. He crawled in freedom and in fear, weighed down by its absence, buoyed by its relief, lonely for it. But the old turtle had always been alone. He had never learned to run.

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