I Am a Leopard - Flash Fiction
Right now, I am 5, walking behind my grandma’s house to the yard out back. At first I try to pick my way over the ground and avoid smushing all the star apples, fallen from the canopy above, but I give up. There’s way too many. Through a tangle of bushes and vines lie a couple of cars with copper-coated dresses of rust that sparkle with the glitter of broken glass. My cousins climb onto the trunk of one and I of course follow. Cracks in the rear windshield spiderweb from one corner, and through these I look inside to an interior of padded red seats. I can’t say for certain if we ever opened the doors and tumbled inside, yet I feel the seats’ fuzzy surface on my fingertips and the dusty air tickling at the edges of my nostrils. We must have. We did. I’m inside of it now.
The late morning light has passed through a gauntlet of atmosphere—clouds, star apple tree leaves, filthy windows to reach us. That means I know for sure it’s only the best light, the kind that makes magic into anything it touches. The back of the headrest in front of me is magic, and when I raise my arm up in front of me, my fingers and half of my forearm is magic. When we go back outside and sit on the top of the cab, slightly bending underneath our weight, the light speckles onto us and we look like leopards. Then we run around like leopards. Because we can, and because it’s fun to run and laugh and because why not? The day stretches on before us, with a promise of a ramen lunch steaming on top of the stove and any game we want to play saved as dessert. We can do anything. We will do everything—everything fun, at least.
Now, I’m 37. It’s my birthday, and I miss being a leopard so much I could cry. I miss thinking a rusty fender made for a perfect bench. I miss standing in a line with my cousins, waiting for my turn to get a forkful of that salty ramen, then going back to the end as I chew to repeat the process all over again. I miss the star apple tree out back that’s long been cut down. I miss the feeling of fruit smushing out from under the soles of my shoes.
I hear a knock, then in she comes.
“Happy birthday, Daddy,” she says, and hands me a card. On the front is a cute image: an illustration of a father holding his daughter on one of his shoulders. They’re dressed in khaki overalls, wearing safari hats, and surrounded by green. On the inside it reads: A dad and daughter off to explore — who could ever wish for more?
I smile and kiss the top of her forehead.
“Do you want to go explore, Dad?”
“That’d be nice. What’d you have in mind, baby girl?”
“Can I hunt you?”
“Hunt me? Do I have to pretend to be an animal?” She nods, then I say, “Okay, I know exactly what to be. I’ll meet you outside. You better be ready!”
I miss being a leopard. But for the next half hour at least, I don’t have to. I walk outside in the late morning light and raise my hand to my eyes. I smile because I — all of me — is magic once more.