Ferret Tango

by Kate Marshall

Format: Flash Fiction | Genre: General Fiction

Lance watched from his window as the leashed ferret scampered down the sidewalk in front of his house. The legions of morning dog walkers had already trooped past his yard sign proclaiming, ‘NOT A URINATION OR DEFECATION ZONE, VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.’

The neighborhood had changed since his wife Julianne passed away ten years ago. Its previous inhabitants, a group of retired couples, had kept indoor cats and small dogs – toy poodles and Chihuahuas for the most part. The current crop of young families and single professionals favored large dogs – labs, golden retrievers and godawful standard poodle mixes. Twenty-four–seven excrement distributors.

Lance tossed a candy wrapper into a nearby trash can and repositioned his binoculars. From six-fifteen until dinner, he rarely left his window seat except for meals and bathroom breaks. In the last few years, he’d developed gout in both knees and found it painful to maneuver his oversized body onto the porch to confront the law breakers. He’d considered tearing up the lawn and embedding a urine-activated alarm system into artificial turf. But the technology was iffy and that would have defiled Julianne’s careful landscaping currently maintained by a pricey Asian gardening service. In the end, he’d been forced to install a high-frequency screech alarm system that he’d sound whenever a violator and their canine invaded his property.

The ferret’s leash holder was olive skinned and soft featured. Peacock feathers dangled from the lobes of her prominent ears and grazed the thin straps of her sheer white sundress. Her legs were unshaven and tufts of reddish brown hair poked out from beneath her armpits.

Lance shifted on his seat cushion and refocused the binoculars as the weasel hopped onto his hind legs. When the handler bent and nudged the creature into the center of the sidewalk, he glimpsed the tops of her freckled breasts.

For a moment he was transported to the technicolor world of Mataan Fez, the Moroccan restaurant, where Julianne and he had gone every Friday. Geometric tapestries of red and gold on the walls. Belly dancers trailing diaphanous pink and purple scarves and undulating to the gentle sounds of a naked flute. Julianne pressed against him on their embroidered pillow. His wife’s pungent scent mixed with the smells of incense, cumin, coriander and bubbling meats.

The clack of a dancer’s finger symbols brought their waiter to the table. He touched his hat, and in full military posture, he streamed sweet black tea into their transparent glasses from a silver teapot held inches above his head.

There were no accidents.

Outside his window, the woman kissed the ferret’s head before pressing a pellet into its mouth. Still on its hind legs, he hopped from side to side, tilting his head as if dancing. The woman moved with him, guiding the leash and dropping treats, which the animal caught in its teeth.

Sweat beads popped on Lance’s forehead. After their meal, Julianne and he had gone dancing, where she’d coaxed his awkward legs into a jerky rhythm. He’d never mastered the steps. But in the thrust and parry of the tango or the taffy pull of the lindy hop, she’d always come back to him. Except that last time.

On the sidewalk, the weasel resumed on all fours and scampered into the lawn. Julianne’s lawn. He touched the buzzer switch. Punched it with his index finger. Stabbed the button until his finger numbed at the tip. No response. Dead. His knees buckled as he struggled out of his chair. He’d never encountered ferret scat. And he wasn’t about to. Gripping his cane, he hobbled to the front door. The deadbolt tumblers clicked as he released the three locks. On the porch, the heat was heavy and dense, stealing his breath. An ambulance wailed in the distance and the neighbor’s Akita growled behind the fence. He shuffled across the porch leaning on his cane as he negotiated the single concrete step.

He was winded by the time he stepped onto the lawn. A narrow tunnel zigzagged the green where the animal had burrowed. Julianne would have laughed. Tweaked his earlobe. Told him how it likely improved their irrigation system.

No.

He gripped his cane. By the time he reached the sidewalk, the duo had vanished.

He wanted to shout to the now empty street, Come back. Come back. Please, please come back.

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KATE MARSHALL

Kate is a freelance writer living in Boulder, Colorado. She writes short fiction, memoir and mixed-form pieces. Her work has been published in Iowa Writes: The Daily Palette, MUSED BellaOnline Literary Review, The Chalice, and 50GS.uk. In addition to writing, she enjoys hiking and volunteering at the Boulder Humane Society Vet Clinic, where she helps to revive dogs, cats, ferrets, lagomorphs and rats post-surgery.