This week's Firebox Fiction
Memory of a Turtle
by Debbie Ann Ice
Sarah sat on the sofa, slumped over her bowl of cereal, a cartoon flashing before her. Small pearl- sized drops of milk lay still upon her thigh; a few more littered the coffee table. Her parents were in the kitchen fighting. She feigned disinterest, but she didn’t miss much.
“One night on the water with all of us is not going to mess her up.” Her Daddy stopped talking a while. The refrigerator opened with a loud suck. “She’ll like it. We’re not doing anything evil for Christ’s sakes.” The fizzy pop and rip of the metal tab interrupted something her mama said--probably, what if y’all get caught. Her mama was always concerned about getting caught.
Sarah stirred her Cheerios while she watched the coyote whir around the mountain, dust rising from its feet. This was her favorite show. She loved how the ratty-looking animal kicked up the dry, flat land.
“I give up,” her mama finally said, now standing in the den in front of Sarah. “I give up on all of you. Take her on your little adventure.” She stared at Sarah, her lips no longer pinched, but limp and sad.
Sarah kept all facial muscles still. She didn’t want her mama detecting any sign of victory.
The moonlight dappled the white-tipped canyons of water rising up behind the whaler, now going full blast. Sarah’s daddy stood with her brother at the wheel; behind their boat Mr. Harkle’s Mako jumped the wake as he whooped and held up his Budweiser. Sarah’s Daddy raised his can and yelled back, something manly and as wild as the salty water that stung Sarah’s skin.
It took them a good forty minutes to reach Warsaw Sound, another twenty minutes before they found the Island. Dr. Timmer said he was sure this was the place. Sarah’s job was the same as always when they made trips to islands. She took the rope, jumped into the water and pulled the boat to shore. After everyone was properly anchored, they began the search. The flashlights cut through the dark like the beams at the circus Sarah attended in Savannah the year before; distant dunes, marsh grass, retreating backs of men, flickered on and off as the light passed by. The crackle of small waves sounded like bacon frying on Sunday morning. In the distance, Mr. Harkle whooped and hollered as he drug his cooler inland.
Sarah’s brother found it first. It looked like a large rock until it moved. They all circled it, aiming their flashlights at its head and bumpy back. Behind the creature lay evidence of its hard battle--tracks that looked like a small trunk had been pushed in a straight line away and towards the water.
Sarah kneeled before it, regarded its limpid stare. She grabbed her daddy’s arm and stood on its back. Its movement never slowed; its energy never faltered.
When it finally reached the area where waves succumbed to land, Dr. Timmer’s voice rose from someplace further up the beach. “I found them. She laid a bunch. Go get me a bucket.”
The next morning when Sarah’s daddy scrambled his share of the eggs, he offered a serving to Sarah. The feral taste made her feel sick. As Sarah scraped the eggs into the garbage pail, her mother slowly approached.
“I don’t want to listen to your stories about last night. So don’t try to tell me.”
Sarah put her plate in the sink and stared at it while her mama continued.
“You need to live before you tell this story. After you live a while, you see, your memory ferments. Don’t tell you story till that memory ferments.”
At eight, Sarah recalled the rough carapace under her feet.
At twenty-two, after college but before her settled, saner life, Sarah recalled the wobbling rock-like body disappearing slowly into the waves.
At thirty-two, with two children hanging onto her every breath, she recalled the turtle’s impervious, dignified eyes.
At forty-eight, after she lost her first boy in Iraq, she recalled the indefatigable forward momentum of a mother, as men stole the eggs she left behind.