The Reason for Turtles

A reminder (or, if you’re new to these stories, a quick introduction): Eden Baylee, in Canada, and I, in Scotland, first got to know one another when we contributed separately to Richard Wood’s Word Count Podcast, which involved recording what we’d written for sound broadcasting. After a few solo efforts, we decided to co-author some and, when Richard decided to move on to other things, we just kept on with the collaborations (but without the broadcast element). We’ve never met but we’ve got to know one another quite well and we’ve been publishing our joint efforts on our separate blogs since January 2021.

This week’s prompt is: My brother did this weird thing with turtles.

Parts 1 and 3 were written by Eden and parts 2 and 4 by me.

 

The Reason for Turtles

My brother did this weird thing with turtles. We didn’t grow up with pets because Mom was deathly afraid of dogs, which strangely translated to cats as well. Goldfish didn’t count, and turtles definitely weren’t pets. A dozen of the snappers came through our door every couple of months. Mom brought them home from work, always on a Friday. I remember because we couldn’t bathe the next day on account of all the turtles in the tub.

On Sunday, however, Mom’s friends would collect their turtles by no later than 3pm. She was doing them a favour by getting them, so she set the rules.

“I have other things to do,” she said. “Can’t be waiting around all day.”

One time, Mrs. Duke didn’t show up for her turtles until after supper. It threw off Mom’s schedule and she crossed Mrs. Duke off the list—both as a friend and for any more turtles from her.

As for my brother, he liked playing with them, holding their shells and pushing them along the water like Hot Wheels cars. “Vroom, vroom!” he’d say.

Eventually, they all met the same fate, in a pot of boiling water, swimming with onions and carrots.

+++

This didn’t seem to bother Benny. When it was a turtle month, he’d get all excited, select a favorite, then, pre-race, spend ages in the bathroom training it. At least, that’s what he said he was doing, although since he was the one doing the pushing, I didn’t understand what sort of training the poor little turtle needed to do. Mom didn’t mind him doing it. What she did mind was that each time he chose a favorite, he gave it a name – the same one every time, Sheldon. He just put a number after it so they were Sheldon 1, Sheldon 2, and so on. Mom didn’t like it because Sheldon Duke was Mrs Duke’s husband before they got divorced. That was what caused the argument.

One week (we were on Sheldon 17), Mom made Benny show her which one he’d chosen as favorite. She marked its shell with a little cross and, that same evening, for supper, she made what she called Snapper 17 soup. Benny jumped up from the table, ran up to the bathroom and came back almost at once. He was crying.

‘Why did you do that?’ he shouted.

‘He looked like Sheldon Duke,’ said Mom.

+++

Up until that point, I had no reason to think Mom had any issues with Sheldon Duke. I always thought Mrs. Duke was the problem. She had a snooty air about her even though she was poor just like us, and of course there was that one time she came late to pick up her turtles. It surprised me that Mom cut her out of her life so abruptly, but she could be harsh that way. She once grounded me for leaving the front door unlocked after coming home from school. Ever since Dad died, things seemed to tick her off more easily. I could ignore her short temper, but Benny was more sensitive than me. He didn’t understand Mom’s mood swings, and every little thing made him cry. Mom couldn’t deal with it, so it was left to me to comfort him.

“Sheldon 17 was my favourite of them,” he said that night as I tucked him in bed.

“I’m sorry Ben, but you know Mom cooks all of them sooner or later.”

“Why can’t she let me keep one? That’s all I want, just one!”

I wiped the tears from his face and wondered the same thing myself.

+++

In the end, it was Jennifer who gave us the answer. Sort of, anyway. She’s my best friend at school and when I told her about Benny and his Sheldons, she just said, ‘No, turtles are good for people, bring them together’.

She says that sort of thing all the time. Scares me a bit when she talks about the Tai Chi and stuff her Aunt Margaret does. Goes all mysterious and says it’s about spirits and peace and things. I don’t understand any of it but she’s a good friend. Anyway, when she said that about turtles, I asked her how they were good for us. She got all excited and said ‘They’ve got protein, calcium, vitamins, phosphorous, zinc – loads of stuff we need.’

It didn’t seem to me to have much to do with pushing them about in a bath but when I got home I told Benny what she’d said. It really cheered him up.

‘So it’s OK for us to eat them then?’ he said.

‘Yes, it’s what they’re for. And Jennifer’s auntie says they bring us peace of mind.’

Benny laughed. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘not a bit like Sheldon and Mrs Duke then?’

That made him happy.

 

 

GRANDMA

As with most (probably all) aspects of this collaboration, apart from respecting the word count, Eden Baylee and I make no decisions in advance about genre, style, moral, physical or other story elements, or such things as whether the narrator or principal characters should be male or female. Everything springs from the prompt and however the one who’s writing the first part decides to start it all off.

The prompt this time is: My only defense was to write down every word they said.

It was my turn to write parts 1 and 3 and Eden’s to write 2 and 4.

 

 

GRANDMA

It’s funny how men keep on getting away with things but women find it much more difficult. Well, funny isn’t the word, is it? Sometimes it’s a very long way from funny.

It seems to start quite early. Maybe it’s just built in to the way everybody thinks. I remember at primary school – and even on into secondary, come to think of it – that the little boy gangs which formed – just 3, 4, 5 friends – were sort of normal, but we girls just had one, maybe two friends, but never enough to be a gang. It’s a sort of pattern that persists even when they grow up. Men have got their golf clubs, darts matches, meet up in pubs before going to the football – regular, normal activities – while we’re fetching the kids from school, maybe chatting a bit while waiting for them at the gates, but then taking them home, not prolonging the chats or anything. The chats are just a filler really.

But for the boys and men, it definitely helps them to get away with things. There’s always one of the gang to back up what they say, even if they weren’t around when whatever it was happened.

+++

For the most part, being born female is a disadvantage in life. Being female and a visible minority only adds to the challenge. The best thing I have going for me is an unwavering belief in my own self-worth. And that, my grandma taught me, just by living her life until the ripe old age of 95.

“If you live long enough, people can’t help but respect you even if they hate you,” she said.

Grandma had a way with words, and she taught me to value the power of them. Used judiciously, they cut deeper than a knife, she said. Conversely, when words are not considered before speaking, expect to be disappointed.

She could fill volumes with all her wise sayings. There are days I regret not writing them down when she said them. Every so often, I remember one of her gems and jot it in a notebook. I have a memory box of Grandma’s things: pictures of me with her as a child; jewelry she wore and gave me; and my favourite possession—a lock of her hair, tied at each end with a red ribbon.

She gave it to me just before she passed away.

+++

Obviously, I remember that day well, and not just because of the sadness. It was like a light going out – in the room, but in my head, too. I’d rushed home from school to see her because of Billy Chapman. He and his gang – Joey Murray, Kenny Holmes and the rest – were always the worst at teasing and being mean – not just to me but to all the girls in our class. We were doing English and the teacher put me, Jenny Beecham and Sally Jay on the same table as him to write a story about friendship. Right from the start Billy decided friendship meant boys, told us he and the gang would have the ideas and we’d just be secretaries. At first, my only defence was to write down every word they said. But I made tiny changes to some of them. Following Grandma’s advice,  I changed ‘friend’ and ‘pal’ to words like ‘associate’, ‘colleague’, ‘cohort’, ‘familiar’, ‘intimate’, and ‘bosom buddy’ so when Billy read them out to the teacher at the end, he couldn’t pronounce them properly and even thought words like bosom and intimate were rude. He had to stay behind while I ran home to Grandma.

+++

I was a block away from home when I saw the ambulance pull out of our driveway. By the time I arrived at my house, I was out of breath. Tracy, my babysitter who lived next door, greeted me.

“Your grandmother fell and your mom’s gone to the hospital with her.”

I begged Tracy to let me go too, but of course she couldn’t. She was only a teenager.

That evening, my Dad took me. Grandma was asleep. Mom was nowhere to be found.

“Can I go in by myself?” I said to Dad.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

I sat on Grandma’s bed and held her hand. “Please don’t go,” I said.

She squeezed my fingers. Her eyes remained shut, her voice a whisper. “Smart girl, I can’t stay.”

“Please …” Tears welled under my eyes.

“Shhh … your mother cut a piece of my hair for you, so you can remember me.”

“I’ll always remember you, Grandma … and your words, and using words wisely.”

“Yes, even now, they’re all I have to give you.”

Save for a lock of hair, and her love of words which she passed on to me, Grandma left the world with a smile on her face.

There’s weird and there’s weird

Solo time again in the regular series of offerings from author Eden Baylee and myself. The prompt for this one is:  There were seventeen cats living in Larry’s basement.

This is my response to it. You’ll find Eden’s here.

 

File:Scottish Kitten.png
RN3DLL, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

I think it’s fair to say that my upbringing was unconventional. By that I don’t mean any disrespect for my parents or the rest of my family; it’s just that the district we lived in seemed to sort of breed eccentrics. Windy Geech, for example, or Maud Brimacombe, Elsie Worth, the Sammels sisters – none of them was normal. In the pub, Windy Geech’s order was always for a pint of beer, but never in a single glass, always in two halves. And he wasn’t called Windy because of farting or burping or anything. No, it was because he always wore a hat and had lots of thick hair sticking out the sides and back of it and one day it was blowing a gale and his hat blew off and on top he was completely bald. He had all this thick, dark hair round the edges but a blindingly white skull cap.

So, you see, all these folks weren’t weird in any mad or dangerous way, but just… well, they were not like people on telly, or in films and books. I lived in the pub they used so I saw – or more correctly, heard – them every night except Sunday.

+ + +

They’d start about 9 o’clock, singing songs I knew well in the end, although they weren’t the sort of things you heard on the radio in those rock and roll days. I think they said they were by Bing Crosby and Doris Day. I don’t suppose many of the kids at my school knew them.

But it’s not them I want to talk about. They were all… well, not old but not young either. I just wonder if having grown-ups like that made all of us kids decide we had to be different, too. Joanie Russell always wore different shoes – one black, one brown or a trainer and a school shoe. She knew she’d get away with it and wouldn’t be bullied or anything because most of the rest of us tried to do weird things with different sorts of clothes. Ricky Lander even wore dresses and skirts. And Derek Robbins, who came from Cornwall, always wore a kilt on Sundays. In fact, none of us looked like normal kids so, in a way, it wasn’t really weird. Then, one summer term, a new boy came to our school and was in our class. His name was Larry Davidson.

+ + +

At first, there didn’t seem anything weird about him at all. He’d come from somewhere up north and I suppose at first he must have thought everybody in the West Country was a nutter. He didn’t say anything about the clothes we were wearing or the stupid things we did. Most of us just thought maybe where he was from everybody was like that. Sort of normal, I suppose. In class, he just sat quiet all the time, listening to the teachers. He was very good at drawing, especially animals, so he got good marks. Most of the boys thought he was a wimp. He didn’t play football or cricket. But he was popular with the girls. In fact, Sandra Buxton said she fancied him. But she thought Little Richard was sexy so none of the boys took much notice of her.  Anyway, I don’t know how it happened but, in the end, the way he was – all quiet, ordinary, normal – sort of made him seem more weird than the rest of us with all our deliberate differences. Ricky Swann invented all sorts of names for him, tried to get him into fights and stuff, but it never worked.

+ + +

So, in the end, we stopped taking much notice of him. Nothing seemed to upset or bother him, not even Sandra Buxton. She went out with him for a while… Well, it wasn’t really ‘going out’. They never went anywhere. She just walked home from school with him. He lived a couple of streets away from her, but she made it seem as if it was special. But then, near the end of term, coming up for Christmas… things changed.

For most of the term Ricky Swann had been calling Sandra Mrs Davidson. She didn’t seem to mind. Quite liked it in a way. But one Thursday in early December, when she arrived and there was no sign of Larry, Ricky began his usual ‘Morning Mrs Dav..’,  but she didn’t smile or say anything or even let him finish. She slapped him. Hard. Her face was red and she was crying and she just walked straight into class and sat down. Then, later that day, a policeman came to talk to Mrs Jones, our headmistress. My mum told me later what it was all about. He’d said there were seventeen cats living in Larry’s basement. Well, not living. They were all dead.