THE TURTLE HARANGUE
Dreamed 1997/1/29 by Chris Wayan
I'm standing on a paved strip between two long, low rows of apartments. The strip leads to a beach; I hear faint waves and the air is salt. I'm with a guy I barely know, a Latino with an I'm-a-devil beard that just doesn't make it, a round chubby face, a muscular body except for the beer belly, and a strange attitude: God knows why, but he's trying to impress me. He has a creepy grin, and says between too many teeth, "It's time to show you. I have a contemptible creature I just gotta show you." I have a sudden sickening fear it'll be his wife. Or his child. Or maybe his penis. No, he wouldn't say contemptible.
He goes into their patio and yells "Wake up, you lazy slug!" I peer uneasily through the arch. In the corner, stored on its back, helpless, is a green sea-turtle a yard long. He starts cursing it--odd, rather stilted curses. "You're pathetic!" I don't see why--it's a perfectly normal turtle. "You're inept!" Inept? What's an adept turtle do, then?
What can any turtle do, trapped upside down?
He flips it over, then drives it like a donkey, with kicks and more curses. It hastily (for a turtle) crawls over to a big ring of jello or foam, which forms the wall of a wading pool, a meter deep and four wide. He's trained it, I'm afraid to ask how, to stay inside. The man mocks it a while, then turns away to boast about how he caught it. The turtle sees an opportunity, and crawls back out of the ring, and across the concrete apron, and around the next apartment block, toward the sea. Agonizingly slow. I ask the guy a lot of questions, and keep my eyes away from the turtle, watching its progress only peripherally: don't want the man to catch on.
The turtle rounds the corner, but in my mind's eye I still follow its slow-mo dash for freedom. It skitters desperately down the beach, nearly as fast as a human walk, and slides into the sea.
Farewell, inept turtle.
I feel glad.
NOTES IN THE MORNING
THE NEXT NIGHT
I watch Deep Space Nine on TV. Odo, an orphaned Changeling, a species that shapeshifts, tells his human foster-father "you raised me like a lab animal." They quarrel over how to teach another baby Changeling new shapes. Odo fears they're abusing it--pour it into molds, give it electric shocks... Odo turned out all right, but has a rather formidable shell--he even looks like a stubborn turtle.
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