John Grey


I was swinging down the sidewalk, carrying    
my turtle in a pin-pricked box. I lost count
of the people who ignored me. Old men outside
the feed-store playing checkers. Women bent down
in their flower-beds. A priest, neck stiff as
his collar. Even kids on swings or on bicycles.
Even wild dogs. Not one sniff. Not even a curious
whiff of the turtle as it scraped back and forth in its blindness.

At least, my aunt and uncle would pretend to
know me. They came to the door together. Her
eyes were red. It didn't seem to matter that
I knew she had been crying. She sat me at the
table, fed me milk and cookies, while he
disappeared down into the basement. She just
stared at me like I was a rose in a vase. He
banged and clanged away like an old boiler.

That was when I had no clue what to say to
older people. I opened the box. I was as
dumb, as still and silent as the turtle.
It didn't even crane its neck to look up at me.
It must have felt about me as I did about her.
It just sat there inside its shell waiting
for me to make the next move in its life.
I sipped the milk slowly. One nibble from the
cookie and the rest of it crumbled in my hand.

"How’s your mother," she said. She was talking
through more tears. Her voice was muffled like
a fish mouthing against the side of its bowl.
"Okay," I mumbled in reply. I made a point to sometime
ask the turtle how its mother was. She turned her face
so the window light could reach down into her cheek and
push the purple of her bruise up to the surface. He was
louder and louder in the basement.

She suddenly ran into the bedroom, wailing,
leaving me there with my half-drunk glass of milk,
my cookie crumbs, my helpless pet. He came upstairs
later, sat at the other end of the table, read the newspaper.
At one point, he interrupted his reading to admire my turtle,
muttered, "I had one of those when I was your age."
It wasn’t much of a confession but we made do.

John Grey has been published recently in Agni, Worcester Review,  South Carolina Review and The Pedestal, with work upcoming in Poetry East and REAL.



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