A Short Story
by Thaddeus Rutkowski
THE TURTLE TANK CAME into our apartment while I was away. Along with the tank came a turtle—a mature red-eared slider. My wife and daughter bought the tank while I was on a short trip. Maybe they didn’t want me to stop them.
We all knew our daughter needed a pet, but I’d put my foot down about a cat. Our place was too small for a cat, I believed. But not for a turtle, at least in my wife’s and daughter’s opinion. When I came back from my trip, I was surprised by the sight of the aquarium, with its sun lamp shining and its air pump bubbling. In it was the turtle, treading water. It was a big animal, for its species. My wife and daughter had gotten the reptile free of charge because someone had abandoned it.
Of course, no one except for the turtle had any use for the tank. It—or I should say she—swam in it, ate in it and slept in it, until she had to lay eggs. When the time came, she would climb out of the tank and fall to the floor. It was a long way down, and I worried that she’d crack her shell. But I was never able to catch her—she fell so fast.
Somehow, if she landed on her back, she could wave her legs until she got traction and right herself. She would then look for a soft place, maybe among clothes on the floor, where she could dig a shallow pit for her eggs. She would scratch and knead with her hind feet. But the floor was hard, and no amount of scraping would dent it. Giving up, she would look for a window to escape through. She knew where the windows were, but she didn’t know how to climb to them. She was a turtle, after all.
The idea at this point was not to push her with my foot, that is, not to kick her. The temptation was there, however, because she was low to the ground. I didn’t want her in my clothes, or in my bedroom for that matter, so I wanted to nudge her out with my foot, then shut the door so she couldn’t get back in. But if I were caught by my wife and daughter while I was pushing with my foot, I would hear some screaming—some accusations of animal abuse. So I would bend down and pick up the turtle by her shell. If I were gentle, she would not panic and scratch me with her back claws, which were sharp, for digging.
It would usually take a week or two of her escaping the tank before she found an egg-laying place. Usually, it was not a good place. It was the hardwood floor, or the ceramic tiles in the bathroom. She would deposit eight to 10 eggs there. Some of the eggs would remain whole and perfect. Others she would step on and smash. Whether she meant to destroy them was not known, at least to us, her caregivers.
The tank stayed where it was, on top of a cabinet in the living room, until it was replaced by a bigger tank—one the turtle, named Mystic, might not be able to climb out of. But as it turned out, she could get out of the larger tank when she wanted to—or when she needed to. She quit the tank whenever it was time to lay eggs. Precisely when that time would come was the question, one that required mystical knowledge to answer. None of us could say.
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Thadeus Rutkowski is the author of the innovative novels Haywire, Tetched, and Roughhouse. He teaches literature as an adjunct at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and fiction writing at the Writers Voice of the West Side YMCA in Manhattan.
Thaddeus Rutkowski web site