My sister’s love of God’s creatures has always burned steadfast and pure. No matter its position on the food chain, if it breathes and isn’t human, Laura needs to pet, coo at, and – she’ll always find some way – to assist it.
Laura was the child who’d find an inchworm on the driveway, transport it to a dappled spot in the backyard, position it on the plumpest blade of grass she could find, and then sit with it for a few hours to make sure that it adjusted. When she got a kitten, she rocked, diapered and sang to him; gave him bottles of milk he didn’t want or need. Once she even tried to rescue a dog from its own backyard.
The minute Laura turned thirteen, she joined an animal service organization. She brought home litters of puppies, kittens, and baby raccoons, which she nursed with eyedroppers every four hours, around the clock. No matter how sleep deprived, she never lost patience or complained.
When Laura got older, her passion for animals was closely rivaled by her attraction to miserable relationships.
At the age of twenty, Laura attached herself to Glen, a boy three years her junior who was failing out of high school. The span of that union found Laura railing inexhaustibly about Glen’s emotional immaturity and reluctance to commit. To Laura’s vexation, when she wanted to spend quality time with him, or they broke up (again), he often hid from her at the county park, where he enjoyed smoking cigarettes with his friends.
Laura spent many an afternoon on the hunt for her missing beau.
One day, after a particularly intense argument, Laura was on such a trajectory. Eyes blurred with tears, she looped around the park, peering into shrubbery, craning her neck to look behind trees. So intent was she on her mission, she failed to notice her speed, or the flock of ducks in her path.
As Laura came upon the ducks they scattered, running and flying in every direction. One, however, couldn’t gather enough momentum. (Slow metabolism? Leg cramp? There’s no telling.) When Laura looked back at the road, she saw frantic wing-flapping right before her bumper.
Panicked, she slammed on the brakes.
It was too late. There was a thud, then a flurry of feathers.
Laura’s cries now escalated to sobs. She’d plowed over a defenseless duck! One whose only sin was being at the wrong pond at the wrong time.
Thoughts of Glen were forgotten. Whatever else happened, she must save her victim.
Laura yanked on the emergency brake and bolted from the car.
The duck now had a broad-framed, hysterical woman lurching after him. Fearing for what little remained of his safety, he tried to flee. But he was no match for my sister. Laura closed in and grabbed him by the leg. The duck resisted, flapping and squawking to the best of his ability. No soothing noises would calm him. Still, Laura managed to maintain her grip. She side-stepped to the car, opened the door with her left hand, and wrestled the duck inside.
As Laura slid behind the wheel, she imagined poster-sized pictures of herself, a big red X across her face, the caption reading, “Zero Tolerance: Stop Duck Maiming Today.” She looked back at the duck, who was now trembling in the far corner of the back seat. And then it hit her: She had no idea what to do next. The animal hospital treating wildlife was four towns away, and she couldn’t afford their services anyway.
Then Laura had an idea.
She drove directly to the police station.
When she arrived, Laura marched into the building. Approaching the first officer she saw, she said in a rush, “My boyfriend was being a jerk and he broke up with me and I was searching for him in the park and I hit a duck by accident and now it’s in my car and I don’t know what to. . .”
“Okay,” the officer cut in. “You have a wounded duck?”
“Here’s what you do.” The officer paused, placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder. Then he said, “Take him to The Duck Man.”
“The Duck Man?”
“Yes. The Duck Man.”
The officer explained that there was a man in town who cared specifically for sickly and wayward ducks. Laura doubted the man was credentialed, but if he was good enough for the police, he was good enough for her.
Fifteen minutes later, Laura pulled up to a little house set far off the road. In its front yard was a heavily populated duck pond. She walked onto the front porch and rang the bell. No answer. She rang again. A moment later, a large, bearded man wearing Levi’s and a white tee-shirt came to the door.
“Are you The Duck Man?” Laura asked.
The man looked at her. “I have a title now, do I?” he asked. Then, “Well, okay. Let’s have a look at the bird.”
Laura led The Duck Man to her car. The duck, still subdued, was where she had left him. The Duck Man leaned over, pulled him out gently and gave him a look-over. “He’s in pretty rough shape, you know.”
“I know,” Laura said, fighting back tears. “Do you think you can help him?”
“I’ll do my best.”
Laura thanked The Duck Man, said a polite thank you and headed for home, where she could become hysterical in private.
The next day, Laura returned to check on the duck.
The Duck Man said nothing, just shook his head sadly.
Morose, Laura returned to her car.
It occurred to Laura that the emotions wrought by the duck’s death felt similar to her love for Glen, and all of her past boyfriends. The anguish, longing, and deprivation of what should be. But there was one difference. Glen was alive. And as long as he was breathing, she could remake him into the attentive, supportive partner that she desired.
Now if only she could find him.The Red Shoes | The Parking Chronicles II →
I was on the rebound. Of course I see that now, thirteen years later. But at the time, convinced I’d accomplished six months of healing inside of two, I saw no reason for caution.
I liked Jeremy. A lot. But he, too, was on the rebound, tender from his recent divorce. And, like me, had succumbed to his own delusions.
We became friendly. Then enamored. Then we began dating.
One week in, Jeremy told me, “You have my heart.”
Touched, I smiled. I promised I’d take good care of it.
Soon after this, Jeremy began leaving things behind when he left my apartment. Innocuous items — but, I was convinced, intended to serve as reminders of Jeremy when he wasn’t there.
I wasn’t emotionally prepared for reminders. At that point, I wanted absences to be pure.
Jeremy, on the other hand, saw no cause for separations at all. Unless he was at work or in the bathroom, he assumed we’d be together, melding our hearts and minds. When I told him I was going out with the girls on Saturday, he heard, “Let’s have a picnic together on Saturday, just the two of us.” When I cleaned out my linen closet, he offered to help. When we were on the phone and I wanted to get in the shower, he said that he’d hold on.
Before long, I started wishing Jeremy would take up travel or get a second job.
One night, standing a half-inch away from me while I cooked, Jeremy said, “I want to be so close to you that I’m under your skin.”
My eye twitched.
I didn’t hate Jeremy. But I was going to. Any minute, any day.
There was no stopping it.
And there was no way I could break up with him.
Did I mention that Jeremy was still tender from his divorce? I’m fine with men showing emotion, but he had already cried three times: twice with joy at our having met, and once as he confessed his greatest anxieties and insecurities — each of which centered around a fear that I would leave him.
“You have my heart,” he’d said.
I could not break up with this man.
Then we planned a day trip to the beach. The night before, for the first time, Jeremy slept over.
I’ve never heard anything like it, before or since. It sounded like the soundtrack from Jurassic Park, a tuba concert and a failing helicopter combined. I tossed and turned, covered my ears, gnashed my teeth. Eventually I tried to wake Jeremy — first with gentle nudges, then rougher prods and elbow strikes — but he would not be roused from his slumber.
I got seven seconds of sleep that night.
Exhausted, the next morning I dragged myself out of bed, into the car and, an hour and a half later, onto the beach. Where I became immediately host to a tick — but that’s neither here nor there.
I stood yawning while Jeremy arranged our towels and chairs in the sand. Once finished, he tilted his face toward the sun and stretched. Then he lay down on the beach blanket and, with a smile and a sigh, fell promptly asleep.
The snoring resumed.
My eyes welled; my lip started to quiver.
“I’ll take good care of it,” I’d vowed.
What was I going to do?The Message | My Cat’s Pussy →
Day two has bled into day three. Charlie continues to swim.
Charlie has been left in the care of my blond, buxom mother, who, in a fit of misguided generosity, filled his tank to the rim.
Nothing in Charlie’s history has prepared him to struggle so, just to meet the next hour. Having been born to a doting turtle in Mr. Henson’s pet shop, his life has proceeded just so. Sure, there was sibling rivalry (“Mom said I won the race!”) and mediocre fare (Mr. Henson bought the cheapest brand) and adolescent heartbreak (his shell was hard, right up until it counted), but never had he felt his well-being in jeopardy.
Oddly, despite his toil, pain and exhaustion, Charlie feels serene. As the sun rose this morning, he relinquished thoughts of blame, self-pity and disdain for the blonde who’s drowning him. Legitimate or not, they weren’t advancing his cause.
Charlie’s cause, quite simply, is survival.
A modest turtle, Charlie has always believed that happiness comes from wanting what you have. Though unable to make contact, he still has his rock. Charlie tries to keep this uppermost in his mind. Still. . .
“He’s fine,” Charlie hears from the hallway. It’s the blonde, talking on the phone. “He didn’t have enough water, so I filled his tank. Quite the swimmer, your Charlie is!”
A long moment of silence. Then, sheepishly, “Oh. Well.” The blonde clears her throat. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. I thought he looked kind of. . .parched.”
“I just got here. Let me go check.”
The blonde enters the room, peers into Charlie’s tank.
“Well,” she says into the phone. Then, haltingly, “He does look a little peaked.” She winces, holds the phone an arm’s length from her ear. When finally she returns it, she says “Okay. I understand. Just tell me what to do.”
The blonde leaves the room, returns with a bucket and an empty plastic jug. She plunges the jug into the water. Charlie swims hard, resisting the current. The blonde pulls the jug from the tank and dumps the water into the bucket. She repeats this several times. Charlie doesn’t like the suction, but sees his rock rising from the depths. He stretches his legs downward. If only he could. . .
One of Charlie’s toe-claws brushes lightly against his rock.
Charlie realizes that, unless the blonde fucks this up, he’ll be situated firmly within minutes. Solid ground will support him; finally, he’ll catch his breath. His over-attentive caretaker, understanding the depth of his malaise, will sit vigil, rubbing his shell, taking his temperature, offering him hamburger meat.
Charlie has never sought pampering, but right now he won’t turn it down. Love, attention, ground beef: He’ll accept as much as he can get. Including unabashed glimpses of the blonde’s impressive breasts.
Of course, this is out of Charlie’s character. But after three days of swimming, he’s adopted a new perspective. Glimpses Charlie has earned; glimpses he will get.Swim, Charlie! Swim! | In Crisis: The Yard Sale →