My brother caught a turtle in the pond near our house. She was a painted turtle, about four inches in diameter, her legs and shell striped with orange. We named her Harriet. There was an old aquarium tank gathering dust in the basement, and we brought it upstairs, wiped it down, furnished it with rocks and twigs from the backyard. We fed her gray pellets that sat on her rocks for days or grew bloated and soggy in the water.
We were young and our lives moved faster than we really knew: there was homework to finish, tree houses to build. Hockey practice and television and friendships and crushes. We didn’t always clean Harriet’s tank as often as we should have, and the water sometimes thickened into a murky, green soup. The cats would sit and watch, waiting for her to swim up close to the glass—a clawed foot or the rim of her shell suddenly materializing then disappearing back into the opaque green water.
One day, we took Harriet outside and let her crawl around on the patio while we grilled hot dogs. Her neck outstretched, an eternity passing with each slow step, Harriet inched across the brick. We danced around her, chanting, Harr!-ee!-ette! Harr!-ee!-ette! When dinner was almost ready, we ran in and out of the house, bringing out plates and forks, bottles of ketchup and mustard. Our mother looked out from the kitchen window as she stirred Kool-Aid and washed grapes for fruit salad. We sat in lawn chairs and ate, and when our stomachs were full, we looked around and realized that we’d forgotten about the turtle. We walked slow across the backyard, our bare feet carefully combing the thick summer grass, but she was gone—disappeared into the green again. We got down on hands and knees and searched until the sky was dark, and all the while, we couldn’t help from laughing at the unlikely idea of a turtle running away.
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