by Tyler Barton
I watch my nephew Ari sit criss-crossed and peel back the shell of a box turtle. Ari’s carving him out.
He’s got a theory.
This thing is a lizard under there. He’s sure of it. He lost a leopard gecko called Coty a few weeks ago, and Coty looked just like this thing in the face. Coty must have found this box in the woods, snuck into it, and can’t get it off. Ari is seven and he’s freeing his own pet. It’s an act of liberation. Coty is stuck. His lizard.
Ari’s got my knife in his hand because he asked me for it. I’m the cool uncle who lets him do what he wants. I let him test his hypotheses through these kinds of experiments, like last week: will tree bark be good bait? Tail of mouse? I let him go. We’ve got our own little Montessori school out here in the back yard. Self-directed. Education. Experiential. I just provide emergency insurance like say he cuts himself or the turtle snaps off his nose. Supervision.
Ari ain’t so bright.
Just like his uncle. Didn’t go to college and meet a beauty and graduate lauded and have two kids named after the states they were conceived in and buy a house out here in the country. (Forgot to mention Louise, age nine, who’s inside somewhere, who’s the reason this turtle’s shell is spray-painted pink.) Didn’t just not go to college but didn’t stay out of jail either.
Less like my brother, more like his son.
Actually, even more like Louise. That girl has style. Panache. She sashays into rooms, has that sarcasm they hate. Her lesson was early this morning. Ari still sleeping. Mom hanging wash to dry (always keeps them in eyeshot when I’m around) and we were back here at the treeline when Louise saw him. Poor turtle. Shell ugly brown. So needing a major makeover. Her words.
Turtle blood on Ari’s hands. It’s trying to swim away from the knife. Extremities reaching out like he’s dancing. Stretching. Waking up.
A lot of hot pink and a lot of red in Ari’s hands.
His beautiful Mom calls him in from the kitchen, where she’s been washing dishes and looking through the window. Ari asks can I watch his lizard. His lizard.
While Ari’s in there hiding his bloody thumbs behind his tank top, getting talked to about something or other, his turtle is beelining for the woods. There he goes.
He’s leaving a trail, saying bye.
Ari’s back: I thought you were gonna watch him.
I did watch him. He’s holding my knife up as he emotes at me. Waving a knife with frustration. Looks like me. You were supposed to watch him.
I watched him walk away. Quit crying. Ari’ll find him again; he’s fucking pink. He’ll free him one day.
And now, here we go. Beauty running towards us. Knife’s edge bounced some sun in her eyes while washing dishes, I’ll bet. Or she heard him whining at me. Sees him waving a knife not his.
You let him escape. Tears in Ari’s eyes. He drops it.
No, you did.
Ari’s pretty Mom yelling Ari along the lawn. Yelling him to safety. Yelling, looking pretty as a storm over bent corn. Yelling a ban of me from this property. Never trusted me in the first place.
We all learn something.