A novel by EJ Spode.
Chapter 5: The Turtle Diaries
The next day I woke up around noon, rolled over and grabbed my phone, and saw that I had a text message from Athena.
“Penny at Stockman tonight. Pick me up at 6. Dinner then Stockman?”
I texted back a thumbs-up emoji. It was too early to use words.
I carefully extracted myself from my bed and stood up slowly. Always keeping one hand on a wall, I cautiously made my way to the bathroom. I felt like someone had been punching me in the back – like a Golden Gloves boxer had bruised my kidneys. I was vaguely nauseous, but also felt like there was a pool of acid in my stomach. I thought maybe food would help, but I had no idea why it would or should or even how it could. It was just a notion.
I was staying at my dad’s place; he had escaped to Arizona and was going to stay there until Spring. No way he was going to endure another winter in Sodak – especially since mom passed. I was surprised he bothered coming back at all. It’s not like summer is that great here either. In any case, I had my dad’s place to myself for the break.
I put a kettle of water on the stove and dropped a mountain of instant espresso into the bottom of a coffee mug that had “Black Hills” written on it – no pictures – just “Black Hills,” like someone didn’t even try. I didn’t bother rinsing out the dregs of yesterday’s evaporated coffee. No sense in pretending that was going to make a difference.
I watched the kettle…
I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I did it anyway. Fuck those stupid rules.
Then I watched it some more.
Nothing was happening.
The kettle sat there on the stove, staring off to the side, ignoring me. In the moment I was feeling incredibly pissed off at the kettle, not so much because it was taking forever to boil, but more because of its attitude. It just didn’t give a fuck. I thought about smacking it with a pan. Fortunately, my more gentle nature prevailed. For a minute though I found myself getting angry with Walt Disney and by that I mean the Walt Disney Corporation.
Disney Corp. has served up a pack of lies in its history, but none quite so annoying as the mothering Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. Honestly, no one is that nice and mothering and if they were you would kill them. As I stared at my kettle and as it continued to pretend it didn’t know I was staring at it I had this crazy fantasy to lock it in a cupboard with Mrs. Potts. That would teach the fucker.
While my kettle was deciding if it wanted to boil I thought about my dad, and although I missed him a lot, my dominant emotion was one of pity. I mean he lost mom, which was hard, but old age was harder on him. He had a crew that he used to go deep-sea fishing with, and sometimes they went wild boar hunting in West Virginia. They were a bunch of crazy motherfuckers him and his posse, but one by one they got too old for the trips – certainly too old to hunt wild boar, and, in the end, they drifted off to retirement communities here and there. Thinking about dad getting all old and weak just made me sad.
Even dad’s house was getting old and weak. The carpet, the furniture, everything was too dark and too worn. Too shag. Too broken in. Too “I stopped giving a fuck when my wife died.” In the living room there was an old pendulum clock that had belonged to my great grandfather, and it kept making a depressing Tick…Tock sound, with the ticks and the tocks being way too tentative and way too far apart. It was like the old clock had taken the old house by the hand and was leading it to a place where they could die together.
The insolent kettle finally started to make that pre-boil sort of noise and I figured that was enough waiting. I poured the water over the mountain of instant coffee. It was an unambitious lukewarm temperature. I tipped the coffee into my mouth and choked it down my throat before it hit thermal equilibrium with the room.
I jumped in the shower, which was one of those showers that take forever to heat up. Usually I get tired of waiting and jump in and let it warm up when I’m in the spray. That day it seemed to be warming extra slowly. In fact, I wasn’t sure if it was warming at all. It seemed like it was warming maybe, but maybe that was in my head. Then I thought about the story that frogs won’t jump out of a pot if you heat it slowly enough; they just stay in it until they are cooked. What if the water had slowly become scalding hot and I hadn’t noticed? I stepped out of the shower spray and then back in. I stepped out again and stuck my hand in. Finally, I concluded that the water heater must have been broken, so I gave up on the hot water and dried myself off.
I threw on some jeans and a T-shirt that said “Sturgis is for Harley Lovers.” It was a reference to the Sturgis motorcycle rally, but it was also my signal that it was time to do the laundry. I pulled a sweatshirt over the T-shirt — layering up for the Sodak winter.
I was still thinking about what Athena had said the night before. Had I really lost my soul? And more importantly, had it affected my writing? There was only one way to find out. I went foraging my old bedroom closet and retrieved a stack of old notebooks. It was time to see how I used to write.
The first notebook was “The Turtle Diaries” — it was a thing I wrote in the summer after ninth grade, back when I was laid up from my dirt bike accident, and I needed to vent. The accident was spectacular and deserves comment. I was up in the hills riding bikes with my friends Bruce, Drake, and Tom when I wiped out, breaking my femur so bad that it poked through the skin. I still have the scar on my thigh to prove it. My friends were soldiers in that minute, keeping me from freaking out and keeping me stable until help came. Tom brought in the doctor on the back of his bike.
Today those friends are still in Sioux Falls and they constitute an underground street racing team. The team is officially called the Pelorum Avenue Street Racers, but everyone in town called them the Gay Avenue Street Racers because they are gay and out.
I have to admit I’m still a fan of motocross and shit like that. The guys graduated from dirt bikes to cars and gayness. Meanwhile, I graduated to Penny, still stuck on dirt bikes. I can’t say I’m still tight with the street racers, but for obvious reasons we are officially friends for life.
The Turtle Diaries was my ninth grade attempt to vent anger over my situation and play with some of the fictional characters I was familiar with back then – in particular, Huck Finn and Minn of the Mississippi. Everyone knows about Huck Finn, but not many people know about the book Minn of the Missisippi. When I was in junior high school I loved the book, which was larded with facts from biology, history, and geography, and I obsessed over its attempts to give voice to animals. It told the story of a turtle that hatches somewhere in northern Minnesota and then travels down the Mississippi, losing a leg in the process. The Turtle Diaries threw Minn into the same world as Huck and Jim. And then I threw myself into that world, and then I made that world bizarre in a 9th-grade sort of way. The best way to explain is with a few examples from the notebook.
June 7, 2005
That damn dog is at the door again,
Selling those stupid peanut butter biscuits that
taste TASTE LIKE FUCKING CRUMPETS!
I just cannot take any more of this. One more time and I am going to give that damn dog a Laffy Taffy enema I swear to God I will!
June 8, 2005
So let’s imagine a turtle sooo big and sooo gluttonous that, let’s say, it could eat a thousand hamburgers in ONE setting. Well what would you say to that turtle if you met it? I mean, what COULD you say. I would be all like, bitch you could feed a lot of people with those burgers, but I’m guessing he just would not give a fuck. Fucking turtle.
June 8, 2005
My Actual Deal
Let’s say you are reading this and thinking what is this guy’s fucking deal with turtles and to that I want to say that I DON’T have a fucking deal with turtles I really don’t. I have a deal with dogs and bats and trains and ants and shit but not turtles. They are righteous animals in my book. Seriously, they are.
June 9, 2005
Turtles. It’s their eyes that I hate. Not exactly shifty and not exactly beady, but seriously not the kind of eyes that you would or could or even should trust.
June 11, 2005
Today my air conditioner stopped working so I called the landlady and she was like I’ll send someone at 9AM and I was like fine that works for me but then 9AM rolls around and there is a knock at the door and I answer it but no one is there, but then there is this tap tap tap on my big toe and I look down and the repair man is a FUCKING TURTLE!
June 11, 2005
Tiny titanium airborne reconnaissance turtles are at it again, buzzing in my ears while I try to enjoy a cold bottle of beer on the banks of the Mississippi river, fishing for bullheads with Huck and Jim and let me tell you they are a strange pair they are. But the tiny titanium airborne recon turtles don’t seem to bother Huck and Jim in the least. And I’m like Huck? Jim? What the fuck guys, these recon turtles don’t bother you at ALL? And they are like no brah, it’s ALL good.
June 12, 2005
People are always all like your friend Huck is seriously a racist fucktard. But I’m like yeah, whatever, you should come to my family reunion sometime.
June 12, 2005
OK so this morning I’m drinking my Sunny D and there is a knock at the door and it’s the fucking crumpet selling dog and the stupid air conditioner repair turtle so I was like what do YOU guys want and they were like “we just came to pahty, brah – we brought kush,” and I was like “ok,” so I let them in and I’m not saying they were bad guests or anything, but I didn’t have as much fun as I thought I was going to.
June 13, 2005
I found out today that Huck and Jim are somehow wrapped up with the crumpet-selling dog and that turtle – Minn of the Mississippi or whatever his three-legged name is. And like I have to wonder: Just how deep does this conspiracy go??? For example, are they involved with this whole business where water condenses on the side of my beer can and drips onto my Pyrex skate board shorts and makes them pucker and shit? Well I want to know and I would like to think you do too.
June 14, 2005
For weeks it rained. The turtles, they rejoiced and said THIS IS OUR TIME. And then the rain stopped. It stopped for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS
For five thousand years we lived on heroin. and we lived on truth. and we lived on periods, commas, semi-colons…whatever it took.
And the turtles came down from their mountain strongholds and broke bread with us and said… THIS IS OUR TIME
June 16, 2005
Bag o’ Dicks
So I’m sitting fishing with Huck and Jim one day and I say “fish ain’t biting for shit.” Then Huck says go eat a bag of dicks EJ and I’m like WHOA! where did that come from? And Jim was just laughing and casting with his stupid Daredevil spinner rig, so I’m like Jim what’s so funny about that, and he looked at me with a puzzled look and said “what ain’t funny about eatin’ a bag of dicks?”
June 17, 2005
A Freaking Hero
Last Saturday I finally asked Huck and Jim about Minn of the Mississippi and they looked at each other like, ok are we going to tell him? and finally Jim looked at me and said “That turtle is a hero, brah” and I look over at Huck and he is nodding. So I say “ok, I’ll bite, why is Minn of the Mississippi a hero,” and Jim is like, well he has three legs and he was born in lake Itasca and he engineered the whole talking dog hoax. And I’m like, hoax???
June 17, 2005
One day when Huck was not around Jim and I hatched a plan – we would follow Minn to his command center. We stashed two diving masks with our lunch and went fishing at that bass hole where Minn appeared all too often. Sure enough, around 5 PM Minn, in his three-legged way, hobbled up to the side of the bass hole and dove in. Jim pulled our masks from the lunch bag. After waiting a few seconds, we slid into the water and followed Minn.
We followed Minn into an underwater cave and then surfaced in a small room that was illuminated by candles and lava lamps. Minn and the dog were standing there waiting for us, looking put out as turtles and dogs often do. Finally, Minn spoke: “You got what you wanted, are you happy now?”
By this point I had had it with Minn and his bullshit turtle ways. “Minn we didn’t come here to get happy, we came here to see what’s what.” The dog walked to the wall of the cave and took a leak. “Well then,” Minn said, “let me tell you what’s what. This cave – this is where we come to make love impossible. The technology is too advanced to explain, but let me assure you the tech is solid, if not altogether foolproof.”
Jim hadn’t said a word yet, and rarely had much to say about anything, but when he said or asked something it was always on point. “Why you wanna fuck with love, brah – ain’t nothing wrong with love.”
Minn snorted, “dude, love ain’t nothin’ but eggs full of hate, waitin’ to hatch.”
June 17, 2005
This is what Jim packed for lunch. Raw egg noodle pastrami sandwiches slathered with maple syrup and bags and bags full of boiled eggs – some sliced some chopped some deviled. And deviled ham. And ham and pickle crisps that he imported from England somehow. And raisins. Hundreds of varieties of raisins. I had no fucking idea there were so many kinds of raisins. And key lime pie. And bran muffins stuffed with deviled ham.
June 17, 2005
Bran muffins stuffed with deviled ham. This was Jim’s very own invention and I can assure you they were much better than you are thinking. Honestly, in my opinion they were fucking delicious. But Huck wouldn’t touch them – he said they were bad mojo/he said they were not natural. But Jim would have none of that and he was like “ain’t nothin’ more natural than the devil except maybe bran, brah, and then you put the devil in the bran and that’s even more natural,” but Huck was like “no brah that shit is SUPER natural” and Jim was like “where’s the beer, brah.”
June 18, 2005
One day I was fishing with Huck and I asked if him and Jim do it, and Huck didn’t even look up from his bobber but says “define ‘do it’,” and I’m like “I dunno, buttsex and cocksucking and shit.” So then Huck nods and says, “well we got our rules EJ,” and I’m like “ok, what rules,” and Huck says – I swear he says this – “buttsex rules.” So I’m like “what are buttsex rules?” and Huck says “I’ll give you an example” and I’m like, “sure whatever.”
“This is rule 17b – or maybe c – possibly d, and the rule is that if Jim fucks me in the ass on a Friday then we can’t go fishing for a week.”
So I’m like “what. the. fuck, Huck, and what’s the shit about Friday?”, and Huck is like “I dunno it’s some Catholic rule I read about somewhere.” And I’m like “you’re fucking with me, right?” And Huck is like “define ‘fucking with’.”
June 19, 2005
For ten long years, when the crops failed, we lived on bran muffins stuffed with deviled ham. And then the turtles came down from the mountains and one turtle in particular – a 3-legged turtle named Minn – this turtle saved us. He taught us how to grow fish and we were like “thank you so much great Minn of the Mississippi.” And Minn lit a joint and said “aint’ nuthin’, but know this: I want me some of them bran muffins.”
June 19, 2005
The Thing with Turtles
Here is the thing with turtles – they are the most angry vengeful creatures on the planet and I think I finally get why. First, they lose all their brothers and sisters to birds and cars and family pets. Then they lose their habitats. But that isn’t the problem – the problem is they live hundreds of years with their anger festering. And even then they can’t attack us like a bear or a coyote would – they can’t even eat our babies and pet Yorkies. So instead they plot. They watch us. They find our fears and weaknesses. And then they fuck us hard. In the heart.
June 19, 2005
For forty days and forty nights it rained dicks. Bags and bags of dicks. And the people were like, what the fuck, God, what did we ever do to you? But he was too busy showering their world with penises to hear their pleas. What fucked up days those were… there were dicks everywhere. Dicks in the trees, dicks in the streets, piles of dicks that people raked up and left for the giant trucks that hauled them off to who knows where. It was fucked. up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Images: Jana Astanov
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 27th, 2016.