Johnny America


Talk­ing about Maybe


Af­ter the storm, Ju­nichi­ro start­ed com­ing by the house twice a day to look for his es­caped tur­tle. He’d had it liv­ing in a deep fry­ing pan in his back­yard, but some­how it got out dur­ing the sec­ond day of high winds and rains. He brought along a Po­laroid of the pan, seem­ing­ly un­touched, a small piece of wilt­ed let­tuce still sit­ting inside.

He had some con­vic­tion that the tur­tle would have come to our small koi pond, though our yard was al­most a mile from his. Be­tween there were sev­er­al large groves of trees and a siz­able gul­ly, and the tur­tle was on­ly four inch­es long or so… still he came to our place, be­cause he said “tur­tles like ponds.”

At first he would ring the bell and wait for per­mis­sion to pass be­hind the house. He gen­er­al­ly brought some kind of cook­ies or bread from his wife, who ap­par­ent­ly baked in­ces­sant­ly, and hand­ed them over ab­sent-mind­ed­ly while say­ing like “could­n’t I have just one more look…?” Af­ter the fourth day or so, though, I looked out the win­dow to see him kneel­ing in front of the pond, hav­ing ar­rived unan­nounced some time earlier.

Ac­tu­al­ly no one in our fam­i­ly had paid the koi pond much at­ten­tion re­cent­ly, so I was hap­py to have some­one look­ing at it, even if his scruti­ny did­n’t re­al­ly fall in­to the cat­e­go­ry of “en­joy­ment.” In fact, when I left a lit­tle skim­mer next to the pond, he prompt­ly took the hint and cleaned the sur­face thor­ough­ly. He gave the koi their med­i­cine dai­ly, some­thing I could nev­er quite re­mem­ber to do, which last year caused them to de­vel­op a nasty mouth dis­ease of some sort.

Our daugh­ter Jen­ny was less than thrilled, how­ev­er. She said it was creepy, like hav­ing a troll liv­ing in the gar­den. Her imag­i­na­tion was full of such things, trolls and ogres and elves. Her room faced the rear of the house, and from her win­dow she had a view of the koi pond. I can imag­ine her day­dream­ing, do­ing pen­cil-draw­ings of Ju­nichi­ro as a hairy wolf-man, or war­lock… who knows what she might think up?

Her draw­ings were a lit­tle vi­o­lent at times, and I won­dered if she did­n’t leave them ly­ing around in or­der to get a re­ac­tion from me. But I could nev­er think of any ap­pro­pri­ate re­ac­tion so I just looked at them and then left them. Per­haps she found it dif­fi­cult hav­ing a moth­er who was so hard to provoke.

Then one day, maybe two weeks af­ter the storm, Ju­nichi­ro’s wife turned up at the house. Again she brought cook­ies, some­thing maple-fla­vored, and I gen­tly chid­ed her for fat­ten­ing my fam­i­ly. She gig­gled a lit­tle and then looked away, to­wards the back of the house. She had­n’t said what she want­ed, but I could guess. I bare­ly knew them, we’d on­ly met a few times, but she must have won­dered why her hus­band was sud­den­ly spend­ing sev­er­al hours a day at our house. I lead her in­to the kitchen, os­ten­si­bly to put the cook­ies away, and al­lowed her a view out the back win­dows to the koi pond.

I bus­ied my­self with the cook­ies, and pur­pose­ly did­n’t look out the win­dow my­self. She let out a small sigh when she saw him, maybe re­lief, but I could­n’t be sure. I won­dered if she would go out and take him home, if this would be the end of our dai­ly vis­its, but she sim­ply stood there, watch­ing. Ac­tu­al­ly she was very still, and I found my­self mov­ing slow­ly and qui­et­ly so as not to dis­turb her. Fi­nal­ly I asked if she would­n’t like some­thing to drink, and she said no. She looked me in the eye and asked, “so he re­al­ly comes here every day?”

“For sev­er­al hours.”

“I see.”

Then she said noth­ing else. She rubbed her hands to­geth­er briskly and thanked me, then head­ed back to­ward the front door. I re­al­ized I had no idea if they had chil­dren or not, or what kind of work or lives they had. Still I felt that, on some lev­el, I could un­der­stand these peo­ple all too well.

Af­ter she left, I went back to the kitchen and looked out at Ju­nichi­ro’s back. He was sit­ting on a rough-hewn oak bench. I had a lo­cal car­pen­ter make it for us last year, so I we’d the­o­ret­i­cal­ly have a place to sit and watch the fish. The koi pond, I sud­den­ly re­al­ized, was quite beau­ti­ful in its way. Weeds had grown up be­hind it, fur­ther ev­i­dence of our neg­li­gence, but they formed a cur­tain of green that moved with breeze. The stones around the out­side had grown fuzzy moss coat­ings and in the dark­en­ing evening the per­spec­tive shift­ed so they looked a bit mag­i­cal, like some­thing out of one of Jen­ny’s storybooks.

I took the plate of cook­ies and walked out to the bench. I sat next to him and peeled back the plas­tic wrap. He took one and chewed it with­out look­ing at me. Fi­nal­ly he said, “Maybe I won’t find the turtle.”

“I guess not.”

“He would eat a raisin right off my fin­ger. He was a very pleas­ant tur­tle. Not shy.”

“That’s rare.”

“It is.”

We sat in si­lence for a while longer, and he ate an­oth­er cook­ie. I felt that Jen­ny was prob­a­bly watch­ing us from the up­stairs win­dow, but I did­n’t dare turn around to meet her eyes. In her imag­i­na­tion, we were prob­a­bly plot­ting some un­speak­ably evil acts. Maybe I’d turn up in a draw­ing to­mor­row, a moth­er-mon­ster, or some kind of crum­pled witch bear­ing poi­son cookies.

“I won’t come any­more,” he said.

“It’s up to you.”

“Maybe it’s not proper.”

Some­how I knew he was re­fer­ring to Jen­ny. I looked up to her room but the light was off. No way to tell if she was watch­ing or not.

“It’s up to you,” I said again, uselessly.

“Then I won’t.” He stood up and stared at the sky, now al­most dark. Then he turned back to me; I was still hold­ing the plate of cook­ies in my lap. “It was a very big storm,” he said.

“I know.”

Filed under Fiction on October 24th, 2007

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Reader Comments

HMcCreesh wrote:

Loved this one – just a ter­rif­ic lit­tle sto­ry. Tight, well paced, lots of sub­tle, in­ter­est­ing an­gles. En­joyed the heck out of it!

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