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See Turtles

by M.K. Ham

        If I’ve ever loved anyone it was you. I know this now because I remember each smooth pebble of the serpentine road where I lay face down at eight years old and wished for death. Each little rock was one of four pale earthen colors—black, brown, tan, or dusty rose—and each was staring up at me from its prison in the hardened tar. Here and there were gravels that had broken free and stood at skittered angles upon the surface of the road—tiny monuments to my pain. You said you didn’t love me, so I didn’t want to live.

Two years later, your dad ran into church one Wednesday night—his face not so much skin as snot and agony, his voice not so much human as injured animal wailing, She's gone! She's gone! The praises stopped, replaced by cries of Why. Church ended then and there with God’s children eager to escape the gaze of an abusive father. My head was a balloon full of mercury: my vision blurred by its silver sheen, the ground giving way beneath its weight. I floated, but beneath the earth, past the sloppy throng of adults—now one undulating mass of tears and outstretched arms—to my parent’s blue Dodge Dynasty waiting in the lot.

        As I curled into the faded, leather womb of the blue sedan, I tried to forget the last time that I saw you. What I had glimpsed in the gaps of the worried wall that loved-ones formed around you that day was not you but a ghost, somehow kept corporeal by all the tubes and wires that tied you to this world. A woman I had never seen handed you a bag and said two words, “They’re turtles.” Having never seen a box of chocolate turtles, my mind filled the brown paper bag with questions. Where did this foul woman, this arbiter of pain obtain a brown paper bag of tiny dead turtles? Had she snatched them from the greedy mouths of birds upon the beach?

        The night of your death, as the ugly, sulfur streetlight poured in through the thickly-fogged windows of that car, it wasn’t the image of your fading face that spawned my poverty of hope: I couldn’t stop picturing those slight and silent turtles. Their silver-dollar shells appearing out of whispers in the wet sand; tiny front flippers digging for dear life; budding faces bathed in a slant of light found only at the edge of earth; and the grating, guttural cries of seagulls tearing tender workings from the overturned shells of nestlings too young to wonder why.

M.K. Ham is a senior in the Creative Writing program at Stephen F. Austin State University. His work has appeared in HUMID, SFA’s student literary journal.


December 2018

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