I have a powerful memory of reading “The Fog Horn” in Ms. Griffin’s Freshman English class: The sound of a fog horn attracts a sea monster living in the deepest part of the ocean. This ancient creature is the last of its kind and has been alone its entire life, but then it hears the fog horn and mistakes it for the call of one of its own. It works its way toward the sound, gaining hope for companionship as the sound grows louder, only to discover a cold, cement tower which it destroys out of rage and heartache. Ray Bradbury’s story left me with a permanent ache of longing and an unbearable notion about hope.
Unfortunately, I fear this same story is being lived out right here in my home, except it’s not a sea creature aching for companionship but a reptile.
In close to 25 years of life, Obie, my box turtle, has been the sole reptile in our lives. She seems happy enough and emotes more than you might think possible for a cold-blooded fur-less creature. Pissy and demanding make up her dominant moods. Using rocks and her sushi dish, she clangs out various conversations that mostly amount to: let me out, feed me, and %&#(@!
Normally, she faux-hibernates right now, “burying” herself in the fleece scarf that drapes over her heat rock, not peeping out again until May. This year, instead, she demands to be out and wandering the house all day every day, most of that time spent in front of our metal kitchen garbage can.
Well, that’s the thing. She can see her reflection in the metal. She’s seen her reflection before, in a mirror leaning against a wall. After staring at herself a while, she walked around to the other side and seemed to quickly figure it out, walking away without further interest.
The kitchen garbage can, however, proves different. With determination and hope like the sea monster, she spends hours pawing at the turtle inside the garbage can, crawling around it and trying to get under it. Sometimes she shows her tail end to the other turtle. Sometimes she gets so enraptured she tips herself upside down, apparently not mortified about showing her turtle friend her underside because when I flip her back up, she’s right back at it, nose-to-nose.
Maybe because this “mirror” is round and the turtle image never goes away she can’t dismiss it like she did the other reflection.
She’s pawing all day long at companionship. Is this cruel? Is she lonely? Or, is this reflection enough? It’s true, since finding the garbage can, she no longer “cuddles” between my feet, but I think she only ever did that for warmth. Remember she’s cold-blooded.
Well, in case you’re thinking I ought to get this girl a friend, she’s been alone her nearly-25 years with one exception:
A few years ago, my cousin brought her box turtle Sergeant Speedy to our house. We introduced the two turtles, but I put an end to it almost immediately. Sergeant Speedy, named ironically, turned out to be true to his name. Without even an eye-bat hello, never mind a movie and dinner, Sergeant Speedy moved up behind Obie and, well, mounted the poor girl.
I have no idea what she thought or felt, if she had time to decipher any of that in her reptilian heart, but I felt violated and promptly returned Obie to her cage and banished Sergeant Speedy from our home.
What’s the moral here? Is it really that cold out there for a single girl losing the sheen of youth along her shell? Is loving one’s reflection enough? Is the hope of another so painful I ought to replace the garbage can with something too dull to give her desire? Or, since she can live for ages, maybe this is simply her adolescent phase and she’s enamored with herself, not fooled into thinking her soul mate resides in the kitchen garbage can?
For now, I limit her garbage can time, console her with apple slices and fish sticks, and tuck her back onto her fleece-draped heat rock. When she sneers at me in the morning, I give a cheery “Hi Obie,” ignore the roll of her eyes, and promptly lift her back out to wander into the kitchen, trying not to let the steady “clink” of her paws on metal remind me of fog horns and sea monsters, loneliness and hope.