I used to play with another boy named Jason Brody who lived not far from me in the trailer park. His mother was usually away at work when I came over. I think she was a nurse. Mrs. Brody had a boyfriend named Kenny who seemed strange to me because he was always smiling. The guy perpetually seemed to be in a good mood. I had never met anyone like that before. Most adults seemed like they were pissed off all the time. Kenny was bald, but otherwise good-looking. I got the impression that he and Mrs. Brody liked to party. They had a small bar set up in their living room with an array of liquor bottles. One day Jason took me into his mother’s bedroom. No one else was home. It did not feel like we should be in there, but he acted like he had something momentous to show me. He slowly pulled open the drawer of his mother’s nightstand. Inside was a vibrator. It was about ten inches long, white and very smooth. I couldn’t have been more than twelve, but I immediately recognized what it was although I’m not sure where I picked up an education in sex toys. Jason turned it on and started waving it around like a light-sabre. He tried to hand it to me, but I pushed him away. He placed his mother’s dildo back in the drawer and we went outside to play soccer.
Whenever I went over to Jason’s house after that I was aware of the object in his mother’s bedroom. I could feel it in there radiating some kind of power like it was made of plutonium. It was not the sort of thing my own mother would have ever owned. If I came over and Kenny was smiling, I now understood why.
Jason and I fished together a lot. We rode our bikes out to the creek about a mile away with our rods in tow. We used worms we dug out of the garden or sometimes we bought night crawlers from the bait shop run by Vietnamese guys next to the elementary school. We caught bullheads mostly. Sometimes one of us would reel in a channel catfish or even a flathead, but they were always pretty small. Occasionally we would catch a carp.
One day I went to put another bullhead on the stringer. I pulled the nylon rope out of the muddy water. Several of the fish had been consumed up to the head. I could see the pink of their muscle and a remainder of entrails hanging down as I held the fish aloft. I felt a jolt of fear run through me and looked around. It was if some monster was watching us from the shade of the surrounding trees. Jason came over to me. What could have done this? We stooped down and looked into the river. Then we saw it–the head of a snapping turtle about three feet from shore, no doubt wondering what had happened to its meal. Its nostrils were about as big as its dull eyes. It was the color of mud. The creature submerged again, frightened by our movement. It was quickly decided between us. We had to kill the motherfucker.
Jason and I huddled together over our tackle boxes. We talked strategy and weapons. I had a jackknife my father had given me. Jason showed me his special fishing pliers. They had a knife and sawblade that folded out of the handle. It was not enough that the animal die. It needed to be tortured. I found a good-sized stick with the appropriate heft. We lowered the bullheads back into the water and waited. It wasn’t long before the rope started to move.
Jason pulled slowly on the stringer, trying to draw the beast out of the water. When I saw his head again, I tried to scoop him out of the river with my stick. I lifted him slightly before he upended and disappeared once again from sight. We kept at it, failing each time, but not knowing what other method to employ. Strangely, the turtle did not get frightened away. It only became more eager, a willing participant it seemed, in the game we were playing.
Jason and I switched positions. I felt the turtle’s weight on the end of the stringer. I pulled slowly, just an inch at a time, until the head emerged. He did not let go, his jaws clamped tenaciously on a bullhead. We were both scared of the turtle and knew that if he bit us we might lose a finger. I felt a surge of excitement. His clawed forelimbs were on shore now and his prehistoric-looking shell had seaweed growing on it. Jason swooped in and grabbed him by the tail. It was a scary moment. The turtle twisted with its mouth open, but it lacked the flexibility to get at Jason’s hand. He tossed the animal onto the upper bank where it landed on its back. The turtle clawed helplessly at the air before righting itself and making a break for the water. Jason kicked it back. I prodded the animal’s face with the stick. We stood over the turtle. It had given up on trying to bite us, retreating into its shell with its eyes clenched shut. The beast was at our mercy and we didn’t have any.
It took a long time to kill the turtle. We had to stab it many times before it stopped struggling. Watching it bleed, I felt not so much compassion as a realization that the endeavor was probably more trouble than it was worth. But once you start something like that you have to finish. Once the animal was clearly dead, we decided that it would be cool to keep the shell. We talked about finding some way to polish the gunk off. There were snails and all sorts of little bugs crawling over it. I felt better about things now that it was no longer alive. We began the laborious process of hacking away the flesh. It was quite an anatomy lesson and not an easy job. I chewed up the back of my hand pretty good. We rode home on our bikes. Jason raised the shell in the air. We were victorious. We were warriors.
We made plans to polish the shell and debated who would get to keep it. Jason placed the shell in his freezer. There was still a bit of meat stuck to it. When I came back, Jason told me his mother had thrown away the shell. I was really mad about this. He moved away not long after that.
Years later, I ran into his mother. I was in college then, selling entrance permits over the summer at a state park. I would never have recognized her but she recognized me. Jason was living with his girlfriend in Spokane, Washington where he worked as some kind of salesman. She seemed very proud of him. Kenny seemed much older, a bit stooped. He had a beard now. It was as if some kind of magic had left him. Watching Mrs. Brody walk away, my mind drifted back to her nightstand and the secret inside it.