by Zach Smith
When Harry was thirteen, he was in the car with his father. They were arguing about something. What it was wasn’t terribly important. Harry, although he would never forget the incident and never forget that they were arguing, and even though they rarely quarreled, Harry could not remember what the argument was about.
“Stop the car!” yelled Harry.
His father stopped, perhaps a bit harder than needed, and turned the blinkers on.
“Be my guest,” he said, suggesting Harry walk the five miles home.
Harry got out without seeming to notice his father’s words.
Mr. Timlake, for a second, hesitated and didn’t drive off. He saw his son walk in front of the car and disappear under the hood.
“What the hell?”
Was Harry so upset that he would lay down on the road?
Yes, it was a bad argument, but it wasn’t that bad.
When he got out of the car, he saw his son not lying down but crouched, looking at a turtle slowly trying to cross the road. Had Mr. Timlake stopped a moment later or slightly softer, the car would have crushed the turtle.
“That’s good, son,” he said.
Harry picked the turtle up and carried him across the road just as another car was slowing to a stop behind them.
Once they crossed the road, the other car pulled around them and gave them a thumbs up for doing a good deed.
When they put the turtle in the grass, it started to walk away, but it moved slowly. Slower than a turtle normally moved. Mr. Timlake rolled the turtle over to see if it had already been hit by a car.
Neither were prepared for what they saw.
The turtle was missing a piece of its shell, its heart exposed. It was as adorable as it was disturbing to look at, sad and beautiful.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” said Mr. Timlake. “It has an exposed heart.”
“Do you think someone carved that piece of its shell off?” asked Harry, almost trance-like, mesmerized by the beating of the exposed heart.
“I don’t think so,” said Mr. Timlake, only slightly less mesmerized.
“Did a car do this?”
“I don’t think so either. I think the turtle was minus that piece of shell at birth, or hatching or whatever.”
“It hurts my heart to look at it,” said Harry.
“I know what you mean.”
They were speaking both literally and metaphorically, and they both knew it.
Mr. Timlake put one hand on his son’s shoulder, then pulled out a knife and began to move slowly to the turtle on its back.
“What are you doing?” asked Harry, the turtle heart spell momentarily broken.
“I’m going to put it out of its misery,” said Mr. Timlake. “It’s all we can do for
the poor little guy.”
“No, don’t do that,” said Harry.
“It has an exposed heart. It will never make it in the wild.”
“No,” said Harry. “You’re wrong.”
“I’m sorry, son, this is the humane thing to do.”
“No, don’t,” Harry said. “Look at it. Baby turtles are much smaller than this. They’re the size of a silver dollar. If that, this one is bigger. It’s the size of a hamburger. It’s made it without a heart shell for at least several years.”
“Sorry, I can’t think of anything else to compare.”
“A hamburger, huh?” said. Mr. Timlake. “Now I can’t think of anything else.” His stomach growled on cue. “But I think you’re right, Harry. Given his condition, the turtle has been around a little longer than he probably should have.”
“We helped him across the road,” said Harry. “That was good. Now he and nature can take care of the rest.”
“You may be right about that too,” said Mr. Timlake. “but I don’t think we will ever see this turtle again.”
“No,” said Harry. “Probably not, but I’ll never forget him.”
Their words were not entirely true.
They rolled the turtle back onto its feet, returned to the car, and drove away.
“I’m still mad at you,” said his father.
“About what?” asked Harry, a little annoyed but also having already forgotten why they were fighting.
“Actually, I don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember either.”
“All I can think of now is hamburgers,” said Mr. Timlake. “How about we go to Jerry’s for burgers tonight?”
Jerry’s, technically “Original Jerry’s Restaurant,” was a 24-hour diner with a Googie design on the outside and a retro-futurist or atompunk feel. The type of diner that was both 50’s and futuristic. It was the restaurant most frequented by Harry and his Dad back in those days. The food was great, and so were the prices.
“That sounds good,” said Harry.
“Good,” his Dad said. “And I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” said Harry.
“Sorry for what?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Neither do I.”
When Harry was eighteen, a senior in high school, maybe a month and a half from graduation, he experienced the worst day of his life up to that point and possibly that ever would be. He knew it would be a bad day before he got to school in the morning, knew it first thing in the morning, but didn’t know why.
There seemed to be a somber mood hovering over all his classmates at school. There was already a rumor going around that Harry hadn’t somehow felt before he heard.
Tom Grossbaar, also eighteen, who also should have been graduating in a month, would not be graduating. He died. How was a matter of speculation:
He had a weak heart that nobody knew about, and it just exploded.
He had a drug overdose. There were too many of those, though Tom never partook in anything that strong as far as Harry knew.
Or he was walking along the railroad tracks while listening to music on a massive pair of headphones and didn’t notice the train behind him.
In second period Harry was pulled out of class and taken to the guidance counselor. She gave him some more details about the death and a suicide note sent to Harry, via the counselor, with personal information that he would not then or ever share with anyone else.
Whatever was on the lesson plan for the rest of the day, the week, the month, he didn’t know, and he didn’t or wouldn’t remember. But he went to class nonetheless, in a sort of metaphysical daze. It wasn’t just senioritis affecting him.
How many other people knew what was in that letter? No one. How could they?
He couldn’t wait to get out of school, and as soon as the last bell rang, he was in his car, on his way home. He took the long way home and went down Turtle Heart Road. He stopped to look at Turtle Heart Bridge, the trestle bridge spanning across the road, 300 feet high, overgrown, and abandoned for some ten years at that point.
The bridge was hard to get to, not to mention illegal for obvious reasons. Tom Grossbaar was not the first person to jump off the bridge, nor would he be the last, but he was, at that time, the most recent. Harry had seen the bridge many many times. It wasn’t specifically on his way to school, but it was on his way to Original Jerry’s Restaurant.
Harry stopped under the bridge. There was police tape but no other sign of the event. He had no intention of duplicating the actions; he just wanted to see it. No, that wasn’t quite right; he didn’t want to see it, he needed to. He didn’t know why he started climbing up the hill toward the trestle bridge, and he didn’t know how far he would have gotten, but when he turned around, high on the steep overgrown hill, he looked down at his car and saw something familiar in the road.
He quickly made his way down and to the road.
Sure enough, there it was, a turtle, trying to cross Turtle Heart Road again. He picked the turtle up, carried it across the way it was going, and put it on the other side.
The turtle started to move slowly in the grass as another car that might have otherwise hit it drove past, nodding at him in silent approval of his good deed.
Harry realized that there was something familiar about this, and he turned the turtle over. Sure enough, it was the same turtle, with its heart exposed.
It had survived; it was at least five years old now but probably older. He had no way of knowing for sure. Further, he didn’t know that it was the same turtle, but it would be astronomical if it were not.
Maybe his Dad would be up for Jerry’s tonight, just like the last time. It had been a rough day for Harry; it wouldn’t take too much to convince his Dad. It usually wasn’t that hard in normal circumstances. Today was a bad day, but with the turtle and the prospect of Jerry’s, it seemed like it would end okay.
Dick and Harry had been very close through high school and college and hung out together a lot. Harry usually drove Dick around for an hour or two on random roads, stopping for a late-night dinner/breakfast at Original Jerry’s, then driving another hour or two before taking Dick home. They did the same thing almost every weekend until Harry moved further away, then it was reduced to once or twice a month, then every two or three months.
A year or two after college, when Harry was twenty-three and Dick was still living at home, he would travel to California frequently; Harry did not know why this was. And then finally, one night, just after they ordered dinner at Jerry’s, Dick told him.
“I’m moving to California.”
Harry said he was happy for him and said he would help him move. Dick had helped Harry move four times at that point, so he owed him that much.
But was he really happy?
Moving across the country would be the end of an era, an end that didn’t really need to be. But Harry would be supportive and keep those feelings (mostly) to himself.
He wished he didn’t order the Jerry’s Starry Night Breakfasts Special that night. It was the biggest breakfast on the menu, and all of a sudden, he wasn’t very hungry.
A few weeks later, a pod was dropped at Dick’s parent’s house in the morning. Harry spent the day helping him move.
Dick’s Dad couldn’t help.
“Your father and I are going out,” said Mrs. Geerstine. “He’s getting too emotional seeing all your things moving out.”
“Okay,” said Dick.
“Do you want us to pick anything up for you guys,” said Mr. Geerstine in a voice choked with emotion, an octave higher than usual.
“Don’t you start,” said Harry, turning away. “Or I won’t be able to stop.”
“Some Lemonade, maybe?” said Dick.
He didn’t seem to be in the moment the way the rest of them were.
Dick and Harry carried furniture, guitars, a plasma, clothes, and other odds and ends down several flights of stairs and into the driveway until the pod was packed tighter than a can of sardines.
“Couldn’t get the next size up, could you,” said Harry.
They closed the door to the pod at noon, padlocked it, gave each other a high five and then a hug. They hugged for a while, neither wanting to let go.
It had been an emotional day, and the day was still not over.
For their 60th birthdays, Harry’s parents took a trip to Iceland, and they wanted Harry to pick them up from Philadelphia International in the afternoon of the same day that Harry helped Dick move.
The drive to Philadelphia was not a short one. He would have had to go well out of his way to get back home, then go to Philly, so he stopped at his parents’ house for a quick shower and hit the road again.
Halfway to the airport, it started to rain heavily.
He planned on waiting in the cell phone parking lot for a while, but his Dad called him just after he arrived.
Mrs. Timlake was doped up on motion sickness medicine and barely coherent, but his Dad talked almost the whole time about all the interesting things they saw and learned in Iceland. It was, after all, a very unusual country.
Geysers only appear in Iceland and Yellowstone National Park.
The word “Geyser” is an Icelandic word.
The Icelandic language is essentially the same language the Vikings spoke. Icelandic people take their father’s first name with the gender-specific suffix “Son” or “Daughter” as their surnames.
“Did you help your friend move today?” asked Mrs. Timlake in a brief moment of coherence.
“How did that go?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
Harry wasn’t being rude. His parents knew how he felt on the subject.
They were quiet for a while after that. The rain was getting worse, and Harry had to pay attention to the roads.
Close to home, just as he was passing under Turtle Heart bridge, he saw a rock that was not a rock in the road.
It could have been a rock, but rocks didn’t move; the turtle, on the other hand, albeit slowly, was still moving.
Harry stopped the car, picked up the turtle, and carried it across the road, taking a quick peek under its shell to see the exposed and still-beating heart. He put it on the grass and got back in the car, soaking wet, and continued to drive his parents home.
“You remember when you carried the turtle across the road when you were in middle school?” his father asked.
“Yes,” said Harry.
It was the first time they had ever mentioned it.
“It’s nice that you did that for another turtle.”
“No,” said Harry. “That’s the same one.”
“Come on,” said Mr. Timlake. “How can you know?”
“Let’s just say I do,” said Harry.
His father apparently didn’t remember all the details of the turtle, and Harry felt that he should keep those to himself. It was a good story, but it was, after all, just his story.
When Harry was thirty-one, he had a very bad day at work. People he had been working with for years, people he considered friends, people he trusted, seemed to conspire against him. He was amid a fallacious rumor that had been going around the office, the origin and specific details of which he did not know, nor he would dignify with thought.
What is wrong with people?
In school: Elementary, Middle, High; take your pick; he seemed to get mixed up in rumors, some that got him sent to the principal’s office, and his backpack searched (though these incidences in his younger days never amounted to anything), and never had any permanent damage. . . .
Well, there was that one incident, perhaps.
As a joke, he had once told a friend that “dicks taste like pancakes,” which was funny then and still is, or should be. Of course, his friend spread that around the school until it was not funny, and Harry was pulled into the guidance counselor’s office with questions about his sexuality. After that, Kevin was no longer his friend. Harry grew up in an era when gay was less than okay. He didn’t care about other people’s sexuality, though at the time, he was in the minority opinion. At least the guidance counselor’s questions were sensitive and non-judgmental.
Kevin asked him at their Tenth high school reunion (at Jerry’s Original Restaurant) if dicks still tasted like pancakes, at which point Harry poured his beer over Kevin’s head and walked out. Harry had chalked that up to the old adage, “It’s always a Kevin.”
Harry didn’t deal with rumors in college, though perhaps that was because he was very introverted in those days. And then, in his working life, the meat of his life, he didn’t think he would again; by that point, everyone should have grown up.
But you say a few things to a few coworkers that you think are friends over a few beers on a Friday night, and things get blown way out of proportion.
Then a few weeks later, you find yourself doing a rug dance in front of HR.
And you’re in a really bad mood.
And you don’t eat anything for the rest of the day.
And you don’t know if you’re going to lose your job in a week or two.
And you find yourself in your car in a fog of tobacco smoke with a Lucky Strike smoldering between your fingers.
And you don’t know where you’re going.
And you narrowly dodge a few cars on your way to wherever you’re going.
And the song “Rumors” by Timex Social Club plays on your playlist.
And you get so pissed off that you don’t even change the song.
And it’s really not a good time to be driving because it’s raining so heavily, and one windshield wiper is broken and leaving a trail of rubber and not really clearing the water at all. But you don’t really care because getting into a car accident now, and dying might actually help you out.
And you find yourself far away from where you live but near where you grew up on Turtle Heart Road near the trestle bridge.
And now you’re up to speed on where Harry is right now. And because you are caught up on feeling, if not so much plot, we can switch back to third person past tense.
Harry pulled over and looked at the trestle bridge as the rain was pouring down heavily, and the clouds were licking at the top.
Tom Grossbaar had climbed to the top of that bridge and jumped off. Harry had never been able to even get close to that bridge. Except for that one time, and that one time he had not gone very far up the hill before he saw–
He looked around and saw a rock in the road again. Or something that looked like a rock, a sizable rock, yet still moving.
Harry knew what it was, who it was.
It was raining so hard that he didn’t want to get out of his car, but just as he knew who the turtle was, he knew that he had to carry it across the street, and so he did.
The turtle was bigger and heavier now, and it seemed to try and nip at him while he carried it, or perhaps it was trying to kiss his finger.
A car drove past him when he put the turtle on the wet grass. A woman he had never seen before and would never see again was driving the car. Having witnessed the good deed, she rolled her window down and yell to him.
“That’s so nice of you!”
Harry could have told her how it was the same turtle that he had helped across Turtle Heart Road four times now, over the last eighteen years. A turtle that was missing the shell around its heart that always seemed to show up on very bad days. A turtle that somehow helped him as much, if not more than he helped it.
But how do you tell that to someone driving past you in the rain, even at slow speed? How do you tell that to anyone at all? It would have to be in lengthy conversation and still have a low believability rate.
Harry answered the only way he really could. Holding his head down in the heavy rain, he gave a thumbs-up, and the woman drove off.
He flipped the turtle onto his back, saw his feet kicking to impossibly right himself, and saw the exposed heart.
Yes, it was the same turtle. It was always the same turtle.
When Harry returned to his car, he called his Dad.
“I’m near the house,” he said. “Would you like to go to Jerry’s?”
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Harry.
“Then, sure, I haven’t eaten dessert yet.”
On his fortieth birthday, Harry got a call from Dick. Harry didn’t celebrate his birthday, hadn’t since he was twenty-three. He was a superstitious person in many ways, and after a string of very bad birthdays, he decided never to celebrate again and told everyone his birthday was on February 31st.
Dick never called; he always texted.
“He’s not calling to wish me a happy birthday, is he?” Harry asked himself.
The phone rang again, and he answered himself.
“No, Dick knows better. Something must be wrong.”
After another ring, he answered.
“I got some bad news,” said Dick. “And I’m not sure how you’re going to take it.”
He closed his eyes, giving himself a minute, preparing for the worst, not knowing what the worst would be.
“Okay, go ahead.”
“Jerry’s is closing.”
The three words dropped in his stomach like the heavy pancakes they made at Jerry’s 24/7. He was expecting something different. This was bad news. This was worse than what he had imagined.
“You’re kidding,” said Harry.
“No man, sorry.
Harry didn’t say anything for a while, almost forgetting that he was on the phone.
“How do you know out there in California?”
There was subtext to that comment.
Moving Dick out of his house had been an emotional day for him, and defiantly not a good one, but you already know all about that. You may not know that Harry never really got over Dick moving away. He would ask him all the time when he was moving back, and Dick would always reply with “Soon, I’m getting tired of the scene out here.” But he had been saying that for seventeen years. It wasn’t like Dick didn’t know any of this either.
“I read about it on social media,” he said.
“But we just had our Twentieth high school reunion there,” said Harry.
“That was two years ago,” said Dick.
“How would you know? You weren’t there.”
“Yeah yeah, I know.”
“When is it closing?” asked Harry.
“Saturday’s their last night.”
“Damn, that gives me three days to get there.”
“Not without me,” said Dick.
“Well, I’d be glad to wait for you, but it looks like I can’t.”
“I already got my plane ticket; I’ll be coming in on Friday and we’ll go together on Saturday night.”
“Yes, really,” said Dick.
While heading back to his old stomping ground on a starry night, Harry was happy to see his old friend again (he only saw him once every couple of years) but less happy about the circumstances. He would pick up Dick at his mother’s house, like he had countless times before, and then go to Original Jerry’s for one last meal.
As he drove by himself, he tried to think of the memories he had at Jerry’s. There were many.
He could picture the various neon signs around the building:
Coffee Shop and Restaurant.
He recalled different memories based on different things he ordered: A hamburger, a cup of coffee, and a Lucky Strike. That’s what he had on his eighteenth birthday, back when he calibrated his birthdays and restaurants allowed smoking. He bought the pack of unfiltered from what was probably the last operational cigarette vending machine left in Delaware, and he was pretty sure that was the last time he ate a hamburger sans cheese.
Pancake Bacon. A breakfast he ordered from a fresh-off-the-boat Thai waitress who didn’t know how to say anything else in English at the time. This was the breakfast that he and his father had one morning when they were supposed to visit his grandmother in Arizona, and things didn’t work out. He had been very sad, and his father made it up to him by taking him on a snap trip to Washington DC. They stopped at Jerry’s early in the
morning, and because of the waitress, this was all they could order . . . it was still good though. Sometimes those early jobs for immigrants just don’t work out; however, she was still there the last time he was at the restaurant, and by then, her English was better than Harry’s.
Seafood Salad. The best seafood salad in the entire state, at least according to all of his research.
The Blue Ribbon Breakfasts. Eggs your way, Bacon, Sausage, Pancakes, Toast, Coffee, and Juice (he always opted for Tomato); no substitutions. The first time he paid for “dinner,” that meal cost $2.96. He had taken four of his friends there for dinner one night, and the bill with tip came to an even pair of sawbucks. The last time he went there, that meal was $7.85 and still a steal.
Vegetable Lasagna. One night, when Harry was in college, he stole a menu, tricking the waitress with circular logic. He planned to eat everything Jerry’s offered at least once, keeping the menu in his glove compartment and crossing it off after each meal. Vegetable Lasagna (not his favorite dish) was the final thing he crossed off and did so on the Friday night before he graduated, which, because of various circumstances, he ate alone.
Jerry’s Starry Night Breakfasts Special – unlike the blue ribbon, it came with choices, Eggs you’re way, Beacon or Sausage, Pancake or Waffle (one of the few restaurants that did both), Hash Browns or Grits, fried catfish ham steak or cube steak, toast, Coffee and Juice. Harry forced that one down the night Dick told him he was moving.
Roast Beef Sandwich on a Hard Roll. The rolls were so hard you needed the au jus to even try and eat it. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a selling point, but they were really good, trust me. Harry knew the sandwich well but couldn’t recall a specific memory connected to it, for some reason, it made him think of turtles and Norm MacDonald.
And that was just small fraction of the overall menu. Seriously, what could Harry order, what should he order, for his last meal?
Jerry’s was an important place in his life.
He took his prom date there to ask her to go and then again after the dance.
He spent his twenty-first birthday there (they did have a bar, after all).
He had several good dinners there, some breakfasts, and many many breakfasts for dinner.
He had gone there on many nights when things weren’t so good, but they ended a little better at Jerry’s.
To get to Dick’s house and Jerry’s, Harry drove down Turtle Heart Road.
Harry considered going around; this was a sad night already, beautiful but sad. He didn’t want to be reminded of the bridge and his friend who jumped. But now that he had already considered this continuously, he thought what the hell, he’ll head down the road anyway.
Near the bridge that he didn’t exactly want to see, there was a rock in the road.
A rock he knew all too well.
Not a rock at all, but a turtle, missing the shell around his heart.
“Somehow, I knew you would show up again,” he said as he lifted the turtle and carried him across the road.
It was night, and he was surprised to see another car pass him as he helped the turtle across the road.
The car beeped at him.
The beep could have been out of annoyance, but Harry seemed to know that it was out of respect, the way you beep at the protesters to whom you don’t give the finger.
When he put the turtle down, he knew what he would eat at Jerry’s.
He was going to get the surf and turf.
He would salt the charbroiled stake before even making the first cut.
He would dump out all the salt from the shaker, steal it, and place it next to the framed menu with all the crossed-off items.
After dinner, he would get a double hot fudge sundae for dessert and a cup of coffee. It didn’t matter how late it was, “Coffee Shop” was one of their signs, just like charbroiled steak and Seafood Specialties.
Sunday morning, he would look into buying (legally) something from the restaurant. One of the signs would be nice; one of the booths would be even better.
A restaurant closing was somehow worse than death; people, turtles, and any other living things would eventually die; a restaurant– not necessarily.
Harry was fifty-one, his father was eighty-two, or had been. He lived a long life, longer than expected at his birth, but all things come to an end. His father had lost his coherence half a decade earlier, and being around him was extremely difficult. There were a lot of emotions, and not all were easy to understand.
Long before, when Harry was dealing with roomers in elementary school, he and his father had watched his grandmother die of Alzheimer’s.
“Harry,” said Mr. Timlake. “If I ever get that way, just put a bullet in my head.”
Sometimes people say this with a bit of levity, but no, Mr. Timlake was serious.
Harry never forgot what his father told him to do, but ultimately he did not follow through with those wishes, and he felt guilty about this. It was a complicated guilt that no one in their right mind would agree that he should feel guilty about, but that didn’t make it easier.
He tried to spend time with his father as he went through dementia, but it wasn’t easy. They fought a lot. His father said things that shouldn’t be said, things that had just a little too much truth to them and couldn’t quite be written off. After a year, Harry stopped going home. He wasn’t there when his father died, and he felt guilty about that too.
Now he was making the drive home, possibly for the last time.
He didn’t want to sort through his father’s affairs, but he had to. There was no one else, and so he drove slowly.
Harry expected to see the turtle and intentionally drove down Turtle Heart Road to see his old friend, who kept showing up at very important somber times in his life.
He stopped under the trestle bridge and looked up.
Two bikes were crossing the bridge. No train had run on those rails since he was eight years old. Over the years, many tracks have been bought and transformed into bike paths. Turtle Heart Hill was no exception. They strung a wire fence tube around the bridge to prevent jumpers. Harry didn’t know how many people had tried since the tube went up. How many people it actually stopped from jumping is impossible to know.
Harry knew the bike paths well. He and his father spent a lot of time biking together on those low grade smooth, and sometimes paved rails trails after his father retired.
The paths took years to build, sometimes decades. The construction wasn’t the hard part; the negotiations were. Every township had a say, and everyone wanted something to open the trail. Work had begun on the Turtle Heart Bike Trail fifteen years ago, Harry and his father were still biking together then, but his father knew and said, “I will never live to bike on that trail.” It opened a year ago, and by that time, Mr. Timlake
was too far gone. Harry knew he would never bike on it either, he would not bike without his Dad, and he would never go on that bridge.
A friend of his had jumped off the bridge thirty-three years ago. He wasn’t the first or the last. Harry tried to remember the friend’s name but found he couldn’t, which made him sad and more than a little concerned. Was he starting to lose his own mind, many years earlier than his father had?
Then again, whatever his name was, did impact him three decades ago, but in the years since, he has not been around to impact him again. Maybe Harry had just moved on.
But he had not moved on from the turtle he was hoping to find.
And he did find the turtle?
It wasn’t on the road, not at first.
Harry sat in his car, waiting for the turtle, almost willing it into existence, and after some time, he wasn’t sure how long. The turtle did appear, coming out of the tall grass on one side of the road.
“It’s time,” Harry said to himself.
He walked over, picked up the turtle, and carried it to the other side of the road. As always, he flipped the turtle over to see its beating exposed heart. It was still there, though it looked more black than red. Maybe that was to be expected, or maybe the turtle was nearing the end of his life.
On the side of the road, with his legs crossed, Harry sat the turtle in his lap, and he found himself speaking to it in words he never really considered.
“You may need to find someone else to help you cross the road. I don’t know if I will ever be back here again. I kind of want to take you with me, to protect you, but I know if I drive off with you in the passenger seat, you would look at me, and I will know I’m doing something wrong, I won’t be able to handle the face you make, and I would take you right back to where I found you, accept across the road of course. I have to do that. Are you even real? I see you at important times in my life. Today I knew you would be here, and you were. Did I create you? Have you always been just part of my mind? If so, does that make you any less real? I don’t know when I’ll see you again, but for some reason, I know I will.”
It was very hard for Harry to leave the turtle at that time, but he knew he had to, eventually. After a while, the turtle crawled off his lap and into the thick grass, crawling onward to wherever he was always trying to go.
Harry was eighty-one years old and felt good for his age. He was slower, of course, had to rest more often, and his bones ached at a constant that was easy to ignore. He was surprised he had made it this long. How much longer, he didn’t know.
That’s not entirely true; he did know that it would not be much longer, so he made the drive. No map, no GPS, his phone intentionally turned off, and the only music he listened to was that of the wind passing his open car. He was past the age he should be driving, but he drove on anyway.
He hadn’t been on Turtle Heart Road since his father passed away. There was no need. He wasn’t entirely sure if he would be able to find it again. The road may have been erased, and possibly the trestle bridge too.
That morning, he had realized he had to go, realized it first thing in the morning, but he didn’t know why. He hadn’t thought of Turtle Heart Road in a very long time.
But he did make it without any navigational aid. The road seemed to call him like a beacon, and muscle memory carried him the rest of the way.
When he reached the trestle bridge, he saw the turtle again. Still on the road. For a moment, he was worried that this time, finally this time, he was too late, and the turtle was hit by a car, but no, he saw it move.
He parked the car, picked up the turtle, and carried him across the road.
The turtle was now massive; it must have weighed over fifty pounds. Harry’s Doctor had warned him of lifting anything over ten pounds. His heart was not what it used to be. But it didn’t matter, he knew what he had to do, Doctor’s warning or not.
Unfortunately, the Doctor was right. As Harry put the turtle down on the side of the road for the last time, and it would be the last time, his heart exploded. His vision went red and then dark as he collapsed on the side of the road, and then he was no more.
The turtle, with the missing shell around its heart, did not continue into the wilderness and the next chapter as it had always done before. Instead he crawled onto Harry’s chest and laid there, snapping at anyone who dared come near him, helping his friend in his afterlife the only way he knew how, the way Harry had always helped him.
And the turtle stayed there just like that until his own exposed heart stopped beating.