May 24

All the Way Down (Part II)

[…continued from May 23 entry…]

 

Just what you need.  Shopping done and in the trunk, but you can’t drive off because a turtle has wedged itself under your front wheel.

This isn’t the kind of thing your Motor Club would help with.

But you’d just dropped $200 in the Big Saver.  They could send one of the stockboys out, maybe with a push broom.  You’re already dialing the Customer Service desk as you start walking back to the store.

The store sends a teenage kid out with you.  Clearly their youngest employee, lowest on the totem pole.  Let him deal with the week’s most bizarre crisis.

The boy doesn’t bring a broom or other extender with him.  He’s puffed up and brave, planning to use his feet or his bare hands.

Then again, this kid hasn’t seen the turtle’s sharp snapping beak, the determination in his ancient reptile eyes.

“Up here,” you say, pointing to the far end of the lot where your car’s parked against the cement curb.

“How’d you know it was there?” the kid asks.  “Did it sing at you, like in the cartoon?”

You have no idea what cartoon the stockboy is talking about, which makes you feel old.

The kid races ahead, then ducks down to look under the car.  “Yeah, he’s under here real good.”  He crabwalks around to the front bumper to get a different view, and you’re surprised at how limber the kid it.

“Can you reach him?”  You’re standing above him now, somewhat amused to be in the same position you’d have over a plumber bent down to fix your sink.  The stockboy is suddenly your expert on turtles, instead of drains.

He reaches a cautious arm beneath the car, but doesn’t seem to have the right angle.

“It’s turtles all the way down,” you say — more to amuse yourself than anything else.

“Huh?”

And you’re sorry you’ve distracted him.  You want to get this over with as quickly as possible, so you can go on with your day.  “It’s an old joke.  A very old joke.” The kid seems slightly intrigued, so you offer a quick explanation.  “An old woman is talking to this philosopher, William James, and she disagrees with his explanation of how the Earth floats in space, revolving around the Sun.  Gravity and all.  She gives her idea, which is that the Earth sits on a giant turtle.  The philosopher, he wants to challenge the old girl’s theory, so he ask what the turtle is standing on.  She doesn’t bat an eye, says ‘another turtle.’  The philosopher’s sure he’s got her trapped, kind of an ‘ah ha!’ thing, saying, ‘Oh madam, what does that second turtle stand on?’  But she’s not phased at all, she says — ”

“It’s turtles all the way down,” the kid interrupts, completing the story.  He laughs.  You’re pleased, because you didn’t think he was paying that close attention.

You smile, nod your head at the front tire to draw him back to the task at hand.

“Oh,” the boy says.  “Right.”  He details a plan that he must have dreamed up while you shared the anecdote.  “I can’t quite drag the booger out, but I can push him deeper under the car.  That way, if you pull straight back, you won’t hit him.”

You’re skeptical, but follow along.  He’s the expert.  You should do what he says.

So, you get into the car, buckle into the seat, start the engine and wait.

The kid has ducked down out of sight.  For a moment you imagine a scene out of Beetle Bailey or Archie, the kid jumping up and dancing around, the snapper’s jaws clamped on his shoe or his butt.

The idea tickles you, and you almost miss the signal.  His hands in the air, waving you back.  Over the engine’s noise you hear the boy shout “Go go go!”

You’re already in reverse gear.  There’s nobody behind you in the parking lot, so you press hard on the pedal to back straight up.

The car lurches.  It holds for a second, and the front lifts up on your side for a moment, flattens out as you pull further back.

You’ve gone over a speed bump.  A speed bump that has lived for many years.  A speed bump that could crack beneath the weight of your car.

The stockboy is on his feet.  He points at the turtle on the ground, and at you.  “What did you do?  There was plenty of room.  Why’d you turn?”

You hadn’t turned.  You’re sure of it.  The car’s at an angle now, the way it normally would be if you pulled out of the space to turn towards the exit.  But you hadn’t turned yet.

Stepping out of the car, you move closer to the injured tortoise.  It’s awful what has happened, and you feel sick to your stomach at having caused it.  The shell is snapped down the middle.  Wrinkled reptile skin stretches and tears beneath the split, a dark sticky liquid oozing over the wound.

The stockboy keeps yelling at you like you’re the biggest idiot in the world.  “What did you do?  What did you do?

It is terrible.  You can’t deny it.  But the kid is carrying on way out of proportion to the injured turtle.  “Maybe we can take him to a vet or something,” you suggest.  “I bet they could still fix him.”

Still, the kid yells and cries.  He’s pointing at the turtle, at you…and at the asphalt lot beneath.  There’s a crack in the parking space, too.

That split wasn’t there before.  It’s spreading.

The earth rumbles.  The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach grows worse, as if you’re falling thorough air.

“All the way down,” the stockboy shouts. “All the way down!”