The Back of a Turtle

Prompt: Clouds


Andrew and Sophie stretched out on two vinyl-strapped loungers in the back yard of Andrew’s grandfather Bernard, one summery spring afternoon, holding hands across the chasm, and staring into a perfect sky.

The blue of the sky was deep enough, and the clouds bright and varied enough, and the breeze just enough, to display constantly shifting myths and stories and shapes, for those who had the time and imagination.

“I see Richard Nixon doing a handstand on a ship with sails,” Andrew said.

“Yes, I see that,” said Sophie.

“Do you see the polar bear?”

“Pacing? Yes.”

“Look, a duck with a pipe.”

“Looks more like a hookah.”

“Do you see the god, with a spear in one hand a sword in the other, with the face of a cocker spaniel?” asked Andrew.

“No, where is that?” said Sophie, peering, since the sky canopy was enormous. “I do see a god riding a scooter carrying a golf club.” She squinted. “And a goddess in the middle of a cartwheel on the edge of a cliff.”

“The goddess is on the edge of a cliff?” Andrew asked.

“The god needs to carry weapons?” asked Sophie.

“Don’t look at the clouds just above the doctor’s place on the bluff,” Andrew said. “The god and goddess are going at it.”

“Even though the goddess is a virgin?” said Sophie.

“So is the god,” said Andrew after a pause.

They were both quiet for a moment. “There is a map of Italy on the back of a turtle,” Sophie said at last.

“Yes I see it,” said Andrew.

On the Day of My Execution

Prompt: Witness Protection
When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers? Why?

big blue sky

On the day of my execution, my family had gathered early, positioning themselves close to the gallows, presumably so I could see their faces. The sky was clear, with only wisps of cloud that I watched from my window, thinking that those wisps might join together, become larger, and rain might fall from the clouds that formed, maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow someone’s birthday party would be rained on, and I wouldn’t be here.

For some reason I wanted to think of tomorrow, of clouds and birthday parties, and not reflect on my past, as one imagines the condemned to do. I’d had enough of my past. My past had led me to this tiny room, with its cracked, white porcelain pitcher and wash basin, a cot large enough for my young nephew George, but not for a grown woman, a tray of tea and stale shortbread biscuits, untouched.

The guards were kind to me, not from any sympathy, but to give their sordid jobs some dignity. Tonight they would have supper with their families, sharing from a steaming pot of pork and acorn squash stew, with a basket of dense, fresh baked bread to butter, glasses of tea for the children, black wine for the adults. I wouldn’t be here.

I wasn’t afraid at all, not of the strangers I could hear now, murmuring in the courtyard, not of my family, stone-faced and unmoving. I wasn’t afraid of the walk from the little gray room and into the corridor, then into the bright daylight and the sky with its wispy clouds, because that walk would last a thousand years, and I would think of a thousand tomorrows.

I would look at my family, what was left of them, the ones I hadn’t managed to kill that day. I wouldn’t bother with the expressions on their faces. I would stare back at them. I would think of their tomorrows.


Image: Big Blue Sky