“The Day of the Tortoise,” by Ethan Bernard

Dec 20th, 2007 | By | Category: Prose

The day my brother found a tortoise, we decided to start a zoo. One night, while kicking a soccer ball, my brother shrieked, A turtle! I ran out. A tortoise, I corrected him; turtles stay in the water. My brother, age a mere six years, was more ardent than wise. I, two years his senior, was both. And I reasoned that our backyard, treasure trove of exotic creatures, should surely be opened to the public, a dollar a head. With our parents engaged in what we imagined a day of rest, all our plans could be realized. Fortune was smiling. Whence the tortoise came we did not know. But come it did. Spontaneous generation? We did not know. Though when news trekked across our suburban sidewalks, the neighborhood children flocked like pilgrims to Lourdes. They gawked at the desert beast, tapped its shell, wondered if it could swim. (Luckily, we did not have a pool.) To our surprise, the tortoise marked only the beginning of their interest. Miracles travel in packs, the children reasoned. They marched around the yard, upturning rocks, grasping at shadows. Billy Parker christened a found insect a “Bettybeetle,” but it proved only a mortal ladybug. In their sniffling despair, having found nothing, they returned to the tortoise, to reckon with the fact that miracles do not come wholesale, the laws of nature do not get repealed in bulk. It is enough that there is one, I said. At first the children doubted, but perhaps my earnest tone had bestowed a glimmer of faith. They looked from me to the tortoise in all its slow-footed glory. Soon a flash flood of reverence washed away their tears. My brother and I rejoiced, for we had brought the children together, had shown that wishes sometimes get granted–and we were popular, and rich. Then Lisa Kramer’s mom arrived, with Lisa silently in tow. The children, huddled around the tortoise, fell silent. Lisa was very upset, you see, her mom explained, because she had waited a year for a tortoise from some special reptile society, and now the tortoise had disappeared from a chicken-wire pen in their backyard. Tortoises do not usually disappear. That is what Lisa’s mom said. It was at this point that the tortoise ceased to be the focal point of everyone’s attention. The children, Lisa’s mom, my brother–even shy little Lisa–their stares settled on me. And I, in this moment of trial, hour of hardship–day of judgment–answered the call. I set my hand around my brother’s slender neck, and with my face a badge of hushed solemnity, muttered… It was him.


At the age of eight Ethan Bernard was a tee-ball All Star. At the age of nine he became a target for wild-eyed pitchers, his injuries becoming things of legend. He subsequently gave up baseball. He lives in Queens.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.