Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)
TITLE: A Turtle Turns the Tide
By Beth Muehlhausen
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In a split second, three faces smeared with peanut butter stare at each other with a new sense of joint responsibility. Perhaps it is times like these that make boys into men, and male cousins into lifelong musketeers who stand by one another in the familial cause for right. Return with me to this moment.
The three shivering six-year-old cousins tiptoe around the side of the house to the back door, their hunched bodies draped with beach towels.
“Gramma, can we come in?”
“Brrrrrr … the lake is COLD!”
Dripping and purple-lipped, they prance on the porch in an attempt to keep warm. Behind the screen door looms a broad body with a deep voice: Gramma.
“You boys … you know the rules. No wet footprints in the house. Now shoo! Go out on the patio and sit in the sun, and I’ll bring you some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
“YAY! You’re the best, Gramma!’
“Lots of jelly, okay?”
“Can we have milk and vanilla wafers, too?”
Gramma chuckles her famous low, rumbling laugh. “Ah, ha HA … okay, boys! I’ll bring you a feast if you pay attention … just look at the puddles under your feet. Now get off this porch and into the sunshine! That’s the only way you’re going to dry off and warm up. SHOO!”
With a flick of her diamond-studded fingers Gramma commands the cousins – all birthed within six months of each other – to flit like flies. Their oversized, colorful towels fly out behind them like wings as they head for the lawn furniture on the patio.
“I get the lounge chair!”
“I get the chair by the table!”
“I …(with a glint in the eye) … I’m going to get the turtle!!”
This trio is defined by still-developing masculinity. Transparent family-ties run deep, although in the context of inevitable jealousy. They have not yet faced a crisis together, or experienced mutual pain.
“No, I’ll get the turtle! You guys stay here!”
“Who says? I’m the one who caught him in the first place!”
“Oh man, it’s my turn – you both carried the bucket yesterday!”
In a flurry, waving beach towels take flight, only to form heaps on the patio bricks. Bare feet pound toward the garage door.
“I’m doing it …”
“No I am!”
“Get out of my way, you guys!”
The three wrestle for the doorknob, grunting and growling like puppies. Finally, the door swings open and they sprawl onto the concrete floor.
“I’m first! I’m getting it!”
“Not on your life!”
“Me, me …!”
Meanwhile, Gramma appears on the patio with a large tray. “Boys – BOYS! Where did you go? Your lunch is ready!”
Sheepishly, they appear together and stand in the garage doorway.
“Something happened to our turtle, Gramma …”
“Yeah, its empty shell was right next to the bucket …”
“Do you think he was eaten?”
“Well now.” She sets her tray down. “Probably that old raccoon that’s been hanging around here got himself a fine meal of fresh turtle last night.”
“You think so?”
“Man, that stinks!”
The three faces crowd together and speak with common regret.
“We should have left him in the lake!”
“Yeah, what were we thinking, anyway?”
Three gloomy faces - each framed with wet blond hair - stare at the empty shell in unbelief. Mourning is a new experience.
“Gramma, I’m really sorry this happened.”
“Me, too. He didn’t have a chance.”
“Yeah. We messed up big time, huh?”
The three wilt, their shoulders sagging.
“C’mon, boys, your lunch is waiting,” Gramma reminds them.
“Oh yeah, I about forgot …”
“Me too …”
“You guys really want to eat after seeing THIS?”
They place the shell in the bucket beside the door and march out in single file.
“Could we have kept the coon out??”
“Well, I suppose if we’d had some sort of cage …”
“But the turtle’s dead now, so what difference does it make?”
Gramma smiles and coaxes them toward her overflowing tray. “Boys, boys … it’s alright. You made a mistake is all, and learned a lesson! Now sit down here and eat this food or else I’ll have to send you all back to the lake on empty stomachs!”
Their eyes meet above the tray. Mutual loss, repentance, and heightened responsibility instantly meld them. They see each other as a team – stronger than before.
“Wanna go turtle hunting after lunch?
“Yeah man – count me in!”
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