Thursday, June 9, 2011

Absconding With a Turtle

A deadline extension would do her no good: Melissa was determined to spend the rest of her life with this turtle, and no lousy newspaper job was going to stop her.

The paper was going under soon anyway; it was no secret. Downsizing, departmental cuts, and overwhelming pressure from the top were all making the copy editors sweat and obsess an unusual amount. Each time the owner or managing editors popped in for coffee, they had the sinking feeling that the time had come. Chaos was just around the corner and the whole copy editing department was being laid off, leaving the paper to flounder in unedited, classless headlines and accidental double entendres all the way to the final print run.

So far, it hadn’t happened, but the threat was imminent, especially with the economy struggling for longer screen time in its Cyrano de Bergerac death throes. Melissa wasn’t going to be there when it happened; she was taking her pet turtle and absconding to South Dakota.

She had decided to pack up the tank after hours, meaning around midnight, when the copy had finally gone to print and all the lonely souls had gone in search of a familiar stranger with whom to spend a regret-filled evening. The turtle cautiously explored her empty desk as she scooped colored rock into a bag. Melissa raised an eyebrow at her friend.

“You’ll have to be a bit more adventurous than that in South Dakota, little dude. I’m getting you a bigger tank.” She plopped the bag of rocks into the tank, and, gripping her hard-backed pet by the middle, eased him in. For behaving so well, she awarded him a cricket. Melissa heaved the tank and marched for the back door.

All she knew about South Dakota was what she had seen in Fargo, but she thought it looked nice. Full of nice people, very casual, accepting of turtles and their slightly eccentric owners. This was coming from a girl raised in Northern Wisconsin, true, but she’d had enough of the city life. It was time for a change, and not just of the scraps in her collage stash.

The turtle was still nameless, despite being with her for nearly a month now. She wanted to find just the right name, and nothing quite fit him yet. Every suggestion was met with a shake of his scaly head, or retreating into his shell. For a few hours he’d been named Houdini, but after a break-in at her apartment, she decided it was too accurate for comfort. She’d even rescinded the naming ceremony, complete with cross-stitched plaque.

The brisk November air was a shock of pinpricks after the stuffy newsroom – small, dry flakes were falling. Melissa cuddled the tank closer to protect it from the brief chill.

Absconding with my pet turtle. Not how I thought this job would end. Trish would give her hell for this one. No way around it: this was one of the more bizarre things she’d ever done. It even topped the penguin scam. And nothing had ever topped the penguin scam.

There was no way around it. Reinvention of the self begged a blank slate, complete with new home, new job, new friends.

But the turtle was coming with.

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