Short story: meg truesdell
Six years ago I was pulling weeds in the yard when the neighbor kid came walking up with a tiny hatchling musk turtle in an Arby’s cup. She had kidnapped it from Fuller’s Beach on Clear Lake and was certain to accidentally murder it.
Now, I did not particularly want to be in charge of this tiny creature as land tortoises are my jam and this turtle was of the aquatic persuasion, but reptile preferences be damned... this little one needed my help!
So I named her Lucille, as that is what I have named every turtle I have ever met since 1976, and I built her a fine habitat until we could get her back home. The summer went on and even though the girls and I headed to Fuller’s Beach a couple of times, I couldn’t bring myself to take Lucille.
She was so very small. Just a gumball-sized gulp for a hungry bass and in my mind I couldn’t stop seeing her sweet little self being swallowed whole. So I waited for her to grow. I waited one year, two years, then three. And Lucille and I bonded the whole time.
I would dig up earthworms or buy red wigglers downtown at Rusty Hooks Bait & Tackle for her when the ground underneath our backyard rocks was barren. In the winter she enjoyed raw hamburger along with her turtle pellets and in the summer she ate her weight in mulberries every day.
After all of this reptilian gluttony she should have been huge, I thought. She should have been a definite choking hazard for any hungry freshwater predator. But after all of my diligent fattening up she was just a bit smaller than a Chips Ahoy cookie and a northern pike would find her even more delicious.
Slowly I came to understand that, at its core, my plan to keep Lucille until she was big was fundamentally flawed. Fully grown musk turtles only reach about four inches in length and apparently they do this fairly slowly. In the meantime I had made this poor lil gal dependent on me and possibly unable to survive on her own. What was I to do?
The answer, I thought, was turtle school! If Lucille was going to be released to fend for herself she would have to be able to seek out food on her own. So I began a training regimen in which I would hide bits of food in her tank for her to discover. Then I caught mosquitoes, flies and moths and placed them on the top of her water so she could learn to see the movement and strike! She was a natural. My star student.
Thinking about my petite friend in the big ol’ body of water that was her birthplace made me nervous but at least now I felt confident she could keep herself fed. And the thought of her finding a handsome musky man turtle to make adorable turtle gumballs with made me a happy human.
So it came to be that on a beautiful afternoon in May three years ago my family and I set out for the marshy bog that feeds into Clear Lake. We had a small pink-lidded Dora the Explorer aquarium with us. It was World Turtle Day.
As the four of us took turns telling Lucille what our favorite memories of her would always be, she looked up at us with her pencil dot eyes and squirmed to be let loose. She was home, after all, and she had a lot of reacquainting to do. I placed her in the brackish water amongst the weeds and grasses, watching the moss on her back wave a final goodbye as she swam away.
Over the past few years I have missed Lucille. We have three other aquatic turtles at our house now; red eared sliders that Kate has liberated from various Chinatown gift shops. But they are not Lucille. They are domestic turtles, bred for hundreds of generations to be docile and friendly. I missed my wild and feisty friend and hoped she was making a life for herself.
I was thinking about her today when the girls and I found ourselves at Fuller’s Beach to celebrate the end of the school year. It was not the warmest of June days and after a picnic lunch, a long swim and a trip to the ice cream stand there weren’t many more rays to soak up. So we decided to rent some kayaks and take a spin around the lake. I pointed to the giant patch of lily pads to our south and winked at the girls that we should be sure to keep our eyes out for Lucille when we get over there. The patronizing adolescent eye rolls told me what they thought of my turtle hunt idea.
As we cruised along the shore, gliding through lotus blossoms and lily pads, I noticed a log up ahead with three telltale turtle-y bumps lining it’s length. Getting closer I could see that two of them were very handsome painted turtles about eight inches long. I pointed them out to the girls just as they spotted us and slid into the lake. The remaining log bump was moss covered and about four inches long with a large arrow shaped head. Definitely a grown up musk turtle. We paddled closer and watched as it plopped into the water, then popped back up to eyeball us in our flame colored kayaks.
Now, I understand that there are people in this world who do not talk to the animals they meet. You may even know a few of them. I am not one of these people. The moment I saw that wee little snoot poke up next to a school of water boatmen I began a one sided conversation: “Hi there little friend, I knew a turtle like you once. Her name was Lucille. Mossy shell, pointy face, major attitude...ring a bell? She liked hamburger. You ever try hamburger?”
The turtle snoot retreated underwater. Apparently the thought of hamburger was offensive.
I paddled closer.
Until I was right next to where the snoot had been. And POP! Here it came again.
I looked down at the turtle and the turtle looked at me. That tiny eye looked so familiar.
I said, “Lucille?”
The turtle blinked.
I reached down and picked up the turtle. The turtle let me.
Now I know what you’re thinking. There is no effing way that you hopped in a kayak today and somehow managed to happen across the same damn turtle you released into a seventy-six acre lake three years ago, lady. Jeesh.
Yeah, you may be right. But also you may be a jaded old poopyhead. Because there is magic in belief. And I choose to believe that, at the beginning of a summer full of hope, after an extremely long and emotional winter, I had myself a little turtle BFF reunion today. That is magic. And I need a little bit of that right now.
I could have also used a little magic in that kayak today as I tried my best to hold on to a slippery, freaked out turtle while simultaneously extracting my phone from between my life jacket and my boob, all while balancing my middle aged ass on a dubious rented piece of plastic. Maybe, the magic was that no one was filming me perform that particular ill advised maneuver.
No matter what happened today; whether it was a chance encounter with a long lost friend or a chance to meet a weirdly friendly wild turtle, it all made me very happy. I was lucky to know Lucille. And I hope that I was lucky for her too.
p.s. I still can’t drink out of an Arby’s cup. Don’t even bring me one.
about the writer: meg truesdell
Meg Truesdell is a jewelry designer and instructor who lives in beautiful Southwest Michigan with her husband, two daughters and one-eyed rescue blue jay, Carl Grimes. She has always had a passion for creative writing and entertains family and friends with tales of animal rescues, crazy retail customers and trips to the local nudist camp to teach jewelry classes. Meg hopes to inspire other bitches to write, even if it’s just a Facebook post. Just write bitch write!