Having returned from our disastrous vacation (NOTE: As described in “Once Upon a Time On Vacation.” You’re welcome.) very late the night before, most of us slept in with the exception of our father (who aren't in Heaven). He’d already gone off to work, no doubt toting the souvenir coffee mug he picked up at that hideous Pennsylvania brick factory.
Getting up as soon as I heard him leave, I eased out of bed, desperately hoping not to wake Phil or Gary. As my bare feet touched spongy peel-n-stick carpet, I glanced at the slumbering knuckleheads. I needn’t have worried. They slept the sleep of the undead, Gary’s thumb jammed in his mouth and Phil’s hand stuffed in his underwear (Phil’s, not Gary’s).
I silently stole to our only bathroom. Even though I didn’t detect a single sign of life from either my mother’s or Kathy’s rooms, I gently closed the door behind me. I pulled a towel off the rack and started water running in the tub.
Ten minutes later, I stood in front of the mirror clad only in my towel and puffed out my chest. I flexed my muscles like one of those barbell boys you see on TV hawking this amazing workout machine or that (“Only three easy payments of $9.99 or double your money back!”).
Sadly I realized that, instead of Charles Atlas, I had the physique of Charlie Brown. Oh, well, Gail Matakonis would have to settle for my insightful mind and rapier-like wit, instead.
I stuck my chin at the mirror, trying to decide if I needed to shave. Even though my father’s safety razor was readily available, I decided against it. With visions of my chin hanging in a bloody flap swimming through my mind, I figured the duck feathers gracing my face would remain unscathed.
Even though I decided against possible facial disfigurement, I thought to still use a little aftershave. After all, I reasoned, the ladies love a fresh-smelling man.
I twisted the wooden stopper of my father’s Hai Karate. Expecting a rush of musky manliness, I instead wrinkled my nose in disgust. What in the world was that foul stench?
Leaning forward, I took a cautious whiff of the bottle.
Hmm, no problem there.
Confused, I glanced down at the sink and saw the source of the odor.
A few weeks ago, Phil had convinced my parents to buy him a pet turtle. A species seen only in department stores, “Cecil” managed to delight my brother for an afternoon.
Sadly, after deciding three inch long amphibians don’t make for electrifying companions, Phil grew bored. Looking for entertainment elsewhere, he took to more energetic pursuits. Like shooting pigeons off the roof with his BB gun and clubbing them to death in a bloody Lord of the Flies frenzy.
Unfortunately for Cecil, he was banished to the bathroom sink. There he whiled away his days, watching quietly (as opposed to barking) as my family went about its business. It was a tedious existence interrupted only when my father got carried away with shaving.
Then, Cecil would be joined by Noxzema icebergs. With a fit of web-footed bluster, he’d fix his little turtle eyes on the intruders as if to reproach them for befouling his squalid home. When he didn’t get a response, he’d sigh a little turtle sigh and glumly watch the little menthol-scented puffs bump up against his tiny plastic palm tree.
Despairing of her son ever taking care of his 99 cents friend, my mother made sure the little guy (Cecil, not Phil. C’mon, people, keep up) at least had water untainted by shaving cream. She’d also toss in a leaf of lettuce along with some pieces of ground beef. Cecil, ignored by the most of the family, at least had plenty to eat.
Until we went on vacation.
Thus abandoned, he watched helplessly as his water slowly dried up. Then, after eating the last of his food, he could do little more than take desperate chews of dried-up flecks of Noxzema.
Instead of nourishment, all he got was fresh breath.
Finally, the day before we came home from our adventures in Amish country, an exhausted Cecil gave a last muted moan before succumbing to hunger and becoming Turtle Heaven’s newest resident.
During the time between Cecil checking out and me checking myself out in the mirror, the summer heat finished its work. It dried every last bit of moisture remaining in the little turtley (NOTE: Not a real word) bungalow. Cecil had transformed into a desiccated, decidedly smelly, turtle mummy.
I scrunched my face as I gingerly picked up his little pen and placed it on the hamper holding my father’s underwear. I figured one stink would cancel out the other. As I set it on top, Cecil’s body shifted slightly. It was as if his ghost was protesting such shabby treatment.
“Hey, don’t blame me. Phil’s the one you should be mad at.”
Deciding it was a little crazy to be talking to a dead turtle-or a living one, for that matter-I returned to my bottle of Hai Karate.
To be continued...
Next: Be Careful How You Use It