By Ezra Solway
Growing up tortoise, grandfather always my hero. He say to me, hey, Louis, remember, Slow and Steady. One day, we go to PetSmart. In United States. How that sound?
And I say, Whoa. That sound great.
We live in dark storage unit in Malaysia, and before sleep, he tell me and eleven older brothers story of PetSmart. Of shining Pet Store on hill. Of place with every flower and light known. Of opportunity to live out Tortoise dream. He point claw to photo on bin, of poster tortoise eating petunia and hibiscus under fluorescent bulb. Tortoise look happy. It help us all imagine. Slow. Steady.
But then, one day, everything change. Door of storage unit open and human pick up grandfather. We all very excited for him. He wait long time. Then I hear one human say grandfather will be shipped to United States, become soup for President Taft, that Taft enjoy grandfather because he plump.
Everyone in shock. We think, Whoa. Not cool.
Like storage unit, I go to very dark place. I don’t eat daily crumbs. I scratch claws against glass down to quicks. I start smoking. Green shell turn gaunt yellow. I take up weird hobby. Realize Slow and Steady all one big fraud. I curse Aesop. He know nothing.
About this time I meet Sheila. She added to bin and I immediately mount her before brothers chance. She has sexy carapace and droopy tail. She tell me I have big penis compared to last tortoise who mount her and I blush. She tell me dream to be dancer one day, and I say, that so silly. She get mad and call me sexist pig, that I never make PetSmart dream. And I say, no, Sheila, I sexist “tortoise.”
Sheila leave me for other tortoise and I hide in shell for week straight. One day I extremely hungry. Darkness of storage bin really getting to me. Ready to give up dream and be Taft soup. At rock-bottom, Human hand come from sky and take me away. To be soup. Finally.
Turns out I wrong. I placed in cargo crate with brother Frank that is stamped PetSmart and we shipped away. Now you say, hey, Louis, this flaw in story. You can’t read English, you tortoise. Narrator unreliable. Inconsistent. And I say. Fine. Don’t believe me. I don’t write this for you. I write for seven children with Sheila. So they know real story. Not the lies.
Finally, after long travel, we arrive at PetSmart in Greater Philadelphia area. This city long known as Sanctuary for Tortoise. Store is shiny. Light bulb crazy bright. Iguana, fish, toad, snake, all neighbors. Everyone civil and pleasant. We eat like king—lettuce, grapes, hibiscus all day. Poop in soft wood chip pile. Human clean it up and replace. Amazing! I look at Frank and think, Wow, Grandfather right, Tortoise dream real thing.
One day human put price tag on cage—sale for $24.99. Frank same price. Next week, he bought by small boy with carrot hair. I happy for Frank. We never close, but still, I happy for him.
After while, I miss Sheila. Wish she see grandeur of PetSmart. How far I come. Maybe one day she take me back. I even apply for her Tortoise green card, but they say, no, that not possible. I guess Tortoise dream not same without ones you love. Wonder if she alive or become soup. I try to sleep but humans tap on glass and I’m like, hello? Can you not? This private moment. Buy or get lost!
I depressed until I poke head out and see Iron Chef Jose Garces come to PetSmart. I know who he is because Food Network big in Malaysia. I star struck. He most beautiful human I ever see. I scratch at glass and he point to me. Amazing!
On ride with Garces, I very nervous and can’t stop clawing. Tortoise can do some things fast. I see great life with Jose and vow to waddle after him forever. We arrive at Olde Bar restaurant on Walnut Street. He look so handsome. He rest me on bar ledge and from corner of eye I see stacked can of Bookbinder Snapper Soup. Oh, no, I think, I make big error. Like any tortoise, I have regrets. Wish I treat Sheila better. Mount other tortoise less. At least I realize Tortoise dream, if only short time. Pot start to boil. See you soon, grandfather.