On the Brink
We stumble through ennui when the tortoise appears on the rare walks near a trail by our house.
You hear that? I ask him.
He shakes his head.
I pretend the tortoise didn't say his name is Sogapalag, Soga for short. A voice husky like the third day of a sore throat. When he understands I understand, Soga follows us home. He follows me home. His steps are faster than in fables, his skin ashy, his spine huddled within the colossus of his shell.
I place carrots and kale in a bowl etched with live laugh lost, an inside joke between Alex and me, from where the cat we had to euthanize drank water. Alex asks how I know what to feed it and I lie and say the internet. Soga asks for flamingo-colored roses for dessert, his favorite. I make sure to get them at the farmer's market.
I mutter, Mhmm, yes, nice, you like that, right? when Soga eats and Alex is within earshot. When he's gone we have conversations about blue-footed boobies that rode on his shell, how a lucifer sheartail became his sworn enemy, how it feels like to be seventy years old and young. How he knows he'll probably live half a century more.
He notices how Alex and I hardly talk. Or touch. How our lives are a forgotten routine and nothing more—clothes spoiling in the washer after neglecting to place them in the dryer.
Leave him. You're too old for this, or young, old young, old for a tortoise, Soga says.
I stare at the semi hexagons of his shell. Avoid his eyes.
What are you really doing here? I say.
He shrugs, and the act makes it looks like his shell jumps.
Alex gets home in his electric car as Soga and I take walks around the block. Susan from down the street bends to feed him orange tulips even though she has a bad back, and he lets her scratch the wide space between his eyes. Five-year old Charlie says his skin looks like dirt before hugging his shell. When we get back, Soga makes his way near the cilantro bush and lets golden hour set on his face.
We don't break up, or even end, we stray.
Are you keeping the turtle? Alex asks one evening.
Tortoise. He can leave whenever he wants.
Alex packs that night. Takes his cargo pants, chargers, and his decorative caltrops that I refused to touch.
I'm sorry, he says.
I never knew how to ask him to leave. It was easier to see him go than to ask him to go.
That night Soga and I have a cucumber salad while we watch a documentary about sharks. He recognizes the reefs off Fernandina Island.
What'll you do when I'm gone? Or we. Humans, I mean.
Something will be there—will listen.
Our mouths crunch.
Elena, when you head to the market tomorrow, don't forget to get some roses for yourself. They're tasty but pleasant to look at, too.
I nod, let out a chuckle. Waves of cerulean splash against a rock island on the television, a B-roll flashes a vibrant mauve of anemones, and I drown the salad with more lime and cayenne pepper, hoping to find floribunda tangerine roses tomorrow.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator from Ecuador who is currently based in Connecticut. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong en Español, JMWW, The 2021 Connecticut Literary Anthology and other literary magazines. A Body Across Two Hemispheres, which narrates her search for home between Ecuador and Connecticut, is her debut memoir-in-essays and winner of the 2021 Fairfield Book Prize.