Stoney stood at the edge of the small pond. Four turtles basked in the stones at the water’s edge. It made Stoney think of the old rhyme, “’Over in the meadow by the old oak tree, Lived an old mother turtle and her little turtles three. ‘Bask!’ said the mother. ‘We bask!’ said the three. So, they basked all day by the old oak tree.” Maybe it was snakes, he thought, but it really didn’t matter. The word “bask” was what held the rhyme’s charisma.

“Bask, said Stoney, addressing the turtles. “Bask!”

There was a diving platform floating on oil drums in the middle of the pond. The water was too shallow for diving. The platform was just for sun bathing.

Stoney waded out over his knees but saw he couldn’t make the platform without getting soaking wet. Turning back, he saw the turtles’ backs washed shiny in the ripples of his wading.

Until he was fourteen, Stoney would have taken one of the turtles. For a pet maybe. He was half inclined to take one now. But he was more inclined to get his clothes wet and go out to the platform.

He waded out until the pond vegetation felt queasy between his toes. Then he struck out for the platform. Ten strokes or so and he could hoist himself up onto it.

The surface was searing hot. It was really too hot to sit on. The platform had seemed so inviting back there on the shore.

Stoney dropped back into the water splashing some onto the surface to cool it off. Then he sat in the puddle, the afternoon sun beating down on his back, and stared at the shore.

A small child was playing with a tricycle in the shade up by the hedges. The child was dragging the trike along behind him like a pull toy. At the head of the path to the pond, the child stopped. Suddenly, Stoney knew what the child was going to do next. Aiming the tricycle down the incline, the child gave the toy a shove and sent it rattling down the path to the edge of the pond.

Stoney felt a pleasurable kinship with the child, oddly pleased with his guess. He could hear the child laughing as he watched.

The child followed the tricycle down the hill. The trike stood at the pond’s edge, the front wheel just in the water. Disoriented by the brilliant sun, the child stood for a moment squinting, then squatted in the water. Stoney felt a curious dread come over him. He stiffened as the child reached to pick something up from the stones.

“Don’t!” Stoney shouted.

The child started up and ran towards the shadows, stumbling up the path to the hedges. Stoney thought he heard crying.

The tricycle stood emptily are the edge of the pond, one wheel still in the water. Stoney felt a fool. He was so sure the child would harm the turtles. What would make him protect a turtle from what he himself would have done as a child? What he might have done himself moments ago. For that matter, what made him choose a frying hot platform instead? Stoney lowered himself off the side of the platform as swam back.

Dripping, he squatted by the trike looking into the water. Who was he now? The child who ran away? The child returning to take what he wanted? It hardly mattered because the turtles were gone. Stoney straightened and looked out over the pond. The platform looked cool and inviting again. A perfect place to bask. All four turtles had disappeared. They would have to find another place to bask themselves.

Stoney looked down at the tricycle. Next to the child it had seemed much larger. He hefted the trike by the handlebars, front wheel spitting off water as it spun emptily. Stoney turned and went up the path to the shade of the hedges.

Photo: ID 164246982 © Wirestock |