The turtles are restful creatures, of course, once you get them fed, cleaned up, lolling about by warm rocks, breathing quietly under the sunlight. They’re restful creatures in general, even in times of duress, which is why I’ve got to be here, and why they’ve got to be here, at the sanctuary near Coconut Grove. Their restfulness has gotten them into jams. These turtles have choked on plastic bags, been scarred and broken by motorboats swimming on the surface of the water (sometimes I imagine how our boats must look from down there, black shadows moving at lightning speed above the blue—apocalyptic, really). These turtles have had waves ram errant toothbrushes and toothpicks up their anuses, have been spray-painted and tossed and poisoned by idle human hands, have had their coral homes disintegrate and fade before their eyes. Yes, the world doesn’t look kindly on restful creatures.
The turtles live a long time. The oldest, Mauve, far smaller and more primordial-looking than most, is by my guess around fifty-two. The second oldest, Beelzebub, I assume forty-five. The third, Larry, thirty-seven. All of these turtles have lasted longer than my marriage. Insert the kind of joke an old man is supposed to make: jokes about the duration of marriage, preferably several and failed; about the newfound ugliness of his own face; about flatulence; about the horrifying things he did when he was young, that he’s no longer allowed to do because of the new guard’s assumed sensitivity.
Though there’s really no reason for me to make that joke, because my marriage did not end in the fancy way of other marriages, full of infidelities and thrown baking pans and dreams deferred, etcetera. No motels or suitcases, no children. No breast augmentations or teeth whitenings or man thongs. My wife died in a blizzard-avalanche atop the Vinson Massif mountain, where she was doing research on particles of plastic being dropped from the atmosphere overhead and freezing there in the snow. She was a research scientist, technically, but actually she was an explorer. Things were this way: she was a storm on the horizon, always forging ahead, and I was a harbor. I wasn’t up to much back then. Something to do with market analysis, making copies in a beige room. We both lived, at the time, in San Francisco; in a brackish and ugly neighborhood lining the freezing Pacific. This is what she said when we met, through friends, at an Irish bar somewhere between our two apartments: “I live so fast that I can’t see straight. But you” (she touched me here, pressed her thumb into my bicep and smiled blurrily), “you bring everything into focus.” (She was drunk, my wife; she was a hard-drinking explorer. What she was saying is that it’s easy not to think when you’re moving around all the time. A nice and frenetic defense mechanism. I made her, for a moment, feel calm.)
I’m sixty-eight now, but she died after we’d been married for ten years, when we were both thirty-seven (the same age as Larry).
The dictation-taker would like to interject here, to say that this is a dictation. That this is an imperfect transcript, really, and that the dictation-taker has been smoothing over certain areas of incoherence, general mumblings, grumblings, and asides made by the speaker, who is not as old as he pretends to be, whose name is Alex Garza, and who is indeed the founder and CEO of the Restful Creatures Turtle Sanctuary on Biscayne Bay, Florida. The dictation-taker will let you know a little bit about the place, since this sort of practical information seems to be beyond the speaker’s level of competence today. Restful Creatures does basically four things: protect the turtle population through assisted rearing (we send our boats—one motor, two coral-pink dinghies—to inlets and stretches all over the Bay, provide security to pregnant females and their kin), care for injured turtles (thirty-five of them, many of which have missing legs, eyes, toes, etcetera, and both can’t and shouldn’t return to the wild), clean up, and public outreach. This latter piece falls into two camps, the political and the private. In the private, we let kids scramble onto our strip of water and sand and teach them about turtle-emotions, turtle-generations, turtle-importance, turtle-safety, reefs, pollution, water temperatures. In the political, we raise funds and lobby for state and federal representatives to pass legislation for turtle-emotions, turtle-generations, turtle-importance, turtle-safety, reefs, pollution, water temperatures. We have a half mile of beach upon which we do this, ten tanks and one portable hospital facility in which we perform this, one 700-square-foot office in which we plan for this, and a speaker system that is often playing Jimmy Cliff—rhythm guitar, organ, bright voice erupting out of the darkness. All of this was dreamed up, created, provided by, and lobbied for by the speaker, Alex Garza, CEO.
The dictation-taker has known the speaker for almost seven years, and she’d like to take a moment to say that it’s been thirty-one years since his wife died, he knew the woman for a little over a decade, and it’s about time he got over it. She’d like to remind the speaker (her boss) that doing things like calling his wife an “explorer” and recounting the conveniently romantic nature of her demise is only elevating her further to the realms of the inhuman, making it impossible for him to move on. She’d like to remind him that his behavior is not helping at all. The speaker is telling the dictation-taker to get back to her work. He is reading over her shoulder and currently, now, as she types this, ordering her to do her job, which is to record his memoirs.
I can only imagine it’s a testament to my inadequacy as a founder and CEO that my employees feel liberated to speak to me so rudely. The dictation-taker would like to say that it’s more like candid.
There’s a motive to the memoir in this instance, in that I’d like to retire. I’d like to lift my creaky body off the rolly office chair of inappropriate ergonomics and lay it somewhere soft and warm. I look at the turtles, at Mauve especially, with a certain wistfulness—I see her even now, through the window of our office, relaxing there in the shallow water, near the sunny side of the rocks. Our office: damp, wooden, sitting atop stilts in the sand, a few boardroom plastic panels keeping the thing insulated, an ice block upon which rests an indiscriminate number of sea squirts, sea grass, sponges, and whelk (for the turtles), several computers and a printer and a refrigerator full of smelly Tupperware lunches. Yes, a lot of Jimmy Cliff too. But through that seaward window, I see Mauve sitting there, the gentle waves lapping against her stomach, her dwarfish shell going slick, blinking her eyes into the blinding turquoise horizon, and I want some of it. I also think I’ve earned it. I came to Coconut Grove in 1989 with a single turtle. Was carrying the diseased, broken, and abnormally small thing, Mauve, in a saltwater tank in the back of my cargo van. I was still mourning. I had already dried up. When my wife died, I just got into the car and kept driving. I couldn’t stop thinking about how cold she must have been on top of that mountain—though they say you eventually go numb and calm after all that time in frozen ice—and so I drove toward the warmth. It’s stupid, really, and psychologically uninteresting. My mind replayed that night obsessively—that first night in the bar—and I thought about how my wife was finally forced to be still. I promised myself I’d never stop moving.
I traveled; drove around. Then, after I found her, Mauve the turtle was the only living thing in my rearview, and she was barely living. I’m speaking metaphorically, I think. Unsure if the metaphors are landing, expressing exactly what I need them to—which is that everyone and everything, to me, back then, looked like a stripped bone. Except for Mauve.
The dictation-taker says that these metaphors are working, at least for her.
That’s when I started Restful Creatures, in the back of my beach shack. It grew. I was handsome; I had an interesting story—a young and grieving widower with a feathered haircut and a tank-load of turtles. I’ve been here for over thirty years, keeping the rent, throwing the requisite parties, hobnobbing with the rich and almost famous, applying for the grants and the endowments. Hiring the people. Canvassing in the midterms and locals. Pamphletting at the high schools and colleges. Growing attached to the emotionless reptiles. Fighting with the children who keep fucking with me. Fighting with the ALF who keep misunderstanding the mission. Fighting, fighting, fighting, and now I’d like to rest.
But because my wife died at the top of a mountain in 1989, I have no children to whom I can give the sanctuary. I’ve been running as fast as I can, and yet I forgot the most crucial component of legacy-building: heirs.
I envy those men—those patriarchs who did the bare minimum, made three measly thrusts at some indefinite point in their late twenties, and now have a clamoring gang of best friends, heirs, and caretakers. Can easily fuck off into the blue yonder while their progeny take care of the hard stuff, work to preserve them, mummify their remains when the time comes. I have a nephew—my brother is also dead—and two days ago, I invited him to the office to gauge his interest. The transcript reveals it went something like this:
ME (sixty-eight, leathery, wearing Doc Martens and no socks, a pair of orange swim trunks, my general office attire): Max, how are you?
MAX, my nephew: Hey, Uncle Alex. (Shakes my hand, does not respond to my inquiry as to his general state of health.)
ME: Have a seat. Or do you want to go out to the water?
THE DICTATION-TAKER, normally the office administrator: Y’all should definitely go out to the water. (Smiles.)
MAX: Ashley, hey. You’re here. Come out with us.
ASHLEY, the dictation-taker: Oh, no.
We all walked out to the water. Max sat on a beach chair beside the rehabilitating turtles. He asked me which of them were fornicating. Rather, he asked Ashley, and used a lurid expletive. Ashley told him that if any of them were fornicating, he would know. This seemed to satisfy him.
ME: Max, I’m thinking of retiring.
MAX: No way.
ME: I just want to know that the sanctuary is in good hands. It’s been difficult for me since your father died.
MAX: Yeah. (Sadly.)
ME: I always assumed—it would go to him.
ME: He was so much younger than me, as far as it goes. And he was CFO for—twenty years. I always assumed.
MAX: Sure, I know.
ME: Do you think your mother—
MAX: Mom seems happy in Philadelphia. She seems happy working.
ASHLEY: She’d be working here, obviously.
MAX: Well, real-working. With a briefcase.
ASHLEY: A skirt suit and high pony. Sure, I get it. We all get it.
MAX: I don’t know about a “high pony.” (Delighted that Ashley has given him this much attention.)
ME: Well, it’s been an incredibly hard decision. And I was thinking, maybe, what if I retired and did part-time. Slowly relinquished control, gave the new CEO guidance. Came in three days a week.
ASHLEY: I think that’s a great idea. (Helpfully.)
MAX: Sure, that seems totally reasonable.
ME: Do they eat candy? (Slowly getting up from his chair. Sand dusting off the teak sides.)
MAX: Would he eat a chocolate bar?
MAX: Him. (Gesturing to Mauve.)
ME: That’s a woman.
Eventually, Max left. Ashley, the dictation-taker who is also the office administrator, sat down in her own rolly chair which she has had adjusted to be ergonomically correct. She’d like to say that she’s offered to adjust mine, and that I have declined. At that point, I heaved a big sigh. My brother was a good man, had moved his little family from Philadelphia to Coconut Grove when Restful Creatures started picking up. His wife was a pistol and returned to that cramped, brotherly city soon after he died. His son, well, I can’t say. I heaved another sigh. I like to do this from time to time. Old men do this. We heave sighs, we grow weary and cardiac after conversations of this type.
ME: Well? (To Ashley.)
ME: Maybe he’s just young. Maybe eventually . . .
ASHLEY: That man is an idiot. The world will not be kind to him.
I did not offer Max the position of CEO of Restful Creatures Turtle Sanctuary at this time. I wish my wife were alive, so that she could finish the job. But then again, if my wife were alive, she’d be old too, and I would not have found my first turtle, beached and bleeding under the mechanical arm of a child’s propeller plane, jammed between this toy and a half-sunken rowboat off Biscayne Bay. The propeller plane was not dead, not completely, its batteries malfunctioning. Its wings stuttered and beat against the back of the turtle’s neck and the side of her shell as she blinked on wordlessly. I scooped her up and spent a large portion of my savings on the saltwater tank.
If my wife hadn’t died, Mauve would have died instead. Things to remember. The dictation-taker is nodding appreciatively.
I had to check Max off my list. A notable event, because he was the only person on my list. The other option, the option so unoriginal and status quo that it’s unfair to call it an option at all, was to never retire. For me, Alex, to remain the CEO. Okay, I thought, we’ll try it out. Yes, my eyesight is bad. Yes, I have things like arthritis, hypertension, and likely, somewhere hiding within my innards, concrete but unconfirmed prostate cancer. But this is normal. A fellow can live for years, half a century, with these sorts of preexisting conditions. Especially if that fellow is undisturbed, growing calloused like his turtles.
So it was with this mindset that I entered the office the next morning, the mindset of returning to the original option—no option at all. The water and the air above disappeared into one another that day, no horizon line to seek. I could tell it would be an orange dusk, a quiet one. It made me uneasy. I passed by the open door and spotted the marine veterinarian, kneeling by Mauve in the wet sand. I waved. She waved back. I said “hello” to our marketing assistant, our donor relations strategist, our three interns who were futzing around on their computers. I don’t know what they do. They are bossed around by the dictation-taker, who is the office administrator. I sat in my chair and turned to the dictation-taker, put my head in my hands.
“It’s just me,” I said. “I’ll be here until the day I die. I’ll be buried at sea.”
The dictation-taker turned toward me, knocked on my head lightly with her pen. “There are worse places to be buried,” she said. “Calm down.”
“I’ve lost my faculties,” I said.
“That’s not entirely true,” she said. She was wearing a velvet bow in her hair. Ridiculous, I thought, given the climate, the proximity to the water—what does she think she’s doing?—but cute.
I said, “What do you mean ‘entirely’?” and she just bopped me with the stupid pen again. The young behave in inconceivable ways.
The day went on. Granola bars were eaten, phone calls made, and pick-ups scheduled. Equipment orders confirmed. The interns huddled together for some sort of group meeting at the big conference table, the dictation-taker conducting them like an orchestra leader. Using that pen to emphasize her words, point them in different directions. The interns were just about to disperse, were reaching their grubby teenaged hands into the center of their circle, about to do the strange, fraternal “hooh-ah” chant that meant they were allowed to go back to their ostensible jobs, when the veterinarian called to me.
“Alex,” she said. Calmly, like a good marine veterinarian.
“Yes?” I said.
“Alex,” she said. Less calm.
I lifted myself out of the chair. The dictation-taker, Ashley, had already darted to the sand and was waiting for me, standing next to the veterinarian. “Mauve is choking,” the dictation-taker, Ashley, said. “She’s choking.”
“She’s suffocating,” the veterinarian corrected, as if this made it any better.
“What are you talking about, she’s suffocating?” I asked. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“There’s something in her throat blocking her air,” the veterinarian said. “Can’t you see that she’s struggling to breathe?”
I’ll admit now that it’s a difficult thing to describe, a turtle suffocating. The turtles are not dramatic animals. Some can hold their breath for hours when at rest, though eventually they do need oxygen. They suffocate, suffer, and die very quietly. You would miss it if you didn’t care to look. But Mauve was suffocating, her nub-head peaked out of her shell, reeling back at irregular intervals, a hiccup, or shriek.
“But she was fine—I waved to you. You waved to me. You smiled,” I said. “Why would you smile if the turtle was dying?”
“Something must have shifted in her throat,” the veterinarian said. “She could have turned over, or ducked under a wave, and a particle got stuck.”
“What the hell did she eat?” I asked.
“We control for any toxic or synthetic material,” the dictation-taker said. “Obviously. Don’t stand there,” she spoke to the veterinarian. “Do something.”
“Hold it there,” said the veterinarian. “I could mix some ipecac. She’ll regurgitate. Okay? Hold her.” She ran inside to get the solution.
My wife, thirty-one years ago, may have frozen to death, but there’s a chance—a likelihood, even—that she suffocated. It’s really carbon dioxide poisoning. If you sink into snow, as my wife did, all your old and exhaled oxygen is caught around you, suffocating you with your own breath.
“Dear god, woman, what is taking so long?” I screamed into the office. The veterinarian was no longer present. The interns had gathered in the doorframe.
“She’s at her car,” an intern said. “She’s mixing the solution.”
“Someone go get her,” I said. “The turtle is suffocating. She said it herself. ”
The interns looked to each other, the three of them, for one never-ending moment before deciding on a chosen messenger. I half-expected them to “hooh-ah.”
Meanwhile, Mauve had stopped breathing. I put my hand under her face to feel for an airstream.
“She’s not breathing,” I said to the dictation-taker. “She’s not breathing. She’s not breathing.”
My fingers felt numb; my legs useless. I felt the urge to swing Mauve over my shoulder like a rucksack and run into the ocean, run into traffic, run into the blaze of the sun. I believe I started hyperventilating.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” said the dictation-taker, and she knelt, grabbed the turtle at each end, and gave her the Heimlich. Well, a miniature version of the Heimlich.
The turtle projectile-regurgitated a paste of green algae, sea water, fish, crab, and a chocolate wrapper from the candy bar left behind by Max.
If I were a younger man, or a man who had a network of friends and family, yes, this would not have happened. I would have had the energy and mental agility to do some quality control before leaving the office the evening before, after the veterinarian had made her morning rounds and parted. There would have been no candy bar wrappers to choke on. It’s a certain rule: no foreign materials on the sanctuary beach. No division between ocean, sand, sky, and nutrients. Anything you bring around to eat, it had better be made of that: ocean, sand, sky, nutrients.
Good god, an amateur’s mistake! The act of a twenty-four-year-old rookie, not the founder and CEO of a company, who had, or thought he had, effectively run the operation for over three decades.
What can I do? Remain and deteriorate? Close up shop, deliver my turtles to a new sanctuary, evict a fifty-two-year-old woman (Mauve), fresh off a brush with death, into a new and potentially worse home? If not a worse home, then definitely a different one? Not to mention doing this to the entire three dozen of them? Find someone else—some trusted stranger or another—to shoulder the operations, and stat?
Perhaps that’s the point of these memoirs. An attempt at appealing to the world; who would like to come and help? No, not that. Perhaps just an effort to understand why I’ve landed where I’ve landed, alone. A transcript of this time in my life where I have a choice to make, and feel unmoored somewhere in the deep.
Who to record these creatures when I’m gone? I have comforted myself for so long in the thought that this isn’t a one-man mission, that there are others; that there are eager young eyes reading the newsletters; yearning, kind hearts who sponsor a turtle in need; passionate people who don’t care if I’m young, or old, or handsome, or ugly like an angry, wild gull.
The dictation-taker would like to say that this is just sad. There are plenty of people who don’t give a crap if you’re young or old, plenty of the able-minded and wild-eyed (or wherever your rhetoric is taking you today) who still care about the cause, lots of competent individuals who thrill to the updates, to the sponsorships, to the restoration and rehabilitation of the sea turtles. You are absolutely right that you would never have found that damn turtle under the boat if your wife hadn’t died, so don’t go trying to change time in illogical ways. If one must daydream one’s way into full-blown, navel-gazing regret, at least make it logical. The dictation-taker would like to mention that the speaker has done a hell-ton of work to ensure that this is not merely a one-man mission. Perhaps even to his personal detriment. Yes, your love and family life are an unmitigated disaster. That’s generous: they’re a gaping hole, fallen to the wayside completely. Of course there is no familial heir. The dictation-taker has watched the speaker get lunch with not one or two but three separate, individually gorgeous older women who were absolutely clamoring to incorporate him into their lives, into their children and grandchildren and larger networks of interpersonal relationships and love. The dictation-taker has seen the speaker incapable of handling these things, of screwing them up and bumbling the job entirely, so fixed he is on his two missions—the mourning (the moving) and the turtles. Yes, one didn’t exist without the other, it’s true, but now the speaker ought to start reevaluating his decisions. Disengaging from the binary.
Where is the man, the dictation-taker asks, who she met pamphletting at the University of Miami career fair? Where is the tanned CEO who was ensnaring all the young and activated into his turtle trap? Who was speaking passionately and intelligently on the necessity of sea turtles in the wild; about the importance of nutrient cycling; on the turtles’ integral role in the maintenance of coral reefs and seagrass beds? On the difference between the green sea turtle, the leatherback, the Kemp’s ridley, and the loggerhead? Who spoke over a projected video mosaic, an abstract art piece featuring the gleaming colors of a hawksbill’s shell? Who waxed poetic on the turtles’ murky countenance, on the sad and watchful wisdom of their beady eyes, on the grace and humility of these restful creatures?
The dictation-taker was just twenty-three at the time. She’s thirty now. She was raised by her step-aunt—that is, the sister of her stepfather—after all three of her parents died in two separate bus accidents. You could say they were explorers, too, in their way. They were exploring the left lane by a One-Stop Pharmacy and the freeway turnoff to Coconut Casino, respectively. Her step-aunt was a sweet woman. She wanted the dictation-taker to be smart and beautiful, and so the dictation-taker became smart and beautiful. These things aren’t difficult. These things are just two rungs on a ladder of upward mobility, upon which the dictation-taker was moving quite smoothly until she met the speaker.
When she met the speaker, at twenty-three, she was an intern at an eco-feminist advocacy and policy planning group downtown. This, of course, wasn’t the whole plan: the whole plan was eventually to become a lawyer, be the shill of corporate America and make a butt-load of cash for her and her step-aunt to enjoy. But for now, she was just out of college, and she was allowed to follow her heart, show some guts on her resume. She had causes, of course. She was principled. Her step-aunt had only one arm, after all (a boating incident), and the dictation-taker was no stranger to quiet suffering.
So on that day, the day of the University of Miami career fair, she was manning the eco-feminist table. Blond, she was, with a high pony. Spandex leggings, a light Patagonia jacket, running shoes. She was working out a lot back then. She still works out a lot. The dictation-taker is smoking hot, and she knows how to continue being so. She’s also incredibly organized, efficient, pleasant to be around, pragmatic, and what keeps this creaky ship running. She’s also the person who saved Mauve after she choked on the candy bar wrapper that the idiot left. She’s also the only person in the office who knows how to give a turtle the Heimlich. This isn’t even something she learned. This is something of which she has instinctual knowledge. This isn’t the point.
The point is that the career fair was on an early spring day, and there was a blanket of translucent orange hovering over the city, merging with the ocean in the distance. It’s a magnificent, hushed shroud that covers the citizens of Miami. If you’ve seen it, you know. If you haven’t, perhaps it sounds crazy. It had been so cold that previous winter that iguanas rained from the trees. They lay there, paralyzed and frozen on the wooded ground, until the sun came up to warm them, or until a careful bystander folded them into a blanket, watched them turn from brown to green to yellow to white to green again. But now the temperature was warming. You could hear life thrumming in the bushes, bugs spreading their wings in the zinnias and snapdragons. The dictation-taker felt it in her young bones that this day was full of wonder; it was a day in which something would happen.
She’d been tabling at the career fair for two hours when she saw the stir being created at the turtle sanctuary booth. She put all her eco-feminist advocacy literature in the trunk, locked it—temporarily!—and went to check out the scene. The speaker, who was then simply the founder and CEO, was standing atop his plastic chair as if delivering the gospel. The restful creatures, he said. Together we can learn to be kind to our restful creatures! Have I mentioned that they’re an essential part of the ecosystem? The Great Barrier Reef is in your hands!
He was wearing Doc Martens and board shorts. A synthetic leather jacket. A locket around his chest, which the dictation-taker would later learn was a gift from his dead wife on their third wedding anniversary. The dictation-taker walked up to the booth and shook his hand. She saw him look at her, take her in. She saw him light up in some small, new way. Not the way he’d been lit while he spoke about the loggerheads and hawksbills. She saw his eyes fall upon her blond ponytail, the smooth lines of her legs beneath the spandex. She saw him light up with surprise and delight when she spoke: guttural, direct, curious, no bullshit. That’s who she is. She walked away with a job as a marketing assistant. She started two weeks later. She never did go to law school. By the end of the month, she had Restful Creatures’ total social media engagement up by 78 percent. Their direct response rate more than doubled. The dictation-taker would like to remind the speaker of this.
That was when she began to see the man behind the founder and CEO. The loneliness.
The speaker isn’t sure whose story this is anymore, whose memoirs are ostensibly being dictated. The speaker, me, has been sitting in my terrible chair and listening. I’m shocked, really, at the clarity of the dictation-taker’s memory. The details are astounding. I remember the winter with the iguanas. You couldn’t have paid me, though, to give it a date. Okay, so that was seven years ago. Seven years ago, the iguanas rained from trees, and I met you. You remember the fake leather jacket? Do I still have that jacket? I wonder if I lost it. I’m just shocked, really. I’d like the dictation-taker to know that I thought what she did with the turtle Heimlich was absolutely brilliant. That it was like watching an angel zoom down from the blue day above and bring the dead to life. Please don’t think I don’t appreciate it. I’ve been so emotional. I’m a wreck. Really, dictation-taker. You remember so much. I’m shocked that I’ve had that kind of impact on anyone.
On anyone? The dictation-taker would like some clarity.
On anyone besides my dead wife, I mean.
Enough with your dead wife, the dictation-taker says. She’s wonderful, sure. We can talk about her if you want. We can look through a box of warmly aged photographs and weep quietly, if that will be productive. But only in moderation. And then we’ve got to do something else, something fun. Eventually we’ve got to move on.
I, the speaker, don’t know what you mean by “we.”
The dictation-taker says that the speaker knows very well what she means.
You’re talking about the light. Okay. You seem to think you’ve had some sort of luminary effect on me. That’s not proper. It’s indecent. You don’t need to go and overthink things.
The dictation-taker says she’s overthought nothing.
What, okay, you’re a beautiful woman. I’m a person surrounded by turtles all day. It’s natural. I’m a man. I’m an ugly old man.
Stop it with this ugly-old-man act, says the dictation-taker. Good god, how incredibly convenient to be an ugly old man. What a cop-out.
These memoirs are finished. I, the speaker, am finished. All I can do is shake my head.
The dictation-taker would like the record to show that she’s loved the speaker since the day she met him.
The speaker says that the dictation-taker could be his daughter.
The dictation-taker reminds him that he doesn’t have a daughter. That he’s a widower in board shorts and combat boots and he ought to be over-the-moon with this revelation.
Okay, say you’re right about me. That I was lit up. That I could be. What would people say?
They’d say that I know what I’m doing. That I love this sanctuary with all my heart. That it is the only life I’ve ever truly wanted. That it only follows suit that I love you, too.
They’d say you were coerced.
No one would say that the dictation-taker was coerced. The dictation-taker is never coerced.
The age. What about that?
The age, the dictation-taker would like to reiterate, is meaningless. Women are born older than men. Gorillas are born older than women. Sea turtles are born older than gorillas. The dictation-taker was just plain born old. The dictation-taker is older than the speaker. The dictation-taker is older than you, and she’s only just turned thirty. Another convenient excuse, the age.
And so, what then, we get married?
We get married and you give the sanctuary to me.
The speaker and the dictation-taker touch hands. Things have been said that will alter their lives forever. They have time to adjust to this new way of being. They don’t rush. They leave the office—smelling of sterilizer, fish, boxed cheese sandwiches, salt, ink, and paper—and walk outside, toward the turtles, quarter of a mile of warm and ruddy sand stretching out on both sides. They pass a turtle on their right, the reptile’s shell hard and crusty from years of salt and waves, and glide into the ocean. The dictation-taker and the speaker swim, shedding their former selves the deeper they go into the wide-open water, becoming what they ought to be. Suspended there, in an ageless place. A man and a wife. A woman and her lover. A founder and a new CEO. Two friends. Two turtle-savers. That doesn’t sum it up? Okay, animals. Animals, then. Two logical, restful creatures.
Below them, what might the fish see? What might an octopus, or a common snook, or a Glasseye Snapper, or a wild loggerhead turtle, soaring through the shallow water, see, were it to look up at the dictation-taker and the speaker overhead? Two dark and murky figures, paddling deliberately along the ocean’s surface. An apocalyptic vision, maybe, but delicate. Inscrutable. Out here, there is not much dividing sea from sky. Just a sliver of black between all that blue.