“I need to talk with you again, Doc,” Will said, making himself comfortable on the couch. He arranged a pillow under his neck and placed another one under his knees, so his legs were slightly bent, just as his chiropractor had suggested. “The back’s been acting up, Doc. It doesn’t hurt much, but there’s a slight ache. I don’t know if I just have to learn to live with it or if it’ll lead to something worse.
Will looked around the room paneled in dark oak, and turned to Doc.
“Where was I? Oh yeah, that’s right. I was saying I needed to talk with you. I guess I’m in one of those introspective moods. I’m not depressed or even sad. Hell, my life is so good I have no right to be even moody. I mean I had a good career, now I’m retired comfortably, free to do what I please during the day, and a wonderful woman comes home to me each night as happy to see me as I am to see her. But I’ve been aching to do something different, Doc. Travel maybe. But I don’t know where or why.”
Will rearranged himself on the couch. “Do you ever get that feeling, Doc?”
Doc, a turtle, hissed and jerked his head into his shell.
“Sorry, Doc. I guess I moved too quickly, huh?”
Will stayed silent for a few seconds as Doc slowly emerged from his shell. When he stuck his head out fully, Will continued.
“You see. Part of me always felt like I was destined to do something extraordinary, like write a brilliant novel or become a rock star. But another part of me has never been willing to take the time to learn to play an instrument well or write more than short stories. On one hand, I want to journey out there into the world, experience life, but then I say, ‘Why bother? I have it so good.’”
Doc slowly and laboriously turned around showing Will his tail.
“I guess you’ve heard all this before, huh, old-timer? Cavemen probably whined to your ancestors the same nonsense. ‘I’m destined for more than just a cave.’”
“Hssss,” Doc responded, not appreciating my humor.
“But seriously, Doc. I bought you a new tank when you outgrew your old one. Aren’t you better for it? You can swim and move around more freely. ”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. Your world may seem bigger, but it’s still a cage.”
Will rose from the couch and stretched his legs. He walked around the room looking at the titles of books lining the walls. He stopped to look at the recent Time on the coffee table. “The SATs,” the cover story read. “Why some colleges are junking them.” Will thumbed through the issue. “Test Yourself.”
I better not, Will thought. After all that Ph.D. work, after teaching college for twenty-five years, what if I find out I can’t even score high enough to gain admission to the colleges I taught at?
Will turned back to Doc. “You know, that’s the problem. I’m not convinced I deserve the life I have. I mean, I taught writing but I rarely wrote much beyond dull academic nonsense. I taught literature, but the best insights I ever had came from critics. I won my share of accolades for my teaching, but let’s face it: what made me stand out was I showed up every day.”
Doc hissed and Will saw him extending his neck beyond even a turtle’s comfort level.
“Are you telling me something, old man? Are you saying it’s time for me to take a chance, push myself even if it’s uncomfortable?”
Will then realized what Doc was really telling him. “Okay,” Will said. “I’ll feed you.” He shook a few floating logs of dried fish meal and tossed them into Doc’s tank.
Doc snapped at the logs with the gusto of a teenager attacking a Big Mac.
“I understand you have other things to do, Doc. Thanks for listening.”
Doc closed his eyes and let himself relax comfortably to the bottom of the tank.
Will returned to the couch, resetting the pillows under his knees, and tried to nap. Was a turtle really his best role model? There was wisdom in living in the moment and accepting the world you live in, but there was also wisdom in pushing your own personal boundaries.
Will knew he wasn’t about to enter a marathon or climb the Himalayas. Hell, he wasn’t even up for a road trip in his Honda Odyssey since the GPS stopped working. Having dinner at a new restaurant was about as adventurous as he got.
He finally accepted he was too restless to nap. “I’m going to do it,” he said, as he rose.
Doc remained asleep, having finished off his big meal of dried shrimp and meal worms.
Will climbed the stairs to the attic and rooted around Christmas decorations, boxes marked toys and an antique clock he still hadn’t gotten around to having appraised, until he found the box he was looking for — the novel he had begun soon after college.
Was it any good? It didn’t matter. He had the experience to make it better. Or write a new one.
Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net.