Violet wasn’t sure when it happened, but lately her self-confidence had dipped. Not that she ever sought to be the centre of attention, but she no longer revelled in meeting new people. Somewhere between retiring and downsizing, her confidence had suffered.
“Get out, meet people,” her younger sister, Rosie, said over the phone one afternoon. “The village has a bridge club and a rambling group,” Rosie continued.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Violet replied. “You’ve lived here for twenty years. I’m a newcomer. Besides, you’re always away on cruises.”
“Rubbish,” said her sister. “You need to mingle. The village is friendly, if you give it a chance. The parish notice board is filled with activities you could do. Pick one you fancy.”
Violet didn’t argue; she suspected Rosie was onto something. However, Violet wasn’t interested in the activity groups on the notice board. She didn’t understand bridge or enjoy traipsing through the countryside. Besides, it wasn’t the days that Violet sought to fill. Evenings were loneliest and her television made poor company.
Violet had taken up new hobbies, but all were solitary pursuits. Gardening was her favourite. She had this vision to restore her little cottage, which looked sad when she bought it. She created a kitchen garden at the back and envisioned a vegetable plot behind that, overlooking the countryside. At the front, she wanted a classic cottage garden that remained incomplete.
Evening came and Violet nipped out to pick sage from the kitchen garden to add to her supper. The heat of the day still radiated from the stones. As Violet bent down to gather herbs, she heard a noise nearby. She straightened. Her eyes wandered towards the sound. The mint bush swayed as if something battled it. Violet stared, sage leaves in hand, as a creature emerged.
A gasp left Violet’s throat and she covered her mouth. “Oh my, you gave me a fright,” she told the creature. “But you’re just a tortoise.” Her soft words were too late; the scared tortoise pulled everything inside its shell. It had the most magnificently patterned carapace of black and sandy brown. The creature was as big as a football.
With a deep breath, having never held a tortoise before, Violet bravely scooped up the shelled beast. “You might be pretty,” she said, “but you’re also heavy. I hope you haven’t eaten my plants. Where did you come from?”
The creature sighed inside its shell, but didn’t emerge.
“We need to find your owner, but first you need a name.” She looked at its pretty shell and recalled the wrinkled face she had glimpsed. “You look like a Monty. If you’re feeling formal I could always call you Montgomery Tortoise.” She laughed.
That night Violet tried to make Monty comfortable. She used a long cardboard box for an enclosure, placing it in the kitchen and lining it with newspaper. Inside she put a bowl of dandelion leaves and one of water. Monty remained in his shell.
By morning the leaves had vanished. Little wet footprints marked the newspaper where Monty had traipsed through his water bowl. Yet, he was back in his shell.
Violet refilled Monty’s food and water before setting off to find from where he had escaped. She checked with her next-door neighbours, stopping in for tea and biscuits. They seemed puzzled about her shelled visitor. Geoff gave her cuttings to help with her garden, which he had noticed she was building. Geoff’s wife, Beryl, insisted Violet took three jars of homemade jam from a pantry packed full of conserves.
With no luck on the tortoise front, Violet extended her search until she had spoken to everyone in the village. Nobody knew anything about a missing tortoise, but they all invited her in for a chat. By the time she headed home, she was filled to the ears with tea.
Violet stopped by the parish notice board outside the church. No activity groups tempted her. The thought of another evening alone was also unappealing. Something red nestled in the mowed grass, between the notice board and graveyard wall, caught her eye. As Violet crouched, she saw it was a dog bowl filled with lettuce. There was nobody nearby.
“I’ll solve this mystery,” Violet muttered. “First I must dash to the loo after all that tea!”
When she got home, Violet discovered Monty had eaten his food and marched through his water before receding back into his shell again.
“You are shy, aren’t you?” she said to Monty. “Don’t worry, someone wants you back and I’m going to find out who.”
Violet sat on a deck chair in her patchy front garden, binoculars ready, until she spotted an elderly woman approach the dog bowl of lettuce at dusk. She intercepted the stranger.
“Hello?” she called. “Is that tortoise bait?”
The willowy white-haired woman straightened, holding the bowl. “Hello. Yes, it is. I live in the next village and I keep several tortoises. Unfortunately, one escaped. Wilma has always been a troublemaker. Why, have you seen her?”
Violet nodded and explained the whole story to the woman, who chuckled.
“Thank goodness you found her. My name is Claire, by the way.”
Violet introduced herself.
Claire came to take Wilma home. As soon as Claire was in the kitchen, the tortoise emerged from her shell. Wilma’s black eyes sparkled and Violet thought she looked crafty.
“I keep exotic pets. Leopard tortoises can live to be a hundred and get rather large. Often they need re-homing if their owners cannot care for them anymore.” Claire smiled. “Perhaps you would like to visit? You seem to have a knack for caring for reptiles.”
Violet was delighted.
Rosie telephoned that evening, but before Violet could recount her adventures that day, the doorbell chimed.
“I’ve got to go,” said Violet.
“How come?” her sister sounded offended.
“A friend’s here to pick me up. We’re going to drink wine and hang out with reptiles,” Violet said. She smiled as she put the phone down.
Darcy Lin Wood resides in Oxfordshire, England, but has Russian-British blood. With a degree in journalism, Darcy started writing fiction full-time six years ago and has since had work published in Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Bunbury Magazine, The Dawntreader, and Sarasvati. You can find Darcy lurking around Wattpad or procrastinating on Twitter @DarcyLinWood.