“I’m telling you, it was eating the plants in my garden. The rhododendrons, specifically. You should see it too, easily a couple hundred pounds.”
Grace nodded, fork picking at the half-eaten quesadilla. Her curly brown hair was pulled back tight in a bun and she wore cat eye glasses in lieu of her usual contacts, giving her a fierce librarian look. The raised eyebrows told Howard everything, and he knew what would come next.
“That’s why you’re late?” she said. “Cause you saw a turtle in your garden? I mean seriously, Howie, come on. What was it really this time?”
“How many did you do?”
“Two and a half.”
“Jesus, Howie. You know, if we’re gonna make this work, you can’t be so obsessive about your hobbies. First it was gardening, then online poker, now crosswords. What’s next? You’ve had the whole day ahead of you and done what with it? Two and a half crosswords and turtle watching? At some point you need to start evaluating your life choices, hon.” At this Grace reached over and gave Howard’s hand a little pat, returning to her quesadilla as if the matter was settled.
“Yeah, but you’re not listening. I mean, this thing was huge. Aren’t you curious at all about how a giant tortoise found its way to 7th and Washington? There aren’t any woods, or parks. It’d have had to crawl through yards, or under fences or something.”
Grace put her fork down and took a deep breath. “Look, I really don’t mind that you’re so passionate about what you like to do. It’s one of the reasons we started dating. But you can’t let it affect the time we spend together. It’s becoming a problem.”
“Yeah, but —”
“That’s just how I feel, Howie.”
Howard ran through that conversation a dozen times on his drive home, taking the long winding boulevard because he liked the roundabouts. It was exactly like she hadn’t listen to the words coming out of his mouth. Her ears had just seemed to turn off at the slightest mention of the tortoise. Though he had been quite late, having to skirt around the stagnant shell outside his door. It hissed and swiveled its head as he passed, pushing back against folds of leathery skin, and showed no sign of moving. When Howard had finally arrived at La Casa, Grace had been on her third cup of salsa and second basket of greasy tortilla chips. He could understand why she had been upset.
What he couldn’t understand, however, was her complete lack of interest in the tortoise. It was such an odd occurrence, and she had hardly even merited it a response. It just didn’t make any sense.
When Howard pulled up to his house the tortoise was sitting in his driveway, huddled in its shell. He parked on the side of the road and walked past it on his way inside.
“Hope you’re happy,” he mumbled at it.
The tortoise said nothing, but Howard heard it shift in its shell, content.