Howard strode out to where the tortoise lay on the lawn. It looked up at him with pathetically dull, half-closed eyes and wiggled its feet in the air. Kneeling down in a low squat, Howard reached his hands into the gap between grass and shell. His feet pushed off the ground hard. In a colossal effort, muscles bunched and straining, Howard eased the tortoise up off its back. The thing was so heavy that when gravity took over the shell slipped from Howard’s grasp, and it landed with a reverberating thud.
Howard shook out his arms. The physical work had felt good. It woke him up, made his thoughts a little clearer. If the tortoise was here to stay, he thought, he’d better adapt to it.
In the garage was his grandfather’s workbench, with tools and lumber a plenty. Howard had never been much of a handyman, but he did have a fondness for carving and woodworking, though he was lousy at it. He supposed that was better than nothing, and got to work immediately, selecting two-by-fours and trimming them down to the proper length with his grandfather’s miter saw. He fashioned the planks into stakes and placed them around the perimeter of the garden. Howard enjoyed the physical labor. As a kid, it seemed he was always doing some type of yardwork whether it be raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out the gutters. There was something satisfying about doing that kind of work. It was empowering, completing tasks with your body, by yourself, that he had found nothing else could quite capture. After rummaging around in the garage, Howard found some old chicken wire that he wrapped around the stakes. It wouldn’t stop something as crafty as a raccoon, but Howard thought it should be enough to protect his precious flowers from the tortoise.
Drenched in sweat and sticky from the heat, Howard took shelter inside and hopped in a cold shower. He wasn’t sure whether it had been the physical activity, or the rescuing of the tortoise, but it felt as if a veil had lifted over Howard’s head. What had once been shrouded in sulking self-doubt was now pure and clear as a mountain spring.
After his shower Howard immediately phoned Grace and told her he wanted her to move in. It took some convincing to prove he was serious, but in the end she agreed.
Over the next month Howard’s life went through a radical change. He gave away a lot of his grandfather’s old things to family members. What he couldn’t give away he sold in a yard sale. Grace moved in, and brought with her a vibrant new life to the old house. She came in with her notebook and jotted down idea after idea for what they could do with all the space. They would repaint some rooms, move furniture.
When they had unpacked the last of the boxes and the move was final, they shared a bottle of pinot on the back patio and watched the tortoise roam the lawn. Howard had taken seeds from the community garden and grown a vegetable patch exclusively for the tortoise, full of cabbages and tomatoes and onions. He’d started in his spare time to construct it a shelter for the oncoming storms and winter months ahead. It kept him busy, and he liked the work. Most of all, Howard reveled in the current of life that seemed to propel him forward these days. The constant doing felt good, natural.
The two watched the tortoise make its slow, deliberate way toward its private patch. And in the fading light they sat and drank, happy for now, in an act of simple observation, and the pleasure of each other’s company.