The neighbour was, as far as we could tell through the trees, a heavily built, bearded

man in his mid-fifties, with long hair and a small friendly looking black dog. He lived next

door as neighbors often do. The kids reported that he had cursed loudly at them as they

played in the scruffy tangle of laurel trees that bordered our properties but were

technically his by virtue of where their roots and besmirched trunks lay. The trunks were

besmirched because Weinberg, who lived in a camper trailer beached in our driveway

beside the laurels, had taken to cramming gobstoppers into the unevenly spaced knots

where the lower branches used to be. The neighbor had torn off all of the lower

branches somehow using his Honda Accord in a fit of acute misunderstanding. We

weren’t exactly sure how he had gone about doing this but Weinberg said he had heard

it all go down. Weinberg had actually said that he had perceived something –his word

exactly – and had rolled down in confusion from his above cab bed, peeked between

two slats of the tiny little venetians that covered the camper windows and seen the

Accord, front wheels skidding wildly in the driveway. He reported that he had then

quickly pulled on a thicker hooded sweatshirt and gone back to bed having eaten a full

garlic coil earlier in the evening. “Why did you eat all that garlic coil?” I asked him, not

concerned necessarily, but certainly a little intrigued. He shrugged and said “I stuffed a

whole bunch of it and a half-full plastic bottle of Aloha Sunset pills in my jacket a few

days ago when I was moving that old broad and her husband into the house on Abbs. I

think they’re microdose psilocybin capsules for some kind therapeutic purpose. The only

way that I could handle the aftertaste of the mushrooms was to wash each pill down

with a slice of garlic coil.” “Great idea,” I said, shaking my head as I experienced that

strange combination of confusion and wonder that I often felt in conversation with


As a result of all this we had taken to staring menacingly at the man as he

wheeled his Accord out of the driveway to take his dog to the park or wherever he took

it. Nothing, besides the toothless glaring and some speculative back and forth between

Weinberg and I was ever really achieved, with the exception of the time that the man

had yelled in a strangely pinched and simultaneously booming voice across the yard,

“private property” as the kids gleefully dangled upside down from the branches and we

half looked on and with the other half wondered how many cans of Pilsner we really had

left in the trailer’s ever warming mini fridge. I had responded sarcastically, and

somewhat cryptically, with “interesting idea” which was sort of a dud as zinging

responses went. The man had shouted back “it’s a fact” to which I responded,

“interesting fact” which sort of pleased Weinberg and I by virtue of its parallel structure

and the fact that it was, in our estimation, at least a passable recovery from the initial

response. Not exactly the Cuban missile crisis though, and from thereon afterwards the

neighbour just went on wheeling the Accord out of the driveway and Weinberg and I

went on glaring and speculating, or if Weinberg was off on one of his ‘work trips’ I would

keep the glaring going as a solo act and engage in a little speculation with the kids

about the grumpy neighbour as they had taken to calling him. It was unsatisfying and

petty fare as feuds go and it made me both furious and deeply embarrassed in

approximately equal parts. I often wondered, as we walked or drove past the house how

the neighbour felt about the way he had been cast in this patently low stakes, low

ratings, drama. We regretted our own involvement as we started to agree that he

actually seemed like an alright guy, a touch quick to anger and a bit of a freak but so

were we, really, we supposed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our heads around

anything pithy or transformative to do. Sweeping symbolic gestures seemed to be in

short supply those days and we were more the petty than the peaceful as far as types

go. Instead, we just kept up the glaring regimen all the while experiencing that gnawing,

hopeless sense of unease.

As I mentioned briefly before, the neighbor had a glassed-in solarium off the back

of the house that he always seemed to be bumping around inside like some great

bearded reptile of the deep, relocated to an aquarium, but still working diligently away

towards some end unknown to dry earth dwellers –the slithering return of the sea queen

potentially. Our houses ran parallel to one another and the doors opened out onto the

balcony which faced in the opposite direction, but it was possible through the leaves

and perpetually steamy panes of glass, to get a sense that there was a sort of slow

industry at play within. Music often emanated loudly from the open wood and fancy

paned double doors that extended out onto his barren vinyl surfaced deck. We noticed

that the deck was completely bare as we walked down the road past his house, eyes

and ears straining for further evidence of artifice or evil, or whatever it was that we

thought we were looking for. No planters, no patio furniture, not even a barbecue. It was

all slightly eerie, we decided. Weinberg was particularly curious about what was going

on in that solarium It was not quite obscured from our vision, but it was also not entirely

visible either. He would perch there on the accordion steps leading into his trailer,

smoking cigarettes, butting them out one after another in empty cans of Hard Rootbeer

or Triple Berry Vodka Ice, craning his neck around and through the trunks and broad

green leaves of the Laurel stand. “What the hell has he got going in there,” he said.

“What the fuck is cooking?”

Much later that night after the squirt guns, skateboards, lengths of rope, and beer

cans du jour had been cleared from the driveway I heard a fumbling in the lock at our

front door, put down the book I had been skimming, and looked over at my wife who

was asleep, but still seemed to have a look on her face that said “what the hell are you

doing?” “Nothing,” I replied in a whisper, “I’m not even doing anything here,” and tiptoed

down towards the scraping and fumbling at the front door. It sounded like the older child

trying to pick the lock with the meat thermometer, an activity that he had taken up mind

you, but I was relatively certain that both children were in their bunkbeds as I glided past

their room. I looked through the high half window in our front door and out onto the

floodlit porch. Weinberg’s head of sandy, shoulder length hair bobbed there like a

menacing straw ghost. Why can’t he operate a lock? I wondered to myself. Tapping on

the glass with one knuckle a few times to warn him that something was about to happen

(Weinberg startled easily), I flipped on the interior light, undid the bolt, and pulled at the

door handle. In front of me stood a drunken, blinking Weinberg. He was holding an Old

Style Pilsener cooler bag –the kind you get for free on holidays with purchase of a 24

pack. The engorged vinyl sagged, sloshed and dripped a conspicuous pellucid green

liquid onto our welcome mat. “Turtles,” he said to me seriously. “Why turtles?” I

responded. “Come on,” he said. “Free your mind, and the rest will follow,” he said softly,

but turned with a certain amount of purpose and started walking down the driveway with

the sloshing cargo.

Fifteen silent minutes later, I assumed that Weinberg was either concentrating on

keeping himself as dry as he could, or was deep in some sort of preparatory reverie.

The minutes passed, punctuated only by footsteps and sloshing. After a certain amount

of that we found ourselves beside a small, willow lined creek that was draining out of a

culvert somewhere beneath the road. Weinberg and I were crouching on a swampy

section of grass, huddled together around the cooler bag. I posed the still pertinent

question, “what the hell are we doing, man?” Weinberg had started to fumble with the

reluctant zipper, saying in a solemn voice, “that bearded asshole had a whole farm of

these little guys on the go.” “Wait, what bearded asshole,” I said, feeling my stomach

constrict as I calculated.

What Weinberg volunteered went something like, “I’d been goose neckin’ at him

all week long, figuring I’d whip a tin through the trees and ruffle his feathers a little bit.

Then I noticed, as he was unloading the car, that he had a big box that said Reptomin

Stix with a massive picture of a turtle on the side. At first, I was just chuckling to myself

about Stix with an x and thinking about the band Styx playing a show for a bunch of

turtles. But then I got a little hunch that the plan had changed.”

Just then his fingers jerked and the zipper gave, widening the mouth of the cooler

bag and sluicing the greenish liquid and a trio of saucer-sized turtles onto the grass that

sloped into the creek. Weinberg reached further down into the depths of the bag,

producing two silvery beer cans fancily embossed with Sapporo and writing that I

assumed was Japanese up the side of each one. “I got the special-special,” he said. He

pulled at the tab of one and handed it to me as he began to orate in what I gathered

was his attempt at a reverent tone, “Nel nome del Padre, Figlio, Craig Biggio and the

Spirito Santa. Amen” he said, crossing and uncrossing himself wildly. The turtles sat

nearly motionless craning their necks and flexing their arms and legs ever so slightly in

the breeze. “Free these beautiful angels of the swamp,” exclaimed Weinberg vigorously.

The turtles didn’t seem too concerned and just sat there on the slick grass stretching

their limbs and tasting the air. “Why the hell did you steal the neighbor’s turtles

fuckhead? You’re gonna get us all cancelled. The kids will be put up for adoption.”

“Naaah, they can’t touch the kids said Weinberg,” sounding convinced. “What the hell

are you on man,” I said shaking my head?

Just then there were several explosions of inky blue motion and a clattering of

branches from the direction of the willow trees. Weinberg and I ducked, reflexively

sheltering our tall silver cans from anything that might upend them as the roiling

commotion flapped over us.

Moments later three enormous ravens with a fourth and fifth in tow squawked

their way majestically towards the beach. As we adjusted to the absence of wing beats

and to the renewal of silence and of the breeze it gradually donned on us both that

where there had once been turtles there was now only grass. The cooler bag lay there

silent, empty, and motionless reminding me somehow of a photo of a still born calf I had

seen once.

“Better find a new spot,” said Weinberg. “This one’s a bummer.” I shook my head

resignedly for what may have been the millionth time, wondering momentarily if there

was any plausible way to procure and replace turtles at this time of night. No adequate

avenue for reconciliation presented itself and I finally just fell in step as Weinberg

started off towards town. He was walking in the direction of the neon lit sign that flashed

Bitter Flow Cold Beer and Wine in and out of the deepening shadows of dusky light. The

cooler bag and turtles already a rapidly diminishing certainty in the minds of Weinberg

and I.