This is a short story I wrote several years ago while unemployed, one of the only ones that’s particularly worth anything. I’ve had it on my hard drive for ages. Going to put it up now.
And We’re Off
“And we’re off like a herd of turtles!” My grandpa said that every morning he drove me to school. Every time he drove me anywhere, in his big red car with the battered canvas top. The ceiling inside was falling apart. The cloth skin of the ceiling had come off some time ago, leaving exposed dry foam rubber type stuff underneath. I used to dig my fingers into it, carving my name and smiley faces permanently there. He hated it, scolded me for it a loud gruff voice that I ignored, and he laughed when the dust fell in my eyes and stung. “Serves you right!”
I don’t know why the phrase bothered me but it did. Bugged the hell out of me.
“And we’re off…” he would say, trailing off, smiling at me.
“Don’t say it!” I would shout, “No!” The unfinished phrase would hang in the air, a storm cloud waiting to break, a “just wait until your Dad gets home!” spanking or worse anticipated for the rest of the day.
“… like a herd of turtles!” I would cover my ears and sing or shout. I don’t know why but the words made my teeth clench, the same way the word “gross” for years made my stomach churn, something about the glottal sound at the beginning of it, too close to the sound and feel in throat the second before puking.
My mom told one of her friends or coworkers – they were all the same to me, some ladies I didn’t know and didn’t care about – about my Grandpa and my ritual in the car. The friend had laughed until she snorted and sprayed coffee out her nose.
“She said ‘My dad used to say almost exactly the same thing!’ and she laughed and coffee came out her nose!” My mom dissolved into a fit of giggles as she told me, clutching the stinking cup of clear liquor with both hands. “Her dad used to say ‘Here we go, like a turd of hurdles!’ Isn’t that a weird coincidence?”
“Isn’t that funny?”, she laughed. I kept playing with my matchbox cars.
The Dukes of Hazzard car – the General Lee – ran the VW beetle car off the road. The police car gave chase after it.
“Doesn’t it make you think of turtle poop? Turd of hudles! Ha!” She squawked like a bird, especially when she’d been drinking. I looked at her and back at the car. In my head it was my mom driving the cop car, my Grandpa and I were in the General Lee, him at the wheel, me in the navigator’s seat, shouting “go go go!” and turning up the Merle Haggard tape to full blast. “We lost her!” My grandpa banged the steering wheel in triumph as he jack-knifed the car from dirt road to dirt road.
“I wish I could just live with you and Grandma, Grandpa.” I told him when a commercial came on during “Rawhide.” My mom was working at UPS, loading trucks.
“You do live with me and Grandma, you little squirt.”
“No, I mean just you and Grandma.”
“You think we should kick out your mama? That’d be awful mean. Do you think a cowboy would throw his own mom out?”
“No, not kick her out. She could move in with Burt or something.” Burt was Mom’s boyfriend who bought her fancy jewelry and bought tubs of ice cream whenever we spent the night at his place.
My grandpa put his arm around me.
“Things are hard on your mom right now. Don’t say that to her, okay?”
The theme music came back on and we sang along “head ‘em up roll’em out, rawhide!” The cowboys broke camp in black and white.
“Looks like they’re off…”
“… like a herd of turtles!”
“No no no!”
We sat without talking for the rest of the show, him sipping his bottle of beer, me sipping my bottle of pepsi. My mom’s car pulled into the driveway. The gravel driveway crunched under the tires.
“Look’s like your mom’s home. Don’t say that thing to her, you remember?”
“Come on, let’s go say hi to her. You give her a big hug.”
“Okay.” I kicked the police car across the living room floor with my toe. It slid under the darkness under the love seat and hit the wall with a thud.