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Fiction #331
(published May 24, 2007)
Save the Turtles
by Joel Van Noord
I was new to my locale. I was wondering in the brain and wandering with the body. I had time and I would stop and stare. I found myself waiting at the doors of bars and coffee shops, standing at a corner for hours listening to female clarinet players racing strange scales with many flats and gaps. I re-read Camus' The Stranger and was doing plenty of sit-ups and push-ups. I was alone and cursing old lovers under my breath.

These things were all weighing heavily on me. I drank too much wine and I was sick of drugs, sick of drink, smoke, and pills. I was lonely and wanted companionship. The night before, I came inches from escorting a 22-year-old journalist with a thick throat, into the heartless night. I wanted to do it, at that time then and now at this time. Don't get that wrong.

"This band needs more cowbell." It was funny when I leaned into the journalist's ear, sitting alone together at the bar. A look of obfuscation and I repeated it and she laughed audibly.

"My name's Conley." And it went from there. Which is to say I ended up waking in my car at five in the morning in the "secret" parking garage across from the Blue Room Bar. She told me she'd published an article in Spin. Earlier that night Marie told me her roommate was finishing a novel about the "fact that people often made poor decisions even when they knew what the consequences would be." I probably gave the same look of confused consternation the 22-year-old journalist gave me.

This was all after I swam at the city beach adjacent to the tall buildings. I brought my soccer ball and plopped my towel close to a fleshy brunette with a brown bikini. It started to rain and I walked past her into the water and asked her, "Is it going to rain?" with a stupid smirk on my face.

There was no rainbow in sight but eighty percent of the sky was illuminated by the sun. The dark and intense local-shower cast pleasant shadows and I admired the ill-occurring meteorological event. As it began to downpour I sank my body under the water so that only my eyes were showing. I looked to the beach and watched people pack-up and hide under trees. My brunette friend was still sitting there, still with her book out. Her left leg crossed over the knee. The small strip of cloth lost now in skin. I watched her legs sway gently in the heavy rain and pictured full-access to them.

After five minutes it stopped raining and I emerged from the water and watched my brunette friend who was now chatting on her cell phone, laying on her stomach with her feet behind her. She was touching her ankles together.

I laid out and began reading Kosinski and was lost in one of his analytical sex scenes. The sun was bright and hot and I rose and stretched. Took the ball and kicked my way to the field of grass behind the sand. I juggled and kicked it high in the air, trapped it and tried some tricks. I got bored and was looking around at people, wishing I could blast the thing into a goal, or something. Then a tall thirty-something man with a bit of a gut from marriage walked over and I kicked him the ball before he said anything.

He was Bosnian and we talked as we kicked the ball back and forth. He asked me what I did and I told him. I popped the same question back to him and he said, "Nothing as exciting as you. I work in a factory." I told him my job wasn't actually exciting and I let him tell me that it was. I'd been in his city for two months and I was planning on leaving in another two.

We talked about the World Cup and players and teams. He hated the Italians, Portuguese, and Spanish. I told him the Dutch were my team. He liked the Argentineans, whom I considered the worst of the lot. But we both acknowledged the brilliance of the chest-to-foot volley that raised the Argentineans above the Mexicans.

"I don't get American sports." He told me and tried to explain the lack of devotion Americans had for their teams. "In Europe it's more than a team and a sport." He said in his jerking accent. I told him he was right and raised the Red Sox, then smiled viciously and said, "Europeans also don't have as many wars." He shook his head and I remembered he was Bosnian and not western European.

I asked him how long he'd been in the states.

"Ten years."

"Ah, so that means you left when Clinton was in office. During the whole NATO-led Bosnian war."

He shrugged simply and pushed the ball back and gave a short snippet on what the war meant to him and what they called it.

Two Nigerians then approached. They chatted together in their tongue as Sejo rolled them the ball. Their skin was dark and one wore baggy jeans that must have been impossible to move in and humid as well. The other had on mesh shorts and an old Miami Heat jersey for some obscure European player. The Nigerians had no beauty in their game and the Bosnian left as a Brazilian walked over with long eyelashes and bangs parted in the middle. We kicked the ball back and forth in a square and apparently one of the Nigerians knew the Brazilian, they called each other "loco."

We started a game and I was with the taller Nigerian. We were all stereotypes there on the pitch. The Brazilian was somehow fat, he had fat on muscle and somehow managed a plumber's ass as well as having a soft six pack. My Nigerian was all skin and bones and we easily took care of the Brazilian and his man with pants. The Brazilian was good but lazy. I imagined what the game would look like if we were in a real match. I would dominate the Brazilian physically, just for the weak stance and way he carried himself. I would run at and through him, stomping his ankles, and his ball skills would not be enough to hold off the "fucking American."

The two Nigerians lied consistently about the score and boxed each other a few times. Putting up their fists and swinging and grabbing onto the back of each other's necks. I wondered when the last civil war in their country was. They had won the gold in futbol some years back, which was pointless to Europeans and confusing to Americans.

Their fighting would be serious and then one would smile wide, showing white teeth, and the other would put down his fists and stop pursuing.

The ball wore the skin off the sides of my outer toes and we won a second game. I shook my Nigerian teammates hand as he put on his straight-brim Dallas cap over a red skull cap and strolled down into the water. It was growing dark and I floated in the water as a game of volleyball was underway. There were beautiful fat bottoms and thick men with shaved chests.

I left the beach and drove downtown, called up Marie and left a message.

"Marie, it's Conley. I, ah . . . am just leaving the beach, where I was in a mini-world cup with a Bosnian, two Nigerians, and a Brazilian. Now I'm heading downtown for some drinks, wondering if you're heading out tonight. If so, give me a call."

In my secret parking garage I sat and drank a beer on the top floor, looking out across the water and hills to the south. I called my friend I'd worked with in the Mojave Desert and we reminisced. Then Marie buzzed in and I went out and met her and her friends in the Pub and Brewery. There were two girls, Marie and Anne, and three other guys. Marie introduced the men and immediately I told them, "I already forgot." Nor had I the desire to remember.

I remembered Anne from a week or two before and I switched my attention to her after I figured Marie wasn't into it. I'd called her several times and we'd met up like this often and none ever led, or gave the appearance of leading, anywhere.

"We thought about going to Temple today." Anne said and someone asked if she was Jewish.

"No, but Marie is." And I smiled to myself. Simply saying "Jew-Gold" had become a standard joke at work.

A theological discussion started and I offered nothing but sarcasm and humor. I remember saying, "yeah, but how" several times. They were young and serious and I found it all superfluous. Then the kid with huge curly blond hair started talking about how the dark haired kid with a shoe-string tied around his head looked like Jesus.

We stood on the street and the three guys were leaving. The girls gave them hugs and I reached out for one as well. When they noticed me following them on the street they laughed.

"You guys are the only people I know in the city." I answered to Anne as I followed the two with a smirk. Marie had a sort of waddle in her step. A little bow-legged, I noticed. Anne had wide hips, but I'd nest in there for hours, given the hint of a chance.

The Irish Pub on Main street was closed with lit candles dripping along the concrete ledge. The girls stopped and read a sign on the door saying that so and so had died and because of this the pub was closed. We walked on and I called for them to stop with me at the end of the row of candles.

"Let's stop for a moment, shall we?" I said and took them both in hand and motioned for them to hold each others hands, which they wouldn't. "In order to remember." Marie spoke up and walked away as I held her wrist tight, thinking I was belittling a serious death and closure of a good pub. I wasn't and told her so.

"I just want to pause and reflect, as long as this venue is here." I said motioning to the candles. "We have to give a moment to the Green Sea Turtles in the Mediterranean who are trying to nest on the oily beaches of Lebanon in this awful conflict." Marie scoffed and Anne laughed. I let go of their hands and I wanted Anne.

But they left after a round in a noisy bar. Asking if they were just going to sleep, Marie answered yes. I stayed and ordered a Scotch sour as it was my boss' favorite drink. I drank it in memory of younger life he missed and sat looking at the people.

A skinny man with thick glasses, 80's jean shorts, back pack, and floppy hat walked around and I thought he looked like Noam Chomsky. I followed him around and left him at a street corner when he started chatting with a hot dog vendor.

I was at a bar and asked a blonde for the beer with a fish as the lever and she brought it. It was hoppy and I turned in my seat to see the band. They sucked and I scrutinized them. The lead singer, who rarely sang, and even then, not in English—or any recognizable language—was a white woman with brown hair. She had a two toned cowbell and was wailing on it like she was Jimi Hendrix. They had a violin and two percussionists as well as the normal instruments. I drank from my beer and turned away from the embarrassing mediocrity to see a sub-par looking brunette sitting next to me. She was alone and had a vodka-sour and water in front of her. I watched her to see if she was expecting anything from the night. She kept staring forward vacantly and I looked ahead too. Then leaned into her and spoke, mentioning something about the redundant cow-bell.

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