The Execution of the Turtle
The mouse raised a hand and wiped his nose with it, and most of the crowd interpreted this gesture as a farewell wave and spoke of it for weeks afterwards.
The Hanging of the Mouse - Elizabeth Bishop
The late summer sun was bidding the sleepy backwater town a good night, painting the sky that familiar mix of purple, ochre and pumpkin. As the light dimmed, the crowd grew larger and a certain anxiety and anticipation were palpable in the air. Some of the smaller animals had been milling around the town square for about an hour now, while others, either alone or in twos and threes, were beginning to arrive from the lakeside café. Many grew silent as they left the rowdy bar and climbed the slight slope up into the center of town.
A municipal holiday had been declared by the Prince, in an effort to whip the populace up into a frenzy. The dogs and roosters in the police force had been warned to stay vigilant, in the event of potential violent outbreaks, for some semblance of peace and order was to be maintained on the streets. An execution was not an everyday event.
At 6:45 p.m. the turtle was led out, lumbering and barely able to lift his short, stocky legs after the drama of the past weeks: his arrest in the wee hours of the morning, the harsh accusations, his trial, the judge's sudden death. Bereft of the will to resist any longer, malnourished and knowing the end was just minutes away, he continued the walk to the platform. The turtle was accompanied by two cranes, who towered above him and pecked mercilessly at his soft cranium whenever his already painstakingly slow gait floundered. The path, ablaze with rows of torches, flaming gourds held aloft on hollow bamboo shafts, was not as long as the police captain, who had an eye for such detail, would have liked.
The crowd was gaining a voice. Several of the animals who had spent most of the day imbibing plum wine at the boar's restaurant, rumored, as of late, to be housing a brothel on third floor, started yelling, and raucous laughter rang off the buildings surrounding the square. It had already been noted by the parrot, editor of the town's weekly rag, The Harbor Tattler, that a group of young geckoes were carrying flasks, and by the way their tails were lolling on the ground, it was easy to see that they were inebriated. The parrot stared angrily, pencil tucked under one wing, but no one gave him much mind, for it was well-known fact that the Tattler served primarily as a venue for the pompous parrot's own vitriolic diatribes.
Many of the animals laughed viciously when the turtle, no doubt weak from hunger and fright, rolled backward down the plank leading up to the guillotine, landing upside down on his shell. Several toads, loathsome characters, known for their illicit sexual escapades down by the piers, volunteered to nose him over and, with persistent jabbing on the part of the cranes, the turtle was at last righted and forced up to the top of the elevated ramp. The drunker of the animals began to jeer and throw Indian corn, the beauty of whose colors was lost in the fading light.
The executioner, an aging mole, for if justice is not blind, he who administers it surely must be, twitched his whiskers in anticipation, already smelling blood. The owl flew gracefully down, death sentence in his right talon, still yawning behind one wing, having just recently woken up. He landed gracefully on top of the turtle and bent over once, glancing quickly at the accused, and proceeded to read the proclamation, pishing and pshawing through the incomprehensible legal document.
Ever since the day of the arrest, nigh on three months ago, the turtle had maintained his innocence, insisting repeatedly that he had been unjustly accused of stealing one of the Peacock Princess' feathers, perhaps even framed. His natural reclusiveness, in this town of busybodies and hooligans, had not helped at the trial and he had finally been convicted yesterday at 3 p.m. Now he found it impossible to listen to the owl's high-pitched sentencing, preferring instead to watch the hither and thither blood lust dances of the dragonflies and moths around the flames of the gourd torches. He even refused the kindly church mouse's offer to hear his confession and perform absolution, having lost faith both in life on earth and the possibility of a hereafter.
When the owl ended his speech, drawing out the words "death by beheading" in a rather Shakespearean way, a murmur ran through the crowd and an aproned snake slithered away, her children making mad figure eights behind her, crying more because they wanted to stay than out of concern for their mother having taken flight. The rest of the crowd leaned forward as one, and a toad let out a loud belch, almost shattering the mood, grown laden with anticipation. The mole turned the crank of the guillotine, which had been carefully oiled earlier that morning. A group of aviator fireflies, who had been commissioned by the Prince the night before, flew dazzling circles around the blade, adding, some later concurred, just beautifully to the tension. The turtle was placed on the block. One large tear rolled down his weary leathery face, coming to rest suspended at the tip of his beak-like mouth. Some animals in the front rows reported having been transfixed by its quivery accompaniment to the turtle's slight convulsions of fear.
A collective gasp went out as the blade of the guillotine flew down with a "schling", slicing the teardrop cleanly in half. The mole's assistant, a geriatric and rather overweight armadillo, was ready and slowly turned the basket upside down. Again the crowd murmured, this time in anger and confusion, since no turtle head plopped out. From inside the turtle's shell, a muffled weeping became apparent to the animals' ears. "I c-c-can't help it. It's in-in-in-stinct" the turtle stammered. The guardian cranes, however, soon forced their executionee to stick his head back out of the shell.
After several more attempts at lopping off the accused's head, none of them successful, it was decided that another means of doing away with the turtle had to be found. The prince, who never attended these types of events, preferring instead the comfort of his wife's bed, was called. He arrived after much delay; rumor had it he was still consoling the princess, four or five times a day it was even said, over the pain of having not one, but three feathers plucked out of her derrière. Aside from the Prince's notoriety as a flagrant deflowerer of young swans, settling for a chicken or duck if need be, he was truly known for his sharp ingenuity. Once arrived on the scene, he quickly suggested death by dropping the turtle from an elevated height, which caused some alarm to the septuagenarian armadillo, this being a particular fear of his, dating back to his time as an aviator during the war with the lands to the North.
Although several of the animals, among whose number the parrot noted the rowdy toads' presence, had already started drifting back to the boar's bordello, many still remained, milling around the public square in the now cool evening air. The startled snake returned, having put her brood to bed. But when a lizard informed her that the turtle was to be dropped from a height, she gave a sibilant shriek and slid off home once again. The next day the crowd remembered that the snake's husband was thought to have been killed this way, and the eagle presumed responsible for this heinous crime had never been found and duly processed.
Meanwhile, several badgers were quick at work weaving an impromptu basket out of reeds, and the two cranes, who had hoped to knock off work at an early hour, were appointed de facto executioners, since the mole was too obese to be air-lifted and the armadillo absolutely, flat-out refused. The turtle was seen conversing with the church mouse, or rather, the church mouse was seen conversing with the turtle, trying, as he was, to throw some holy water on the doomed convict. The turtle kept pulling his head back into his shell, the mouse felt that the benediction was only valid if it splashed directly on the condemned's head, and a small puddle was accumulating under their feet, mixing with the salty water of the turtle's large tears.
The basket was finally finished and the executionee, all atremble, was pecked into it. Makeshift ropes had also been woven with some of the longer reeds and the two cranes, at first flying awkwardly, soon lifted up, each carrying a gourd torch in his beak, the prince having seen the wisdom of illuminating their flight for the delight of the crowd, which had been growing more and more impatient. The moon was now high in the sky and all the animals were following the flight of the two cranes and the turtle. One of the toads, leaning too far back on his chair at the bar, fell backwards and his companions' laughter was heard ringing over the town square, creating a rather parodic mood. The snake was holed up at home, although many said for weeks afterwards that they had seen her forked tongue shooting out over the windowsill.
At what had been determined to be an appropriate height, the cranes dropped the basket holding the turtle, simultaneously releasing their torches, in the hopes of the turtle's crash to earth being seen from afar. Complete silence reigned, although some shuffling of paws was discernible, and then a resounding thud echoed across the town. The snake's shutters slammed shut, the armadillo moaned, and the cranes circled once or twice in front of the moon for show before flying off in the direction of the lake, thirsty as they were for some plum wine and a one hour roll in the hay up on the third floor.
A baby loggerhead turtle fell unhurt from the sky last week, and hit a Chevrolet Nova near Las Olas Boulevard and State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale. The car's driver brought the tiny turtle to the Museum of Discovery and Science.
Experts speculate that the turtle fell from the beak of a bird.
The Florida Sun Times
About the author:
Jason Hoffman lives in So Paulo, Brazil, where he plies his trade as a psychoanalyst and literature teacher.