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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
I Can Save
Baby turtles are hatching in my house. Their eggs are all over the living room: on the bookcase, stacked in a pyramid on the ottoman, balanced between black keys of the baby grand. The living room is not just the front of the house, but the front of the world. The ocean is at my doorstep. It swallowed the beach. The mother turtles had nowhere else to go, so I opened my door.
Now the house’s foundations buckle from the water. The front wall has split from the floor, leaving a narrow opening, and the surf comes right in. Waves spill clear over hardwood. I hope the varnish can stand the salt.
The turtles hatch, wiggling out of their shells. They are black and wet like caviar. The ocean shouts like someone banging the hood of a car. The babies tremble with excitement at the sound. They scramble to get outside, but they’re too big to fit through the crack in the house. I gather them in my arms, take them out the front door and deposit them in the shallow sea. This requires several trips. I wade in and out. My leg hair tangles with wet sand.
Just as I finish, I hear the wings. I remember watching the Discovery Channel when I was growing up in the city. It was the closest I got to nature. The ocean was an implication: palm trees shot up from the skyline, but I never saw where they started.
I now recognize hunger, predator, the meaning of a chain. Outside, I defend the hatchlings from circling gulls. The birds dive like kamikazes. They punch my skin with their beaks. Protected, the turtles tumble in froth like chestnuts in boiling water. They are gaining their bearings. If they cannot learn to swim, they will not survive.
All of the turtles make it. Every single one pulls through. The airborne cries subside.
The ocean surface resumes its pattern. I rest inside the house, inside myself. Tragedy cannot land as long as I am here. I can save turtles. I can rescue baby seals from being clubbed. I spread my body wide, a yurt above the newly born, a kite shield. I am a house without doors or windows. Try to strike me; I will absorb it all.
Daniel Enjay Wong lives in Los Angeles. He recently graduated from Stanford University and is currently applying to medical school. His fiction is published or forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, PANK, Metazen, JMWW, and Pinball.