by Robert Sachs
Ginger was given to Lenore’s grandmother in 1924 by an Indian prince who bought it on an island in the Seychelles. The giant tortoise rarely moved, and was still enough these days that Lenore often used him as a coffee table. Why would an Indian prince give a giant tortoise to Lenore’s grandmother who lived in a rent-controlled apartment in New York City? Lenore was never told the whole story, but she knew her grandmother was a long-legged hoofer who made a name for herself in some classic Hollywood song-and-dance movies of the Twenties and Thirties and she, Lenore, could put two and two together as well as anyone. Grandma named Ginger after Ginger Rogers before it was discovered that she was a he—the tortoise, not the actress. Lenore inherited the beast, the apartment, three million dollars and Grandma’s long legs. A vet checked out Ginger and pronounced him fit.
“My guess is he’s from Aldabra Atoll. Part of the Seychelles. Never seen one before. Bigger than the giants from Galapagos. Live longer, too. He’s quite a specimen.”
“How much longer will Ginger live?” Lenore asked. She had hired a moving company to carry the giant tortoise to the doctor’s office.
“No telling,” said the vet. “But I’ve read of one in India that lived two-hundred and fifty years.”
“Can you tell how old Ginger is now?”
“I’d guess about a hundred. So figure he’ll still be around in 2100. But to really find out we’d have to carbon date his shell.”
“Don’t tell me: It’s not covered by Medicare.”
The vet didn’t laugh. A bad sign, Lenore thought. He was kind of cute.
“How often does he need a checkup?” she asked. “And do you make house calls?”
“Once every two years should be fine,” he said. “Unless something unusual happens. No, you’d have to bring him in.”
“He weighs over five hundred pounds,” she reminded him.
“Yes. Well maybe I could drop around and take a look at him from time to time.”
“I’ll throw in dinner.” Lenore was sitting sidesaddle on Ginger and crossed one of her inherited long legs over the other, looking the vet straight in the eye.
The vet’s name was Alan and Alan, looking straight at Lenore’s thighs, smiled at the proposition. “I think that will work,” he said.
Lenore took this as a good sign. At least he had a pulse.
A month passed.
“His poop has turned yellow and he’s not eating,” she told Alan’s answering service. Alan called back an hour later and promised to stop by that evening on his way home.
“We can order Chinese,” Lenore said.
Lenore is a Chicago girl, with an MBA from Wharton. A smart cookie. And very attractive despite, or perhaps because of, her slightly off-center smile. She was in finance until the Great Recession, and then she wasn’t. But the inheritance came through when her mother died and the three million grandma had accumulated was more or less intact, so she figured she could ease up for a while.
She joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was only a few blocks from her apartment. She also joined the Guggenheim and the Whitney. She wasn’t what you would call an aficionado, but art calmed her down, so she would spend hours wandering the museum galleries. She was content to do this by herself, stopping for fifteen minutes in front of a Van Gogh, if she wanted to, trying to understand what all the fuss was. Or skimming old Depression photographs. “What makes them so good?” she asked her friend Edith. “Is it the subject matter? Do they get credit for that? Or is it the composition? What?”
Edith didn’t know. “I suppose it just evokes something in you. It moves you.”
“I know,” Lenore would say. “But I want to know what the photographer gets credit for. I mean if it’s a sunset or a tenement building or kids playing in the water, that’s real stuff. Why should the photographer get credit for that? The camera takes the picture. It takes a sixtieth of a second.”
Edith would shrug her shoulders. “Let’s look at sculpture.”
Lenore took the magazines off of Ginger and dusted him. Alan arrived at seven. “Mmmm,” he said after several minutes of poking and prodding. “He looks okay. What do you feed him?”
She showed him the large bag of vegetable pellets. “And I toss in a banana or two.”
“Ease up on the bananas,” Alan said. “Try apples for a while.”
“I don’t know. Should I just give him to the zoo? I mean he doesn’t bark, he doesn’t cuddle. He just sits there, except when he waddles into the laundry room to poop or eat.”
“Well they tend to sleep around sixteen hours a day. Depending on your sleep pattern, you may never see him move. Are you worried he’s not happy here?” Alan asked. “I can’t help you there. Who knows what he’s thinking?”
Happy. Lenore hadn’t given a thought to Ginger’s happiness. His wellbeing, yes. This was, after all, an inheritance from her grandmother. Such a magnificent animal. He should be passed on to the next generation. She owed her grandmother at least that much. And then she wondered why she hadn’t thought of Ginger’s happiness. Or of the next generation. A personal failing? And here is Alan talking about her sleep pattern. The guy’s a regular Lothario.
“Isn’t happy one of those human things?” she asked, hoping Alan would agree.
“Well, we know when a dog is happy, right? Or at least we think we know. Cats too. So it’s got to be more than just a human thing, no?”
Meaning I’m wrong, Lenore thought. “What I’m trying to say is, am I doing Ginger any favors by keeping him in this apartment?”
Alan touched her hand. “He’s going to be locked up somewhere. It might as well be here with a beautiful young woman. Perhaps he has an eye for the ladies.”
He touched my hand!
“You’re not serious, are you?”
“About you being beautiful or about Ginger favoring you?”
“Ha. You’re being playful. Let’s watch a movie.”
Lenore had DVR’d many of her grandmother’s movies and she suggested they watch one of them: Broadway Melody. “Think you can spot her?” she asked Alan. “In the chorus line.”
Alan chose one of the dancers.
Alan went through two more before identifying Alice.
“That’s her. That’s grandma.”
“Nice looking woman. You have her legs.”
The next night they watched Swing, Sister, Swing. This time he spotted her on the first try. He brought along a pamphlet for Lenore: “Care and Feeding of the Giant Tortoise.”
She was a pushover for a man with a pamphlet. “There’s a pamphlet about Ginger?” she asked.
“It’s for zoos. Got it from a friend.”
Alan spent the night.
A week went by before he called. The American Museum of Natural History was having an exhibit of Lonesome George, the last of the giant Galápagos tortoises. Would she like to go? The tortoise died in 2012 and his body had been preserved.
Lenore said yes, but when they got there she was disappointed. George was smaller than Ginger, almost half his size. And he had only lived to a hundred. “A baby,” she told Alan. But she was glad to be with him, to walk around the museum holding hands.
“What makes Lenore happy?” he asked after a particularly romantic dinner.
“I want someone to love me enough to give me a giant tortoise from the Seychelles.”
“Did your grandmother marry the Indian prince?”
“Unfortunately, no. She married an insurance salesman named Martinez from the Upper East Side.”
“I have bad news for you: India is a democracy now. No more princes.”
She told him she wasn’t interested in a prince per se. “I’m not a child. I simply said I’d like someone to love me enough to give me a giant tortoise from the Seychelles. Could be an insurance salesman like my grandfather.”
“What does your father do?”
“Did. He was a newspaper photographer. For the Times.”
“We’re back to prints again.”
And their relationship went on like this for several months. They would see each other a few times a week, Ginger’s poop returned to normal and Lenore thought she was happy.
But sometimes Alan didn’t call for weeks. Lenore took to charging her cellphone more often, just so she wouldn’t miss his call.
After a few drinks on this particular night, Lenore talked with Ginger. “So,” she said. “How was your day?”
“Yeah, I had one of those days too.” And she unburdened herself of her aggravations and frustrations. It had been two weeks since Alan last called. A fling? Was it over and she was the last to know? What would grandma do?
“I’ll give you this,” she said the Ginger. “You’re a good listener.”
She decided that grandma would have written Alan. So should it be a text or an email? Text is more immediate, more personal, she decided. “What’s up?” she texted, leaving off the smiling emoji. Let’s keep it serious.
He responded in seconds with this: “Out of town. Been busy with the kids.”
Kids. Goats? He is, after all, a vet. So he has kids. Children. In another place. Must mean he’s divorced. These insignificant facts probably slipped his mind. Or are his un-divorced, un-separated wife and their overly cute kids at their summer home? And it’s not even summer. What the fuck is going on?
“Great,” she texted. “Call when you get back.”
The next morning she called his office pretending to be someone with a sick cat. “Corvath needs to see Dr. Smolar as soon as possible,” she said. “She’s vomiting all over the place.”
“How about ten?” the receptionist said. “There’s been a cancellation and the doctor can see Corvath then. And your name?”
“Oh never mind. We’re too late. It looks like the poor thing just croaked.” She hung up. So the son of a bitch isn’t out of town. And does he have kids or is he fooling around with someone else?
“What am I supposed to do now, Ginger? He’s lied to me and if it’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar. He may be married and there’s a pretty good chance he has children: He admitted that much. What would you do if you were me? What would grandma do?”
The next morning she met Edith at MoMA. “Sonofabitch tells me he’s out of town visiting the kids. Then I find out he’s at the office the next morning.”
“You checked on him?”
“Wouldn’t you? I mean I didn’t tell the girl who I was, I just said I wanted to make an appointment for a sick cat and she was ready to set it up for that morning at ten.”
Edith said he might have flown back that night. “Why don’t you give him the benefit of the doubt?”
What doubt, Lenore thought walking back to her apartment. The guy’s a creep. And now I need to find a new vet. She would wait for his call. She would be cool. Nice to hear from you, she’d say. No, sorry. I’m busy. Let the bastard suffer. Two could play this game. Wasn’t it singles night at MoMA?
A half-hour later, Alan called. “Hi, hon. What a week. Signed up to mentor a bunch of middle schoolers at a farm in North Carolina. Future vets. Got back late last night. Busy?”
Busy? Of course she’s busy. “How about seven,” she said. “My place.”
A half dozen magazines slipped off his back as Ginger slowly rose from his spot in front of the living room couch and rumbled into the laundry room to poop.
About the Author
Robert Sachs' work has appeared most recently in The Louisville Review, the Chicago Quarterly Review, and the Delmarva Review. He earned an M.F.A. in Writing from Spalding University in 2009. His story, “Vondelpark,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. Originally from Chicago, he currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He serves on the board of Louisville Literary Arts.
From the Editor
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