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A crazy woman moved into our building. She came from the apartments across the street that are being torn down, the ones my Mom and Dad call the welfare building. When she walks through the courtyard where me and my friends are playing, she talks to us, asks how old we are and what grade we’re in. Once she said to me and my friend Anna, “Girls, enjoy this beautiful day.”
Her name is Mrs. Delaney. Her makeup smells sweet. She hurries up the stairs and opens her window and sits there, holding a long, black-handled knife and waves it around and screams curse words about people who she says have done bad things to her. Her shouts echo off the walls of the courtyard until her voice gets sore and then she slams her window shut so hard that it sounds like a gunshot. I’ve seen and heard Mrs. Delaney do this several times.
My Dad tells me, “Don’t bother her.” But my Mom says, “Someone should help that poor woman.” And my Dad says, “Help her? She’s harmless.” Then my Mom says, “I want to move out of this neighborhood.”
My friend Anna wants to go fishing. I don’t know where she gets these ideas. Anna’s Dad is the building super and they live in the cellar where you can see the pipes near the ceiling.
Anna has a German Shepherd named Bonita and two large fish tanks and a bird cage that usually has two parakeets. Every now and then one of the parakeets dies and Anna and I have to bury it in the park with a crucifix that Anna’s Mom makes out of a pen and a pencil taped crossways. She says the bird can write letters from heaven with the pen and when the ink runs out, it can use the pencil. Last time, the ground was frozen so hard we threw the bird and crucifix in the trash.
Anna’s Dad has fishing stuff, so he gives us spools of line and hooks and little lead weights and shows us how to throw the line. He gives us half a loaf of bread to make little balls of bread to use as bait. My parents say Anna’s Dad drinks too much.
We get off the bus where Anna says we can walk to the river. There’s garbage and tires and even a refrigerator half submerged in the water. We sit on a rock and throw our lines past the mud. Either the fish aren’t hungry for our bread balls or they’re sleeping or there just aren’t any there.
We give up fishing and jump from rock to rock. We pick up some dead tree limbs and use them for balance. With the tree limb, I poke what looks like a garbage-can lid. But the object jerks quickly, stirring mud in a black cyclone.
It’s a giant turtle, not the kind you see beneath a little plastic palm tree in Woolworth’s. It looks like a prehistoric animal. Its bumpy shell is covered with river muck.
Anna and I use our sticks to push it to shore. Once the turtle is on the bank, I bend over and start to pick it up from either side of its shell, when the turtle’s head pops out and then bending backward, goes half way up its shell, snaps at me and then disappears back into the shell.
I drop the turtle and jump back. Then a hissing sound comes from the turtle. It sounds like it is on fire. The turtle waits a few moments and then slowly turns, sliding back into the river.
Anna is already jumping to other rocks. She shouts and I look and she has found another turtle but this one is much smaller. Its legs stretch out as Anna holds it high in the air. “I’m keeping him,” Anna says.
We find a bag to put the turtle in. Several people on the bus ride home give us advice. “Don’t let that turtle out on the fire escape,” one man said. Anna smiles. “I won’t,” she says, “we live underground.”
Back at Anna’s, her Mom and several of Anna’s aunts sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking. Her mother isn’t happy with Anna because of our fishing trip, about Anna’s Dad giving us fishing stuff and the new turtle and tells us, pointing with her cigarette hand, to put the turtle in the bathroom and go outside. We sit on the stoop wondering if we are in trouble.
Suddenly our screaming woman approaches us. Her lipstick is smeared. Mrs. Delaney remembers our names and asks us how our summer is going and Anna starts to tell her about fishing and the turtles. I tell her how the big turtle almost bit me. “That sounds like a wonderful adventure,” Mrs. Delaney says. “I bet you’ll think twice before poking an old animal again,” she says to me. She smiles and reaches in her purse and takes out two quarters and gives me one and Anna one.
She climbs the stairs to her apartment. Soon we hear her yelling out the window and see her waving that knife. People step over us on the stoop, going home, and don’t even seem to notice.
Scott was going to be a fiction writer but then fell into journalism and is now trying his hand at creative writing again.