The Turtle and the Fire

Here’s another story from ages ago—one of my earliest memories, I suppose. I’d have been about three. Anyway, I hadn’t thought about it for a while, but I was out voting the other day, and these kids were playing Hangman, and I caught myself looking for the turtle and the fire….

I mean, I know there’s no turtle in Hangman. I know there’s no fire. I know all that now, but for a long time, I didn’t, and it was all down to my babysitter, who hated to lose. Her name was Lorie. She dressed like a beatnik and she always brought sweets. I’d pat her down for them, like a cop at a roadstop, and she’d let me snatch one or two, but then I had to win them. That’s where Hangman came in.

I was bad at it to start. I’d look round the room and play what I saw—I’d play TABLE or CHAIR and she’d guess right away, or I’d get clever with CEILING, but not clever enough, and my sweets stayed in her pockets, out of reach.

It wasn’t a calculated move when I started to win. I just ran out of furniture. I’d got a book for my birthday, a book of British wildflowers, so I started playing those. I played TREFOIL and SHEPHERD’S PURSE and PIMPERNEL, and she didn’t know what those were, so I won and I won, and I got all the sweets, and then Lorie said hey, y’know, I think you’re ready for real Hangman. Big-kid Hangman. Are you a big kid?

I was a big kid. Oh, yes, I was.

So she told me in real Hangman, you still do the gallows and the convict, only there’s a fire under his feet and a turtle watching him die. That’s four extra turns: the logs, the flames, the turtle’s shell, and the rest of the turtle. Somehow, this made complete sense to me, because…why wouldn’t a turtle be watching? Why wouldn’t there be a fire? I don’t know. Being a big kid, that’s massive when you’re three. Your whole life’s about trading dungarees for trousers, getting a real knife at dinner, lacing your own boots. Playing big-kid Hangman. Plus, it’s all so mysterious, the adult world, so a turtle, a fire….

(Yeah. I’m stupid.)

Anyway, I believed in the turtle and the fire till I was seven. I was playing Hangman and I lost, and I was like, “wait! What about the turtle and the fire?” My friend was all “wtf?”, and the teacher got involved, and no. There’s no turtle. No fire. I can still taste my pint-sized betrayal. Mm. So bitter.

I should teach some other kid about the turtle and the fire. Not a wee dweeby kid who still naps in the dog’s basket with the dog, but a cute kid, a popular one. One who might spread it around. There should be a turtle and a fire—maybe just one turn for each, but there should be.

Oh, I get jealous when I see brand-new life. I was watching this Twitter vid the other day, a newborn rat with its eyes still gummed shut, crawling up someone’s wrist. I got jealous of that rat, thinking how its whole life’s still waiting for it. I could once fit in my father’s palm…now, I’m the size of a Rottweiler, with a temperament to match.

That rat, he’s still waiting for his turtle, his fire, his first taste of trickery. Rats can laugh, you know…will he giggle, when he finds he’s been had?

Look at me, envying rats. They only get two years. I should be smug. I’ve had forty.

I wonder where Lorie ended up….

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