Alligator Snapper

My father brought a giant snapping turtle home

and plopped it on the driveway

big as a garbage can lid

and pissed as hell

reeking of years of pond muck

Don't get too close to it

he warned my little sister and me

It'll take your toes off, maybe your whole foot


We poked at it with very long sticks

as it moved in slow, defensive circles

puffed up to twice its size

hissing in a continuous, menacing monotone

sounding for all the world like a punctured tire

or a gas station air hose


Fascinating and horrifying

this stinking, loud, unseemly monster

Long tail just like an alligator, tucked tightly around itself

three-inch claws scritching across the concrete

Impossibly long neck, spring-loaded

shooting out with deadly precision

great beak snapping with murderous intent

at the sticks we thrust toward it with borrowed bravado


Dad said we were going to have turtle soup that night.

Sticks clattered to the driveway

as we gaped at him 

Choking up on his axe handle

He assured us turtle soup was considered a delicacy

Then grabbed the tail of that



clawing beast 

and dragged it around to the 7-foot tall woodpile

under the back deck

We clasped hands and made to follow, wide-eyed


Girls, he said, go inside; you shouldn't watch this

We skittered away without protest

My sister ran to her room to cry

But I

I crept quietly out onto the deck

I lay down, peering between the slats

and watched


I saw the axe blade fly, just once

a flash and


the whole deck shook

I heard the head roll out of view


Dad nailed the headless turtle by its shell

to a log in the pile

Its limbs still churned slowly, devoid of intent

clawing at nothing

I watched as thick crimson rivulets

ran down the woodpile into the sparse grass


I had never seen so much blood.


The wicked blade of the fillet knife moved with precision

glinting through broken beams of sunlight

Turtle chunks plunked wetly into a big yellow bowl

the same one we used for popcorn


That night 

as I pushed my "delicacy" around my bowl with a spoon

My father declared that turtle meat keeps moving

long after it's butchered

He said it sometimes keeps swimming around in your stomach, 

even after you've swallowed it


I announced loudly

that I hadn'f felt anything moving in my belly

my sister said she hadn't either 

and besides

we knew it wasn't true

Dad just smiled mischeviously

And ladled himself another bowl

For the rest of the evening we were vigilant

to the slightest intestinal slither

and the next day too

probably even the day after


It rained that night, slow and steady

rinsing the blood from the grass under the deck

leaving only the dark splatter-stains on the woodpile

Those stains were still there

when Dad threw the logs on the fire that winter

I know because I checked.


Dad said we were going to keep the turtle shell

as a souvenir

so he left it nailed to the log in the woodpile for weeks 

scraps of withering meat still clinging to it


I used to crouch on the deck and peer through the slats 

just to make sure those turtle chunks

weren't still moving

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