Something was wrong. I brought my car to a full stop behind the heavily branded corporate van ahead of me. We were near the center of our small coastal city, and this kind of stoppage in the middle of a well-trafficked main road was strange. Then another same-company van that had been heading toward us halted; the left side windows on both vehicles rolled down and, elbows out, the two drivers began to converse.
It was a beautiful spring weekday, and I was unencumbered by gainful employment; a perfect day to wander and gawk at all the emerald newness. I had nowhere to be, and didn’t particularly mind the delay. Glancing at the rearview mirror I noticed a car had pulled up behind me. The driver looked like he minded. Maybe very much. As the minutes ticked by, I watched Angry Dude in the mirror. His face was becoming an unhealthy shade of pink as he spoke animatedly to his passenger. He raised his hand in an unfriendly gesture.
We were now stacked four or five vehicles, all of us waiting in place, engines running. Up ahead, the two van drivers continued to chat. I wondered how long it would take for someone to start yelling, or exit their car. Angry Dude seemed like a prime contender. I picked up my cell phone. It just seemed like the thing to do.
Just then I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. To the right of the van ahead of me something was moving, very slowly, across the road. The object became more visible as it cleared the van’s right front tire. And then, it came into full view. A tremendously huge tortoise was making its ponderous way across the thoroughfare toward a bordering swampy pond. It was a magnificent creature. Black and gold mud looked beadazzled onto its shell; shades of greenish muck on its torso and tail glinted in the sunlight. Head down, the animal creeped diligently toward its goal, oblivious to all else.
I looked into the rearview mirror. The guy behind me was smiling and pointing out the tortoise to his buddy, who leaned out of his window to look. The van in the opposite lane moved forward, its driver giving us all the classic thumbs-up, a huge grin on her face. The van in front of me waited for the tortoise to get within a foot of the grass line that surrounded the water, and then it too was in motion. We all gave the animal a very wide berth as we passed, our cars now a celebratory parade.
I’ve often since thought about that day, about how limited our individual perspectives are, and how as a result, how fragmented must our notions of the truth be at any given time. Context and angle govern our reaction to events, the equivalent of squinting through a spyglass when what we need is Google Earth. I’ve been back several times to that pond, hoping to catch a glimpse of that tortoise again, with no luck. Apparently, he was a one-epiphany-per-customer kind of fellow.
BIO: Carolyn R. Russell is the author of The Films of Joel and Ethan Coen, published by McFarland & Company in 2001, and Same As It Never Was, a middle grade novel to be published in the spring of 2018. Other works include screenplays, essays, and plays. She received an M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University, and has taught on the college, high school, and middle school levels. When not writing fiction, she writes for the advertising and branding industry, focusing on creative concept development and copywriting. Carolyn lives north of Boston with her husband and two children.