The Missing Turtle

by Daniel Liberatore

A boy sits with dried tears
Like dollar signs wiped into his sweaty shirt.
His wet pants make dirt stains
On the broken park bench with rusty nails sticking out underneath

They are cleaning the fountain today
The water got so brown that you couldn’t see the bottom anymore.
There was a turtle that used to live here.
But not anymore.
He’s gone now.
The boy wipes his shirt up to his face and bows his chin as his lazy smile disappears
Two gringos walk by with ice cream dripping off their noses
“Un peso, un peso,” the boy says
They keep walking and pretend not to hear.
If the boy had a rock, he would throw it.

A shoeshiner walks by
He is a mustached old man with a crook to his step
There’s medicine in the box that he carries
Enough glue to sniff
To make you smile for days
“Un peso, un peso,” the boy calls out to the people passing by
A can of glue costs five.

An old woman walks by with her grandchild
The little girl starts crying, and the woman picks her up
The boy on the bench turns his face into the fading sun
And takes a breath.

Another boy walks up, talking loudly and whipping a ball on a string
Around in the air
The boy on the bench nods, and they touch hands as he passes
Where did he get that ball?

Tonight it will be breezy
The boy knows it
Loud and crowded in the park
He learned how to say “one dollar”
A while back
Sometimes it helps with the gringos.
Some will give him money
Others, food from their table
But not always
Mostly, they just look away
“Un peso, un peso . . .”

The boy wet his pants earlier
When he was messing around with the others in the trees.
There was a clown walking around then, and the people were wobbling.
That was earlier
Now it’s near night.

“Un peso, un peso.”
The boy turns and looks down at his feet
Where did that turtle go?
He looks up and sees a man snapping a photo of a woman,
Standing by the fountain
There is music playing loud from a car
And a man on a microphone selling shoes
The boy’s head throbs in rhythm with the speaker’s voices.

He saw his father earlier today
He was in front of the bus station lying in the street mumbling
The boy had walked by him without a word
The man did not notice him.

Now, in the park, the lights sputter on
The night is here, and the breeze blows
The boy finally stands and rubs his face
He shuffles over to the fountain, now holding its clean water
He peers down low and glares into the pool
After a moment passes
He turns around and slowly moves back to his bench and sits down
A woman walks by
“Un peso, un peso . . .”
She looks away and passes
The boy closes his eyes for a moment as the breeze touches his face
He opens them again and looks back at the fountain.

Nicaragua, 2009

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