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  • Writer's pictureAmr Abbas

Unfamiliar

A thought came to me.

It crawled like a spider, scattering my train of thought. The coffee spilled and left a stain on the white tablecloth. I quickly stood to clear out the coffee, wiping it with the sleeve of my shirt, and then I realized that my shirt was pale blue and the coffee stained it as well. My turtle, or truly, my late grandmother’s turtle, stood there, watching me with its kind and tired eyes. It was standing there in the distance, or sitting, I don’t know whether a turtle stands or sits, it is all the same. It crawled back so slowly, turned slowly, moved slowly. But it had seen me spill the coffee onto the table and idiotically wipe it just as stupidly.

It was a hundred years old when my grandma passed away. I’m certain it had seen my father do stupid things, just as it had seen my grandma do stupid things. To the turtle, we were all just infants in creation, if creation is the term, I feel in this instance obligated to use.

I’m certain that if the turtle could speak, it would not have. It would have just shaken its head and walked away like it was doing at that particular moment. I stood and walked to the turtle, sat on my knees, and stroked it under the chin gently. It looked at me, but whether it was smiling or frowning I could not tell. You can tell those things a lot easier with a cat or a dog. You know when the cat is happy, you know when a dog is sobbing, and even a rabbit thumps its paws angrily and a bird sings when it's content. But what do turtles do?

The thought that crept upon me that it had been watching for a long, long time, observing, but where that knowledge went, where those memories swept, I did not know.

Is knowledge truly inherited? Is it passed along? And what kind of knowledges do the others have?

“What do your kind eyes see, Girette?” My words came as a whimper, barely audible even to my ears.

I was talking to the turtle. Of course, I was. I had gone insane. And I knew it.

But I stood and walked to the fridge. I wanted to give her a piece of lettuce for keeping up with me. When I opened the fridge, I heard a noise. I think it was just in my head. The longing for conversation had overwhelmed me, I think. But I heard what I heard, and I shall ink it down here.

“A past so vast. A present unpleasant. A future full of fracture.” The voice was mine own. I knew so much; it was my mouth speaking the words to me. It was not the turtle that was meters away from where I had left it just a second before.

But those were not my words despite my voice voicing them.

“What?” I asked loudly, looking around.

The turtle rubbed its head against my ankle. I took a piece of lettuce and knelt, feeding it.

“You’re going mad in your isolation,” I spoke to myself, crawled with my back to the fridge that I had not closed.

“I’ve always hated that name.” My voice answered me.

“Girette?” I asked automatically.

“When your grandma came upon me, my name was Gaia, ancient as the land on which you tread, but she reduced me to Girette. What an awful name.” My voice came to me, familiar and warm.

“If this is you speaking to me, please nod your head…” I said, utter madness consuming me.

“And if I nod my head,” the turtle nodded, “would you be any less insane?” My voice still spoke.

I snatched the lettuce away from it, and for a fraction of a second, I swear I could see it smirk.

“I’m going insane…” I said to myself, shaking my head. I closed my eyes and threw my head back. And of course, it hit the fridge door hard. The last thing I heard was the slam.

When I opened my eyes again, I was in my bed, but I felt slow, tired, weak. There was noise around me. My grandma, or an early image of my late grandma was standing in the corner, a towel in her hand. She pressed it to my head, cold water dripped on my forehead and my shirt. I looked at her and before I could exclaim ‘how?’, the image in front of me fuzzed and my vision blurred.

“Rest now, rest, unfamiliar.” The voice, warm as ever, whispered in my ear. It soothed.

When I woke again, I was outside. My late grandmother’s garden was blooming. Flowers, daisies, and roses on one side, and the two apple trees on the other. And then I saw her. Black hair, dark as night, violet eyes, vibrant and cool, she stood by the tree and smiled at me.

“I’ve seen her, I’ve seen him, I’ve seen you, but none questioned me but you, my sweet, sweet boy,” she said as she walked to me. She reached down to stroke my hair softly.

“Who…what are you?” I asked.

“I am what I am, my dear boy. My name is Gaia, mother to all. I am older than the wind, and yet you and your kind think you are so great, so brave, sweet, but stupid, you are. You ruin and break and think you are fixing and mending what is older than time.” She knelt by my side, and I could see the veins of green glowing through her skin like vines when she resumed, “You ruin and ruin and think you are the savior. Sweet child, I am dying, and if I die, all dies.”

I swallowed and shook my head. I was terrified, but then the thought crept upon me again.

Perhaps it was my imagination, but I remember why I lived in this cabin. And then, the coffee spilled. This time, I did not wipe it with my shirt, but I stood straight away and fed the turtle my grandma had called Girette.


Written by Amr Abbas.

Cover illustration by Amr Abbas.

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