She said “Careful.” He didn’t exactly listen because she said carful often when he drove, but he did let his foot play on the brake and the car did slow a couple of MPH before he pressed the accelerator again. He felt the thump-thump but didn’t hear the crunch. “You aimed for it!”
“Why would I aim for it? That’s not the kind of person I am.”
“You didn’t even try to avoid it… I said careful, you barely even slowed.”
“I didn’t see it, I didn’t know what you were talking about, you are always saying careful and never specifying what I am supposed to be being careful about.”
“You’re supposed to look.”
“I did look.”
“If you looked, you wouldn’t have hit it. Pull over.”
“Yes! Whip a shitty and pull over!” Her tone was urgent but not cutting and he did what she said without really thinking, jerking the steering wheel a little too hard while jamming on the brake.
The snapping turtle sat motionless between the double yellows of the country two-lane. Its head was down and she was out of the car before he killed the engine. They are on a curve and it is impossible to see if any traffic is coming. He looked both ways but did not move. She did not look, before moving quickly. “Careful,” he shouted, not thinking of how caustic and shitty he sounded. The wind took the word and, luckily, she did not hear. She darted to the middle of the road while he waited on the shoulder, paralyzed, and she was yelling back that it was alive. Alive, but not moving. Alive, but there’s some blood trickling from its stubby nose. She grabbed it by its tail and she brought it to him. She set the snapping turtle in the short grass on the side of the road, and they both watched it for some minutes as cars whizzed and zoomed past, hugging the curve. He thought they’d get hit if they stayed where they were.
Its shell is cracked in two places but did not appear to be crushed; this, he felt, was an important detail. After some time, the snapping turtle lifted its head and its neck moved from left to right and then back again in a sweeping motion. It began to eat some of the grass, then it made to move further into the brush on the side of the two-lane. She said “That was the absolute highlight of my year, and that’s really sad,” and then she got back in the car and he stood there for a long moment and he watched the snapping turtle until its tail disappeared into the dark of the long grass on the edge of a cornfield. “Get in,” she said out the passenger side window.
“Careful,” she added as he crossed behind the bumper and out onto the country two-lane. He looked behind him to see a car coming and he hugged the door of his beater. He felt the warm air push past him at 70 MPH and he got in. She was smiling to herself so he smiled, too. He wanted to think that he didn’t see the snapping turtle before he hit it, wanted to believe that; but truth be told, in moments like that, he never knew. All the stimulus comes too quickly, and his mind goes all auto-pilot and decisions are just made. Maybe he did see the snapping turtle. Maybe he didn’t care. He believed he didn’t see the thing, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe he just wasn’t paying attention. Maybe this was the highlight of his year, too, and maybe that is sad. Maybe he just wasn’t being careful.
Scott Mitchel May is a writer living in Vermont with his family. You can follow him on Twitter @smitchelmay and find a selection of his published works at scottmitchelmay.com