June 28th 2015: Modern takes on common fairy tales
The Turtle From Tibet
, by Wayne Bachner

Sheri — that’s the name she gave me when I asked — accepted the drink without removing her eyes from the huge screen on the wall. 

“It’s going to take a miracle for the Sox to catch the Yankees,” she said.  “What’s the matter?  Are you okay?”

I must have turned white.  “You mentioned a miracle; I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced one.  Three, perhaps.  I know how nuts that sounds, especially in a bar.  Not the kind of thing you’re supposed to bring up with someone you’ve just met.”

I sipped from my own drink, a good old-fashioned screwdriver.  I’m a simple, down to earth guy, the last person you’d ld think would experience something supernatural.   But it really did happen.  At least, I think it did….

“Tell me about it, if you’d like,” Sheri suggested.  “Between pitches.  It sounds more interesting than the crap men usually say in a bar.”

So I told her.

#

I was living on the North Shore with Ellen, a staff nurse on the pediatric unit of the regional hospital where we both worked.  I was an I.T. specialist and had just installed new software throughout the hospital to track medication distribution: one of those damn initiatives hospitals are required to come up with every three years to maintain accreditation.  Ellen was having trouble getting the program to work correctly on her unit.  Not my fault, but I had to figure out a way to fix it.  That’s how we met.  We hit it off right away and began to date.  Before you could you say ‘GIVE IT A LITTLE THOUGHT,’ we moved in together; I was a lot more naive about women in those days.  I thought good sex and a couple of other common likes inevitably led to deep, everlasting love.  We even toyed with the idea of tying the knot¾a first for me.  Then came the day we attended a lecture on Buddhism.

The lecture was Ellen’s idea.  I’ve never had an interest in anything that reeks the tiniest bit of magic, metaphysics, or the miraculous, and couldn’t understand how Ellen—medically educated, after all—could waste her time pursuing subjects that lacked the stamp of approval from good old Western science.  But I loved her¾at least I thought I did¾and she loved crystals, psychic readings, and Tantric breathing.  So… you get the picture.  One gorgeous summer evening after a glorious day biking in the country, we drove to the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Danvers to hear a genuine Tibetan lama speak about some obscure topic I had zero interest in and no longer recall.

The spacious church was almost full when we arrived; this was no minor-league monk.  We lived within commuting distance of Boston, so there was no shortage of competing airy-fairy activities.  I promised Ellen I’d be on my best behavior, which meant I couldn’t fall asleep and had to make my snide comments in a voice too low for the other attendees to hear.

After a dreary half-hour of the worst music in the world (your average cat-fight is more melodic than the Tibetan idea of song) the lama made his triumphal entrance.  Clothed in a simple crimson robe he was led to the pulpit by a beautiful woman in a plain cotton dress who introduced herself as his interpreter.  The old goat, it turned out, spoke hardly a word of English.  Ellen wasn’t fazed, but this unexpected circumstance didn’t exactly raise my level of enthusiasm.

I tried to estimate how old the lama was.  He climbed the stairs spryly but I guessed from his shaved scalp his hair would be completely white if allowed to grow out and the deep lines furrowing his face were visible from our distant seats.  He was probably pretty damn old, perhaps even ancient.  When he spoke, however, his voice was surprisingly strong, and he guffawed uproariously at his own jokes, which were less than hysterical in translation.  Despite the language gap there was a power and serenity to his speech even I could appreciate.

“The lama wishes to greet you all,” began the interpreter, whose voice was as attractive as the rest of her.  The rest of the talk was just a blur to me.  Ellen seemed enthralled by what she was hearing, which was all I cared about, so I allowed myself to drift off into various fantasies, most of which involved the beautiful interpreter.  Almost before I knew it the talk was over and Ellen was leading me toward the pulpit.

“He’s answering questions and offering personal blessings,” she explained.  “You know―if someone’s suffering from cancer, or can’t figure out a relationship problem―”

“Maybe he can help us find the T.V. remote,” I suggested in an encouraging tone of voice.  Ellen pinched my arm and shot me a ‘don’t you dare’ look.  We joined the long line and awaited our turn.

The line was long but moved quickly.  The lama was offering mostly single-sentence prayers while waving his hands in priestly fashion.  Occasionally he listened to a brief plaint and gave an even briefer response―both of which had to be translated by his female companion.  I wasn’t expecting anything more than a generic greeting and was horrified when the lama bowed slightly before me and let loose an excited string of incoherent patter.

“The lama offers his deepest praise,” the interpreter translated, looking every bit as surprised as Ellen and I.  “He says this gentleman has performed an outstanding, compassionate deed for which he merits great reward.”

The lama smiled at me and nodded, a tiny gesture that somehow caused me to recall something I’d completely forgotten.  Earlier that day, pedaling around the countryside on my bike, I’d noticed a large snapping turtle in the middle of the road.  It was the biggest turtle I’d ever seen outside a zoo; I realized it wouldn’t have a chance if a car or truck came whizzing by.  The road wasn’t a major thoroughfare, but this was Massachusetts, after all; I’d had some close calls of my own on my bike.  I stopped riding and dismounted from my bright-red Cannondale, hoping the turtle would be as scared of me as I was of him (or her).   As I got closer, though, I saw that the turtle was stuck in a shallow pothole exactly the size of his (or her) body.  At great risk to my fingers I grasped the turtle in both hands and extricated it from its prison then carried it to safe ground. A small stream ran alongside the road; I placed the turtle on the nearest bank.

To my surprise the turtle never withdrew its head or legs during this delicate operation, but appeared to be watching me steadily.  After depositing him (or her) on the ground, I withdrew.  The turtle turned its head as if to observe me one last time and seemed to nod in gratitude before ambling off into the underbrush.

“Turtles are held in high esteem in Tibetan lore,” I heard the interpreter say; you can imagine my surprise.   “The being you assisted so compassionately has requested the lama to pass on her compliments.  The lama sees you have chosen to live out this incarceration on a very worldly level, so he will respond in kind.”

At these words the old man struck my forehead with the palm of his hand and uttered more incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo the interpreter didn’t bother to translate.  I must have become lost in reverie for a minute, for the next thing I was aware of was of tripping slightly on the great stone staircase leading out of the church.

“What happened in there?” Ellen asked as we walked to the parking lot.  “Something happened: don’t deny it!”

“It was indescribable,” I answered.  “The English language just doesn’t have adequate words.  I’d have to tell you in Tibetan.”

Ellen frowned and l could tell she was about to get angry.  “But,” I added in a more serious tone, “I think the lama passed on some special powers to me.”

I placed my arms around her shoulders and whispered in her ear.  “Tonight, if you’re sufficiently compassionate, you’re going to experience something you’ll never forget—a full-fledged Tibetan orgasm!”

She kneed me in the groin, but softly.  Later that night, I did my best to fulfill this prediction and I’m pretty certain I succeeded.

#

I slept fitfully that night, plagued by disturbing dreams of wild animals trying to communicate with me, trying to tell me something important, something that despite my best efforts I couldn’t comprehend.  Then the alarm on my clock-radio sounded and I awoke with a thud as I always did, especially on Mondays.  Ellen was working the afternoon shift and was sleeping in, the lucky wench.

Work went by in a pleasant blur.  I forgot all about my Tibetan adventure of the previous evening.   I solved all the problems that came my way that day with almost miraculous, but this happened occasionally in I.T. and wasn’t necessarily supernatural.

When I got home from work I only had time for a brief bike ride, for that night was one the high points of the year as far as true New Englanders are concerned: our beloved Red Sox were playing the hated Yankees.  Tonight was the last game in the first Yankees-Red Sox series of the season.  They had split the first two games; a win by the Sox would make all of Massachusetts ecstatic for several days.  Ellen and I both were great baseball fans and were looking forward to the game.  This was pre-two-thousand and four, I should remind you―back when the ‘curse of the Bambino’ felt like a predictable annual event.

I prepared a modest feast of veggie burgers, salad, and frozen French fries, and watched alone until Ellen returned from work in the middle of the seventh inning.   Fortunately, the game was still close when she arrived.  She wolfed down her supper and we settled down on the couch with a bowl of air-popped popcorn to watch the final innings.

“This is a huge game for the Sox,” I reminded her, “even though it’s only July.  They’re just a game behind the Yanks; if they can pull out a win tonight they’ll be even.  That would give them a big psychological boost for the rest of the season.”

“Shh,” Ellen hissed, “I can’t hear the announcer.”

By the ninth inning, the Sox had blown several late-inning scoring opportunities and were down by two runs.

“C’mon, guys,” I exhorted them, “it’s now or never!“

“Quiet, you’re distracting me.”

I groaned as the first batter flied out on the first pitch.  “Christ, why couldn’t he have shown a little patience?”  The next batter did just that and was awarded a base on balls.  “All right!” I cheered, ignoring Ellen’s annoyed glare.  The next batter hit a seeing-eye single and I began to worry the suspense would do me physical damage.  Ellen says the E.R. is always crowded whenever the Sox play the Yankees: twenty percent more cardiac admits.  “One big hit will tie it up,” I noted with delight.

Sure enough, the next batter went deep into the count then whacked a pitch with a resounding crack that carried over the television.  “Yes, yes—no!” I groaned.  The ball had been hit well but was caught on the warning track; we were down to our final out with the weakest hitter on the team due up.

Ellen knew enough about baseball to share my despair―Jesus Gonzalez was a utility player who could fill in adequately at any infield position but whose batting average was below his I.Q., which wasn’t up there with Einstein’s.  Jesus had last hit a homerun in Florida while playing in the Grapefruit League, assisted by a fortuitous hurricane gale.

“Pinch hitter!” I yelled at the television. “C’mon, you can’t let this guy bat!”

Ellen pinched me on the arm.  “If you’d listen to the announcers, you’d know the Sox have to let him hit because they don’t have any other healthy players who can play shortstop.”

“What stupid managing!  Only the Red Sox…  Maybe he can coax a walk out of the pitcher.”

We watched in pained silence as Jesus swung valiantly at the first two pitches, missing each by over a foot.  “He’s a little overmatched, wouldn’t you say?” Ellen observed.

I closed my eyes and focused all my energy into a single prayer.  The Sox needed to win¾the whole season might turn on this one game.  Jesus had to get a hit.

A sudden flash of light blinded me for a second.  I opened my eyes just in time to watch the ball go sailing out the ballpark.

“A walk-off home run!  The Red Sox win!  I swear he hit it with his eyes closed.”  Ellen started to dance around the room then stopped when she noticed the look on my face.

“Honey, this is going to sound crazy, but I think I may have made that homerun happen,” I said in a quiet voice.

“How?  By telepathy?  Did you whisk the ball out of the park using your great mental powers?”  Ellen sounded royally pissed.  Well, she’d had to endure my sarcastic remarks whenever she brought up the supernatural; maybe she thought I was teasing her.

“I’m serious,” I said.  “I wished for it to happen then I got this strange feeling something wonderful was going to happen, and it did!”

She looked at me carefully.  “My god, you really mean it!  I hate to pee on your parade, but every baseball fan in New England probably was making the same exact wish at the same exact time.  What else are you going to take credit for?  The stock market rising or the results of the last presidential election?”

“I know it sounds nuts,” I insisted, “but I really feel like it happened because of me.  I made a wish and it came true.  Look,” I cut her off before she could reply.  “I’ll do it again.  That will prove it.”

Ellen looked worried. “I don’t find this game amusing.…”

I paced the living room, deep in thought.  “Okay, I’ve got it,” I announced.  “Something I’ve always wanted that sure as hell is never coming my way on its own.”  I put my hands on Ellen’s shoulders and felt her twist away from my touch.  “I wish I had a silver Mercedes convertible sports coupe.  With all the options.”  Once again there was a sudden flash of light.  “There,” I said, “it’s done!”

Ellen came up to me and gently touched my forehead.  “You don’t have a fever,” she reported.  “That leaves only psychosis for an explanation.”

“It’s going to happen, you‘ll see.”  For some reason, I felt complete certainty about this.  “Just promise one thing, Ellen: if I do get the car, you’ll believe me.”

She turned away and stomped up the stairs.  “I’m going to bed and I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense,” she yelled down to me.  “I’m not like your prior girlfriends¾I don’t find insanity sexy!”

That night we didn’t investigate whether the Tibetan sex trick was still functioning.

#

The call from the credit card company came to me at work.  I immediately ran to Ellen’s unit and beckoned her over to a quiet corner.  “Don’t forget your promise,” I reminded her.  “If it’s a Mercedes….”

It seemed I had inadvertently been entering a contest every time I used my credit card to buy gas that summer; the telephone call was to inform me I’d won the grand prize.   Specific information would be arriving by special courier later that day.

“We’re busy as hell on the unit.”  Ellen glared at me.  “Don’t bother me again.  Besides which, I didn’t make any such promise.  And it’s not going to be a Mercedes.”

But it was.  I threw out the ads that came with my monthly credit card statement without reading them, so I was unaware of my tiny chance to win any of several prizes, including the grand prize of a two-year paid lease on the exact car of my dreams.  Even the color was correct.

“You’re not really getting the car,” Ellen pointed out that evening.  “It’s just a goddamn lease!”

“Come on―try to be fair.  What were the odds of any of this happening?  I wished for that punchless Jesus to hit a homerun and he did¾the first of his major league career.  Now I‘m getting the exact car I asked for.”  I put my hand on her arm and gently squeezed.  “I’m telling you, Ellen: I’ve got the power.”

She shook my hand off and sat down on the couch.  “Alright, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, you do.  What are you going to do with it?”

I nodded approvingly at her question.  “I’ve been thinking about that ever since I got that phone call,” I admitted.  “I used to love reading folk tales from around the world as a child.  In all of those, only three wishes were granted.  I’ve already used up two so I have to make this last one count.”

“Brrr¾it gives me the creeps to talk like this.  Don’t forget about ‘The Monkey’s Paw.’”

“The what?”

Ellen looked at me with genuine fear in her eyes.  “Haven’t you ever read that spooky story from Victorian England?  The Monkey’s Paw grants whatever wish whoever holds it makes, but not in the way you want them to be fulfilled.  Nothing but tragedy results.”

“Well, you can’t say that’s happened with these two wishes.”

She shook her head and looked off into the distance.  “Maybe it’s just too soon to tell…”

I tried to kiss her, but she pushed me away.  “Come on, Ellen¾since when are you such a pessimist?  Whenever we go to a party you’re the first person to talk about angels and miracles.”

She seemed about to respond to this comment, but must have changed her mind.

“So what should I wish for?” I asked.  “World peace or a billion dollars?”

“That’s for you to decide.  I don’t want to have anything to do with this craziness.”

Ellen was fast asleep by the time I went upstairs to bed, way past my bedtime.  Having such power is tougher than you think.  I didn’t want to blow it, and despite hours of thought couldn’t arrive at a decision.

#

The next morning was bad; I’d only slept a fitful hour or two at best.  “Please, no,” I groaned upon awakening.  “It can’t be seven already―give me just one more hour!”

A burst of bright sun hit me painfully in the face, causing me to squeeze my eyes shut.  Ellen was working afternoons, so I reached over to turn off the alarm, but it already was silent.   I examined the clock-radio carefully and saw that it was still set to go off at seven.  To my relief, it was only six―I must have been asleep and dreamt the alarm had gone off.  I fell back asleep and woke up in better spirits an hour later, when the alarm finally sounded for real.

But as you may have guessed, there were no other wishes.  Ellen started to laugh when I told her what I thought had occurred.  “That’s not as bad as what happens in the ‘Monkey’s Paw’,” she said, as if that was supposed to soothe me.

The Red Sox, after the inspiring win over their hated rivals, proceeded to go on an eight-game losing streak that effectively sank any hope for the season.  And I found out that while the lease of the Mercedes was certainly free, I still had to pay excise-tax on the luxury car as well as a steep increase in my insurance premium if I wanted the car, neither of which I could afford.  I ended up having to turn down the grand prize and accept instead a two-year subscription to Sports Illustrated.  So I didn’t have any more to show for my three wishes than those hapless characters in the old fairy tales.  Ellen and I broke up a couple of months later; I blame the stress of performing miracles for doing in our relationship.

Sheri looked at me.  Her eyes sparkled and the ends of her mouth curled upwards.  “What had you decided on for your third wish?” she asked.  “The one you never got to make….”

“Sorry,” I said.  “That’s between me and the turtle.”

She thought about this.  “What about the Tibetan orgasm?  Does that happen anymore?”

“Could be.  Interested in finding out?”

To my delight she was.

*

Wayne Bachner is a graduate of Columbia College and UConn School of Social Work, and is currently employed as a psychiatric social worker. He enjoys writing in a variety of styles and genres. Be sure to read, Early Winter over at MindMagazine.net, and keep an eye out for him in the fall edition of A Capella Zoo.


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