A woman on a first date is given a gift, just a trinket, but it’s awkward being given a gift on a first date, especially from a man met through an internet dating service. She hardly looks at the thing, a little onyx turtle, smaller than half the palm of her hand, all black but for some bronze in the pattern of its shell. She doesn’t intend to see the guy again and wishes he hadn’t given her a present.
A few days later, dumping the contents on her bedspread to change purses, she discovers the turtle and decides she likes it. She sets it on her bedside table along the edge of the lace doily. That night, lying in bed, she cups it in the palm of her hand. It has weight to it. The bronze she thought painted onto the onyx is actually some sort of enamel. She runs the ball of her finger over it, traces her fingernail through the groove of its pattern. It feels real to her. It’s a thing of some certainty.
She continues to date through the online service. She takes some of these men home. More than once in the midst of sex she opens her eyes to focus on the little turtle. The object keeps her in the moment, in her bed, attached to the man she lays beneath.
Her bedroom has never been her favorite room, yet the turtle makes her appreciate it. She has the room repainted, buys a new bureau and a long mirror for the wall facing the bed. It’s absurd to redesign a room around an inconspicuous object, but she never admits to anyone that this is what she’s done.
More men pass between the sheets of her bed as she waits for the one who’ll say something about the little turtle. It’s not a litmus test, but she amuses herself awaiting one to say something about it. She is enjoying herself more of late, both alone and with others. She notices that men are attracted to the private way she takes pleasure in things.
In a restaurant more than a year after their only date, she runs into the guy who had given her the turtle.
‘Do you remember me?’ he asks.
‘I gave you a little turtle.’
‘Can I talk to you?’
They take a high table near the bar.
‘It’s funny,’ he says, ‘I often think about how I gave you that thing. I’m a little ashamed of it. It was stupid, but I was on vacation when we were exchanging emails, they sort of made me happy and I saw that turtle in a market and wanted to give it to you. Sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t if I’d have seen you again. Makes me feel foolish when I think of it.’
‘Wouldn’t it have felt worse if you hadn’t followed through and not given it to me? You should keep doing that. Keep giving gifts frivolously.’
‘Is that what you do?’
‘No,’ she says and looks away as if upset. But she returns quickly, shed of any emotion. ‘I take.’