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To: Fish’s Grandpa

Fish had me put this note on your fridge to tell you we are running away.

He says we’re going to find his dad. We will mail you money for the sack of food we took from your cupboard, and the jackknife, and the two cups, and the pack of matches. Fish says to tell his mom don’t worry. We have my old man’s gun and five bullets. We have our bikes and fish poles, and a tarp, and also a pouch of your tobacco, and will send money for that too.

Please tell the sheriff that Fish didn’t want to shoot my old man. My old man is dead in my kitchen, on the floor by the table.

From: Dale Breadwin


THE BABY TURTLES THE BOYS CARRIED IN THE FRONT OF THEIR shirts were the size of half-dollars. Fish stopped on the asphalt and looked down into his shirt as he crossed the road from the field to the marsh for the fifth time. It was early June and the sun was hot, and the turtles looked bothered and parched as they clawed in a pile. The turtles were tenacious, which meant “persisting in existence.” That was a word Fish knew from fifth grade.

Fish’s friend, Bread, clawed up from the ditch clover, its lazy bees, and caught up with Fish on the road. A redwing blackbird clung to one of last year’s dried cattail stalks.

“You know these are snappers we’re saving,” said Bread. “See them bony shells? We’re saving snappers.”

The boys feared grown snappers like they feared Bread’s old man. If there was one thing that could stop the boys in their tracks, it was the discovery of a full-grown snapper, how the thing reared up and hissed in that way that didn’t seem right for a turtle to do. Turtles and dads weren’t supposed to rear up and hiss.

Fish looked down into his own shirt and shrugged. “They don’t look mean yet,” he said.

The asphalt road they stood on was quiet and old and bleached nearly white by the sun. It cut through marshes and drained marshes that had been long ago tilled into cornfields. The rooftops of the town of Claypot rose up from the fields a half mile away. The two sagging roofs of Bread’s old man’s house and mechanic shop butted up against the fields to the south. Fish hated that house and shop.

“But they’ll get mean once they grow up,” said Bread.

Fish looked at the turtles again. It didn’t seem right to judge them this early in life, the way they were nearly dried up and only just hatched. Poor damn things. That’s something his grandfather often said when a calf was born a runt and couldn’t eat, or a baby bird had fallen from its nest for the cats to find. The world was full of poor damn things. Sometimes Fish’s grandfather looked at Bread with the same kind of pity in his eyes, but then he’d seem to catch himself and say something about how grateful he was for Bread’s hard work that day, and how he hoped Bread would be back the next. Fish had seen the same looks of pity in the eyes of other grown-ups when they got around Bread. He’d seen it in the eyes of the sheriff when he came around, and even the gas station clerk, when Bread trudged up to the counter in his ragged sneakers to buy a candy bar with money Fish’s grandpa had given him. There was pity, but also wariness, like they were just waiting for Bread to turn out like his dad, waiting for him to pocket the candy and bolt. Bread was poor, and his dad was mean, but Fish disliked the way grown-ups looked at his friend. He didn’t like what it did in his heart, how it made his friendship bear some sort of shame.

“I want to save ’em,” said Fish.

Bread nodded and grinned. “Me too,” he said.

The boys had been walking their bikes toward Claypot when they found the turtles. The overwintered snappers emerged from a dried culvert ditch—the tracks were evident—but instead of clawing their way through the culvert and into the marsh, they clawed their way into the dry dirt of the tilled-up cornfield. They wouldn’t find water if they went that way. And in another week they’d get beaten up by the planters. There were hundreds of them, like little round stones pushed up by a thaw. The boys leaned on their handlebars, watching all the doomed turtles. It had been a good day until then, and doom would ruin it. Before they found the turtles, they sat in the pine trees behind Fish’s grandpa’s barn, and before that they lit off firecrackers in the barn’s silos. Fish loved lighting off firecrackers in silos. The way the air was so dank and still. The way the match flared and the fuse sparked and you covered your ears and squinted your eyes because the darkness was about to become so filled with noise and light. Lighting firecrackers always made Fish feel as if something big was about to happen, big enough to change a regular day. You just had to wait for the fuse, and then the noise and smoke would take you somewhere. And when things got quiet and dark again, you could always light off more firecrackers as long as you had more matches. It was a lot like Fish’s friendship with Bread these last three summers he spent at his grandpa’s farm. Fish was a fuse and Bread was the match, or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, summer was too tame if you had one without the other. Once school let out, his mom would drive him up from town to drop him off, and Fish’s grandpa would be waiting on the porch, and Fish would hug his mom and bolt from the car

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