On Thumbs, Monkeys, and Lettuce – (day 2)


C. Glen Williams

     “Hurry up,” said Parson, bouncing up and down impatiently.

     “I’m not as fast as you are,” said Duncan, struggling to pull himself up onto the branch.

     “That’s plain to see,” said Parson, gesturing spastically with a stumpy foreleg. “We started climbing at the same time, and now I’ve been waiting for you four whole days.”

     “Three and a half,” snorted Duncan. “I can’t exactly help it if I’m not built to climb.”

     Parson popped his head into his shell and back out again. “Neither am I,” he said, “but I did. It’s simple enough once you figure it out.”

     “But you’re clever. I’m slower than you are — you can’t expect me to be able to do it right away?”

     Parson grunted. Someone who knew the facial expressions and physical mannerisms of turtles might almost think that he looked nervous. “Any turtle can do it,” he said. “It’s all about how you balance the shell and when you reach with the leg–”

     “We don’t have thumbs,” snapped Duncan, finally managing to get himself on top of the branch. “Did that ever occur to you? Monkeys have thumbs, and even they manage to fall out of the trees some times.”

     “Have you ever seen one fall?”

     Duncan was silent for a moment, thinking. He had had a very long life by most species’ standards, but not all that long from a turtle’s point of view. Even so, he had to think for a good while.

     “Now that you mention it,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a monkey, let alone a falling monkey.”

     “Then how can you even say they have thumbs with any degree of certainty?”

     “I think I heard about it somewhere,” said Duncan.

     “From who? Another turtle?” said Parson.

     “It would just about have to have been.”

     “And if you’ve never seen a monkey, how can you be sure that any other turtle has seen a monkey?”

     Duncan shook his head slowly from side to side. A true expert on turtles would have recognized confusion in his eyes. “There’s something wrong with that argument,” he said, “but I can’t figure out what it is.”

     “That’s because you’re not a philosopher like me,” said Parson.

     “Filler soaper?” said Duncan. “What’s that?”

     “It’s someone whose job is to think,” said Parson. “They spend all day just thinking.”

     “Why would anybody need a filler soaper?” said Duncan. “It seems like a pointless job.”

     “It’s very important,” said Parson, proudly. “If we sit around and think, then we figure out what it is we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right and what we can do differently. We’re meant to do more than just wander the ground, hauling our shells from rock to rock, looking for a scrap of lettuce or a nice, juicy cricket here and there.”

     “I could enjoy a crunchy piece of lettuce right about now,” said Duncan.

     “There’s nothing wrong with a piece of lettuce per se,” said Parson, “but we’re meant to do more than go looking for it. Think about it. Wouldn’t a piece of lettuce taste so much better if you knew that you had done something truly spectacular earlier that day?”

     Duncan thought about it.

     “I don’t think lettuce really tastes like much to begin with. It’s more of a texture thing.”

     “Forget about the lettuce,” said Parson, “and get out here. We’re going to do something no turtle has ever done before.”

     “Are we going to see a monkey?”

     Parson rolled his eyes. “Forget about the monkeys,” he said. “This has nothing to do with monkeys.”

     “Do monkeys have filler soapers?”

     “Philosophers. And no, they don’t have– well, yes, they might. But mostly it’s humans that have philosophers.”

     “Do human filler soapers know how to make lettuce taste better?”

     “No, they think about human things.”

     “Thumbs!” said Duncan, hopping up slightly in his excitement and shaking the branch, causing Parson to shift his weight to avoid falling. “Humans have thumbs, too! And they fall out of trees.”

     “Don’t be ridiculous. Humans don’t climb trees.”

     “They do when they’re children.”

     “Only the ones who don’t survive to be adults,” said Parson. “Forget about the thumbs and get out here.”

     Duncan stopped, confused. “What am I supposed to forget?” he said. “You’ve told me to forget so many things now that I can’t remember what I was supposed to forget.”

     “Then you’ve done a very good job forgetting them, haven’t you?”

     Duncan inched along the branch. “I think I was supposed to forget about monkeys,” he muttered to himself, “but why was I thinking about monkeys in the first place?”

     “All right, that’s far enough,” said Parson. “Now I want you to pay close attention, because you are about to witness the world’s first turtle philosopher in the process of… philosophizing.”

     “Does it involve lettuce?”

     “No,” said Parson, raising his head as far as he could, “it involves the advancement of all turtlekind to the next level.”

     “But we’re already there.”


     Duncan looked down from the branch. “We’re already at the next level,” he said. “The ground’s down there and we’re up here. But I don’t think there’s enough room up here for everybody else.”

     “No, not physical level,” said Parson. “The next level of– it’s very hard to explain. But it means that we’re not going to be just ordinary turtles any more.”

     “We’re not?”

     “No. We’ll be something new. Something better than turtles used to be.”

     “Will we still enjoy lettuce?”

     Parson froze. He had never really considered the ramifications of species advancement re: lettuce before.

     “I suppose,” he said. “Of course. Why wouldn’t we?”

     “What about crickets?”

     “I’m sure they’ll be just as tasty as they’ve always been. No — better. Crickets will taste better once we have realized our full potential as members of the turtle race. Now, any more questions before I start to philosophize?”

     “Will we have thumbs at the next level?”

     “We won’t need thumbs where we’re going,” Parson snorted.

     “What if I want thumbs?”

     “What would you use thumbs for?”

     “I hear they’re very useful. Monkeys like having them.”

     Parson glared at Duncan, his jaw working silently for a moment. Duncan suddenly felt bashful and fell into a respectful silence.

     “If we’re done with the questions,” said Parson, “I can get started with the philosophizing.”

     Duncan nodded, keeping his mouth shut.

     Parson straightened up again, extending his neck to its longest point, his head held high.

     “Since time began,” he said, “there has been dream that turtles have clung to, as the turtle to the phoenix–”

     “I never did,” said Duncan with a snort.

     Parson stopped, his philosophical train suddenly and rudely derailed. “What?” he said.

     “You said the turtle clung to the feenis, whatever that is.”


     “Whatever it is, I never clung to one.”

     “No, the turtle as in the turtledove.”

     “A turtledove?” Duncan’s eyes narrowed as he considered the possibilities. “How do you get a turtledove? I mean, who even thinks a dove is attractive?”

     “No, no, no,” said Parson. “It has nothing to do with a turtle and a dove… that is, the anatomical logistics alone….”

     “Even if they could anny-comical their lodge-sticks,” said Duncan, “what kind of self-respecting turtle would want to?”

     “You’re getting it all confused,” said Parson.

     “I’m getting it confused? That’s a laugh. You’re the one suggesting a turtle and a dove could–”

     “No, a turtledove is just a kind of dove. It has nothing to do with an actual turtle.”

     “Then why did you call it a turtle?”

     “People call them turtles all the time. Why shouldn’t I have called it a turtle?”

     “It’s confusing, that’s why.”

     “How on Earth could you possibly think that was confusing?”

     “When you’re a turtle talking to a turtle and you use the word ‘turtle,’ why should the other turtle think that you mean a dove?”

     Parson opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again without speaking. He opened his mouth again, and again closed it. Finally, he said, “That… that actually makes sense.”

     “Maybe I’m a filler-soaper, too,” said Duncan, proudly. “We can be filler-soapers together.”

     Parson glared at Duncan. “Maybe,” he said, “but only so long as we’re clear that I’m the first turtle philosopher.”

     “Turtle turtle or turtledove?”

     Parson groaned. “Will you stop confusing me and let me get back to my philosophizing?”

     Duncan looked at him, silently, but his lower jaw trembled.

     “What is it?” said Parson, sighing.

     “What is a feenis and why does the turtledove cling to it?”

     “The phoenix,” said Parson, again raising his head to its full height, “is a beautiful bird that dies in an all-consuming flame, only to rise reborn from its own ashes.”

     “What, and a turtledove clings to it?”


     “While it’s burning?

     “Well, yes.”

     “But that would hurt!”

     “I imagine so.”

     “Then why would it do that?”

     “Because it’s in love with the phoenix.”

     “That makes no sense! I love a nice, crunchy piece of lettuce, but if you set fire to it I’m not very well going to say, ‘damn the consequences’ and go nuzzling up to it.”

     “But that is the depth of its devotion.”

     “You mean the depths of its stupidity.”

     “Yes,” said Parson, with a sigh. “You are correct. It’s a very stupid bird. May I continue?”

     “They should call it a monkeydove, then,” said Duncan. “Okay, get on with your soaperizing.”

     “Thank you,” said Parson. “Now, there is a dream that turtles have clung to since the beginning of time, as the turtle…dove clings to the phoenix. Yes, turtles have clung to the dream that one day we would slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the clouds, themselves.” Parson paused and looked at Duncan.

     Duncan looked back, silently.

     “That means fly,” said Parson. “I’m saying turtles have always dreamt of flight.”

     It is difficult to imagine a turtle shrugging, but Duncan managed it.

     “You’re not going to correct me?” said Parson.

     Again, Duncan shrugged.

     “I just said turtles dreamt of flight. You’re not going to tell me you never have or ask me which turtles dreamt of it or anything like that?”

     “No,” said Duncan. “You say turtles have dreamt of it, I figure you must know some turtles who have.”

     “Right,” said Parson. “So, turtles have dreamt of flight. Today, thanks to my philosophizing, we are ready to transcend that goal. We will step forward off of this branch and enter into a new era for all turtlekind as we take to the sky!”

     “Did you say we’re going to step off of the branch?”

     “Step forward, off of this branch,” said Parson, nodding.

     “I would really prefer not to.”

     “You just climbed the tree to get up here,” said Parson. “Do you really want to try doing that in reverse? Jumping off of the branch is the only way to go.”

     Duncan thought about it.

     “I could be a tree turtle,” he said. “Monkeys seem perfectly happy with being in trees.”

     “Don’t stand in the way of progress,” said Parson, turning and marching to the end of the branch. He stood, proud, in all his turtle glory, and cast his eyes to the sky.

     “If I may, as your fellow filler-soaper,” said Duncan, “mention something you’re not thinking of….”

     “I have thought of everything,” said Parson, “but you may speak.”

     “It just seems to me that we, as turtles, are missing something that the birds use to fly.”

     “If you say ‘thumbs,’ I’m throwing you off the branch first.”

     “I was actually going to say ‘wings,'” said Duncan.

     “We don’t need wings,” said Parson. “For I, in my daily philosophizing, have realized something that will be the key to turtle flight.”

     “Oh, that’s good, then.”

     “As I was pondering the question of how we would reach the skies, my dear fellow philosopher, I observed a small creature — a squirrel — leaping from branch to branch.”

     “They do that, yeah.”

     “Then, suddenly, the squirrel spread its arms wide and leapt, and I observed him actually take to flight as gracefully as a hawk.”

     “It never did.”

     “Oh, yes, it did.”

     “What, without wings?”

     “Not only without wings, but without flapping, as well. It took on a shape. A shape that, I deduced, helped it to fly. And that shape… was the shape of the turtle.”

     “Shell and all?”

     “He didn’t actually have the shell, of course, but he was shaped like the shell. Sort of roundish and flat on the bottom.”

     “Ah,” said Duncan, and lapsed into silence.

     “And so, armed with this information, I prepare to become the first turtle to fly.”

     “A turtle turtle, right? Because I imagine turtledoves have flown for a very long time.”

     Parson craned his head to stare disbelievingly at Duncan. “Did you just ask if I meant turtle or turtledove? Do I look like a turtledove to you?”

     “I’ve never seen one,” said Duncan, shrugging again. “For that matter, you could look exactly like a monkey and I’d never know it. Except for the ‘no thumbs’ thing. The only thing I know for sure is you don’t look like a piece of lettuce.”

     Parson shook his head sadly and turned back to look at the sky. “I go now, friend Duncan,” he said. “Observe me well, for you will want to execute this move exactly as I do it, otherwise the consequences could be dire.”

     “Oh, yes, dire, yes,” said Duncan.

     Parson lowered the back of his shell and twitched it back and forth, extending his neck. He gazed upon the clouds once more, opened his mouth, and cried, “I fly today, for all turtlekind!” And then he pushed forward, off the edge of the branch, and fell from sight.

     Moments later, Duncan heard a distinct thwacking sound from below.

     Duncan inched forward to the edge of the branch and looked down.

     “Was that flight, then?” he called down.

     Parson’s voice floated back up to him with a groan. “I believe I may have miscalculated.”

     “So I should do the same thing you just did?”

     “No! No,” said Parson, hastily. “Just… just wait up there and I’ll be back up to the branch in two or three days, and we can try again.”

     Duncan looked around the branches of the trees.

     “All right,” he called back down, “but bring some lettuce with you. I don’t think there’s any up here.”



17 Responses to “On Thumbs, Monkeys, and Lettuce – (day 2)”

  1. Carrie Clevenger

    Monkeydoves, thumbs, and nuzzling up to fiery lettuce. Full of rich little comic nuggets. Well done.

  2. Susan May

    Oh, poor Parson! I’m glad he survived it!
    A fun tale, well done.

  3. TEC4

    That was so funny! I wanna be a filler soaper, too! 🙂

  4. Jim Bronyaur

    I love the dialogue in this so much… so fun and witty! 🙂

    Thanks for writing this and sharing.


  5. Patti Larsen

    LOL! So funny! Very Abbot and Costello… great writing!

  6. Tony Noland

    The dialog interaction here is great. I’ve met some philosophers who would have thrown themselves off a building, shouting “QED! QED!” all the way down.

  7. A. M. Harte

    This had me giggling the whole way through. 🙂

  8. lil_monmon

    Absolutely Brilliant. Your dialogue is top notch. I enjoyed it immensely! I love the “brilliant thickness” of these clever stupid turtles.

  9. Chuck Allen

    I love your characters! This was fun to read.

  10. Cecilia Dominic

    These turtles were too cute! Loved the discussion of what could result in a turtledove.


  11. David G Shrock

    Good fun. Glad the shell held up.

  12. Sarah Williams

    Fun story!

  13. Icy Sedgwick

    Oh I LOVE this! So much fun! I really hope Duncan doesn’t try to fly though. He’s adorable!

  14. Tweets that mention On Thumbs, Monkeys, and Lettuce – (day 2) « 12 Days 2010! -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by C. Glen Williams, anna. anna said: The second #12Days2010 story today is also great, and very funny: On Thumbs, Monkeys, and Lettuce http://is.gd/iNM9t […]

  15. Cindy Mantai

    Great story — I kept imaging two British turtles throughout the dialogue. Dialogue was top notch.

  16. PJ Kaiser

    This was filled with giggles! Such clever dialogue. Glad Parson survived, but i wonder how poor Duncan will get down!

  17. adampb

    The dialogue is snappy (like a turtle) and brilliant. So much filler soaping!
    Adam B @revhappiness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s