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Number One or Number Two

There was no Linda number two to fill the space in her cramped, one-bedroom apartment. The floor lamp in her closet-sized bedroom was still on, illuminating the crocheted blanket on her twin bed. The TV in the living room was playing a loud infomercial for Tupperware. The crossword puzzles were unfinished on the table next to her recliner, where Linda number one was asleep, but not really asleep, for the last three days. Next to her recliner, the only other piece of furniture in the living room, was a massive turtle aquarium. She would have preferred to be buried behind the apartment complex next to Carl, one of her dearly departed musk turtles. Had she known she was going to die soon, she wouldn’t have bought another Carl, Carl number two, who was smaller but nearly identical, in anticipation of Carl number one’s departure. When Carl number one started to swim slowly and get stuck on his back, she knew it would be soon.

“You’ve got big shoes to fill, and you won’t be just alike” she had said to the new Carl. “That’s why you’re number two.”

Carl number one was buried in a Chinese takeout container adorned with childlike drawings of flowers and clouds in black sharpie. Carl number two and the three remaining turtles, Clark, Clarence, and Cletus, seemed to enjoy the extra space from Carl number one’s absence. He had been with Linda the longest, almost 30 years, and had always claimed the best spot on the rock under the heat lamp.

They knew Linda as a divine hand that sprinkled pellets and freeze-dried mealworms. Had the hand forsaken them? Clarence bit off one of Carl number two’s toes and ate it.

Linda number one was found in her recliner after five days of being not asleep. Her heating blanket, which was still on and pulled up to her chin, had miraculously not caught on fire. The apartment manager, Marcus, had failed to reach her by phone to inform her that the neighbors were complaining again, this time demanding, that she get rid of the god-awful, putrid turtle tank that was stinking up the hallway. Marcus gagged, covering his nose and mouth, while calling 911 to report that he found a tenant who was “very, very dead.”

Linda number one could not be buried behind the apartment complex in a Chinese takeout container. Her final arrangements were orchestrated by Marcus, who was one of her only acquaintances, unless you counted the neighbors who had disliked walking past her door because of the turtle-tank-smell. She grew up in foster care, always moving around, always changing schools, and never good at making the kind of friends without shells. When she aged out of the system, she was on mom and dad number eight, who were much better than mom and dad one through seven. They were an old couple whose only son had died in a car accident and were the closest she ever got to having a real family. Since they died of old age decades prior, she was survived only by her turtles, and turtles don’t give eulogies.

Her miniscule savings were used to pay that month’s rent, and to have her cremated. Marcus dumped her ashes into the turtle tank because he figured it was what she would have wanted. In the twelve years he had managed the apartments, her turtles were the only thing she ever mentioned.

“You need to fix the heat in this building,” she had said. “My babies don’t like cold.”

Her ashes mixed with the muck and excrement at the bottom of the tank, which the turtles would sometimes eat, and shit out again. He made a listing, “FREE TURTLES WITH HUGE TANK”, on craigslist when he decided that that tank was just too big and disgusting to stay in the lobby. He was a little disturbed when a woman who began a text with, “Hey, this is Linda,” said she was interested in the tank. She came and picked up the tank and brought it to the suburbs. Linda number two dumped Linda number one, Carl number two, Clark, Clarence, and Cletus into the retention pond behind her house so she could turn the tank into an indoor vivarium. The turtles died that winter, thanks to Linda number two, and settled into the bottom of the pond with Linda number one.