It’s been bothering me since yesterday morning.

Cold, rainy, fog and a persistent breeze, we’d been socked in like this for 10, maybe 12, days.  No break.  No sunshine.  Just flooded basements and leaf mold.

I made my way to Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market like I do most Monday mornings.   This time I battled depression and ever-fogging windows.  The 15-year old Volkswagen couldn’t keep up with the enormity of the Gulf’s moisture.

My last stop at the huge market is always the fresh fish area.  Clean, spacious, well-stocked, it’s quite extraordinary.   They’ll filet any kind of fish for free and the prices are obscenely cheap.  I bought 21-25 Alabama Gulf shrimp (previously frozen) and checked out the lesser parts….roe, smelts, squid tubes and legs…sad oysters suffocating under ice.   I turned to leave when the splash caught my eye.

On Mondays, the live fish tanks are normally empty, deplenished from the weekend and ready for the week’s cleaning.  But yesterday, there was a flicker of water and light and I was drawn to it.

Catfish.  A complete 4′ by 10 ‘ by 1′ tank of teeming catfish.

Except.  Except for the yellow and black head, bobbing between the flanks of the stupid fish.   He floated up and down, inhaling and submerging.  He looked my way.

I stood, marveling at the turtle, somehow mistaken for a catfish.

My mind raced.  Where did he come from?  Why was he there?  Was he for sale?  I had just read about Turtle Stew, but he was far too small for that. And besides, he was a solitary terrapin among several hundred of Dixie’s cheapest protein source.  Had he somehow sought out the delicious algae of Auburn or Southern Miss’ commercial catfish ponds? Was he parched and accidentally (perhaps fatally) seeking a drink at the time of harvest?  Was I imagining this shellback?  Should I tell someone?  Should I buy him?

He bobbed up and down. We exchanged glances.  I peered closer, making sure I was, in fact, seeing a turtle in the catfish tank.  I couldn’t see his shell, only his yellow and black head, his beak, and his furtive gasping of the air.

He submerged one last time.  Didn’t come back up.  Uh…disturbed (is that the right word?) I went to pay and leave.  I have no idea what happened to him.  Why he was there.  What would happen to him.

I’ve not stopped thinking about him.  About Jim, the errant turtle.

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