They found him in the dead center of a pebbled, sandy path leading off of the beach. “Look, Dad!” Stacy exclaimed.
My brother-in-law adjusted his sunglasses and craned his neck forward. “At what?” he asked. Then, “Oh, you mean him?”
Stacy nodded vigorously. “Yeah. He looks lost. Can I take him home? If we leave him here, someone will step on him.”
Ray couldn’t argue that. The path was well-traveled by people hauling cumbersome loads of beach apparel. Odds that they’d notice him–or, if they did, employ heroic measures to avoid trampling him–seemed slight. Left unaided, the thing probably wouldn’t survive until sundown. And, Ray silently admitted, as snails went, he was pretty cute.
“Where will you keep him?”
A child of divorce, Stacy answered, “At Mom’s.”
“Well, okay then.”
Fifteen minutes later, Speedy the snail was adjusting to the environs of a plastic soup container adorned with one small rock. Two hours after that he arrived, pale from motion sickness, in the suburbs of northern Jersey. At this point, Stacy decided she’d rather keep him at Ray and Maureen’s than her mother’s. After recuperating, Speedy thus set about carving a niche for himself in their household, already home to a 225-pound English Mastiff, a five-pound Chiuaua, and a hostile parakeet named Butchie.
My sister, still in south Jersey, got a call early the next morning.
“Damn snail,” Ray huffed. “The thing smells, and I swear it shits as much as Winston” (225-pound Mastiff).
“Well, what are you feeding it?”
“They eat fruits and vegetables. The refrigerator was empty, so I had to go out for some grapes and lettuce.” Ray exhaled in a gust. “Like I have time for this before work.”
Maureen stifled a laugh.
“And it gets worse,” Ray said. “Do you know how long these things live? Ten to fifteen years! By the time it dies, Stacy’ll have her goddamn driver’s license.”
“Well,” Maureen said, “for all we know, he could already be thirteen or fourteen. And maybe living in captivity would shorten his life span.”
“Whatever,” Ray said. “I’m not housing a snail for fifteen years. Speedy’s going.”
“What are you going to do with him?”
“I’d like to set him free in the back yard, but his breed isn’t indigenous to this county.” Ray sighed. “I guess I’ll bring him back to the shore next weekend. Just put him back where we found him.”
“Well. . .” Maureen said. “I guess it’s for the best. Just make sure you put him way over to the side of the path, out of harm’s way.”
The next Saturday morning, that’s exactly what Ray did.
Midday, walking off of the beach, Maureen and Ray spied a crushed Speedy, partially covered by sand, smack dab in the middle of the path.
“Oh, no!” Maureen cried. She turned to Ray. “Did you put him over to the side, like you said you would?”
“Hey,” Ray said. “Don’t try to pin this on me.”
“So you’re saying you did.”
“Well,” Maureen said, “you clearly chose the wrong side.”