I sit on the floor beside the plastic turtle home and pull Aidan onto my lap. His body curls stickily into me like larva in a cocoon. His soft blond curls tickle my chin. I am a sucker for these curls. The rest of us in the family have coarse, dark hair, and it's pretty safe to assume that one day in the not-too-distant future Aidan will have it, too. But for the moment, he's blessed with this stuff—so bright it's virtually yellow, so soft that I could melt. But I mustn't melt. At least not now. I'm trying to be a professional. There will be time for sentimentality later, when we go to get a new turtle and my brain cells are fried anyway.
"Do you know what happened to Zebra?" I ask.
Aidan burrows his face deeper into my chest. I can feel the wetness of his tears soak through my T-shirt.
"He died," I say. "I'm so sorry he died. But it happens. Pets die and we feel very sad."
"But I loved him."
"And he loved you. You gave him a beautiful life."
"I gave him dried shrimp."
"You did. The pet-store lady said he'd be fine with dried worms, but you knew he liked shrimp, so you gave him dried shrimp."
"Why did he die?"
"Because creatures die," I say, hoping to God he doesn't make the connection between this creature and human ones—at least not now, when I am trying to get back to work in ten minutes. It's one thing to go back to work if my son is contemplating the death of a turtle; quite another if he's contemplating his death or my own.
"But I didn't want him to die!"
Phew. This still seems to be about the turtle.
"Of course you didn't want him to die. I didn't want him to either. Do you know what we do when a pet dies?"
I can feel the wetness shake "No" against my chest.
"We bury it."
No sooner do the words come out of my mouth than I regret them. This is Hong Kong and there is no earth for miles.
"We bury it?" Aidan asks, perking up, of course, because kids are guaranteed to get excited about anything you regret having said.
"I don't know."
"The beach! Can we bury him on the beach?"
Hong Kong has many beaches, and one is just a short walk away. So on one hand, this is not a bad idea. On the other hand, the current temperature is 90 degrees, the humidity even higher, and what a decomposing turtle might do to sunbathers I don't want to be responsible for.
"Please, please..." Aidan insists. "Let's bury him on the beach."
Thankfully, I have a brainstorm: Ziploc bag! If we stick Zebra in a Ziploc bag first, then I can dig him up later without sending innocents to the hospital.
We stick Zebra in a Ziploc bag. Then we lay him to rest in a bucket in the laundry room, where I tell Aidan he will remain until later in the day.
"But I want to bury him now," Aidan pleads.
"So would I like to bury him now," I say in my best firm-but-loving-and-wouldn't-Penelope-Leach-be-proud parenting voice. "But we can't always do what we want when we want. I have to work. So you're going to play, I'm going to work, and we're going to bury Zebra later in the day."
I kiss Aidan goodbye, turn around, and dash to my office, as if to a secret lover whom I've had to leave in the lurch. I slide back onto my chair as if onto his lap. I close my eyes. I try to remember where we were. Aidan bursts through the door.
We Hear You!