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Night Island by Mary Helen Specht
Prairie Schooner Winter 2014 Issue Volume 88 Number 3
I read this gently told story about a week ago, and I can’t forget it. Who would have thought a National Geographic-asque account would turn into a subtle fable of man’s transgressions against the nature? A couple observes the mating rituals of the turtles by the beach, and the tone in the earlier part of the story is measured and research-erly,
“Billy straddled the animal’s rubbery back in order to measure her shell at the widest point and then her head. Isabella jotted down the numbers in a notebook.”
Just a couple of researchers doing their duty, but what the narrator observes in the end is heartbreaking. The tone of the narrator at the end is non-judgmental and stoic, but it delivers the necessary punch regardless. The subtle suggestion earlier in the story,
“[…]she liked to imagine her own belly full of babies and to wonder if—one day—they would look like her or like him.”
foreshadows the conclusion of the story. Yet another observation by the narrator,
“Billy’s eyes were trained on the turtle’s underbelly, and it was during these moments Isabella felt most alone; by his total concentration on the animal, he pressed his absence through her.”
hints at the discord between the characters and suggests that Isabella carries the burden of conscience, and she is attuned to the injustice they are about to inflict on the animal realm.