FIRST PRESENCE (from “The Lady Orangutan and Other Stories”)

“In the beginning, I was alone and there was the wind brushing the buffalo grasses and jerking creosote bushes around. I was content. But then, some several creosote bushes over, I saw a lumpy darkness lumbering slowly through the buffalo grasses.

I rose to my feet. I’m not sure what I thought it was at first but when I walked toward it tentatively, I soon deciphered it – it was a desert tortoise of considerable size.

I moved very slowly. I tried to project a kindly image, gentle vibrations. The tortoise was huge, bigger by far than a man’s head – perhaps the size of a steering wheel in circumference but then the thickness raised the top of it about a foot above the ground.

I got quite close and the tortoise seemed to stop moving in confusion. “Hey now, there now,” I said, as I crouched to get down to his level.

And the eyes looked at me in a sort of horror. The claws seemed clumsy, ineffective; they didn’t grasp the ground but only scrabbled and shoved him along. The shell was grand – sinfully, I wanted it for a salad bowl or a guitar. The desert tortoise is an endangered species and I had all the salad bowls and guitars I needed.

The eyes looked at me and I saw that it was I that was exotic.

He was primordial and he looked at me out of the days before our days and I found myself now kneeling at his side in some kind of penance.”

— by Jane Wodening