Photos by Maggie Lee
Portions of this text were contributed by Professor H.R. Hepburn of Nelspruit, South Africa
Motorman, David Ohle’s 1972 debut, which we’re not even going to attempt to sum up here because you should just trust us and read it, is one of very few novels that can honestly be described as wholly original. None other than Gordon Lish deemed the book one of his favorites. But after its release, David completely vanished from the literary landscape, not publishing another novel for 32 years. Motorman promptly went out of print and until recently could only be obtained via photocopied bootlegs that were clandestinely distributed among a cult of devout followers. The below story is a hitherto unpublished investigation of the mutant anatomy of turtle boys, appropriately accompanied by photos of the dissection of a turtle.
Reading certain books and pamphlets brought to the Professor’s mind memories of Angel Ozalo, the first turtle boy, Iceland born, who had a remarkable career exhibiting himself in medical fora and symposia (for a fee, of course). His home base was St. Thomas, and he was well known in Royal Society circles for his three-leggedness. Many wanted to amputate the extra leg for their museum collections, but he knew its show value and refused. The additional leg was an evagination of the sacrum, and it was insensate. The knee was fused and unbendable, but he could still flap it under his left thigh and strap it there like a flamingo does during sleep. Half of the flamingos known to the Professor were left-footed anyway. So Angel went on with seeming agility, unencumbered.
The Professor wrote a little commemorative poem dedicated to Angel:
Turtle Boy, oh, Turtle Boy,
Sprung from hot springs,
Only 18 inches high.
Wondrous legs, no kneecaps
To scrape or joints within them. Play your drums, boy,
Play your drums,
Your flute and panpipes too.
King Dodo, after all.
One evening the Professor presented a learned lecture on a bird-headed turtle boy who he’d captured in Sumatra. It had to be smuggled off the island because he had no waiver and refused to pay duty. He spared no expense on the boy’s toilet and had imported two-headed-turtle-oil cream for lubricating his testicle bag.
At the boy’s first show he was full of blooms and wearing a plaid skirt. There was no need for underpants that day because he was showing, to a select few, his new O-ring vagina. In the old days turtle-boy vaginas were very leaky systems, but with the recent development of O-ring vaginal restoration, a boy can reach orgasm by simply inserting a pencil. If a boy is especially active, he can sometimes suffer from clogging, but the O-ring is quickly restored by a natural vaginal decongestant secreted by the boy’s proboscis, used in the declogging process, which fetches a premium as a sauce ingredient at all the local restaurants.
The Professor sometimes gave a little lecture to children gathered around: “Children, the first thing you have to know is you must not excite the turtle boy prior to slaughter. This may cause pore bleeding and give the carcass a bloody appearance. The minimal kit that I use is a 30-cm head-meat saw, one or two 10-cm Bell scrapers, a clean singletree or gambrel, a hog or hay hook, and a block-and-tackle chain hoist. Stick the boy promptly after stunning it; this helps for good bleeding. Scalding is good fun, too, if you do it right, but you have to prepare for scalding before killing the boy. I recommend the Long Semado scalding box, but a Bario vat is acceptable, or even an old head barrel will serve the purpose.
“Once the boy is out for the count and nicely bled, it’s off to the scalding vat, where it is hooked on the gambrel or singletree over an eviscerating barrow. Then you loosen the pizzle, but do not cut the large gland—which contains urine—and remove it at the upper tip of the aitch bone. Remove the bung and intestines by applying light pressure while cutting the tissue that holds them in place. Next you carefully ‘unzip’ your turtle boy and make a tiny cut just below the pizzle, being careful not to puncture the intestines, and then slip your hand inside the carcass and keep two cupped fingers on the back of the knife as you cut. This keeps the guts from accidentally being slashed. Unzip the carcass very slowly and let the guts fall down, unbroken, out of the slit you are making. Guide them with your hands into the bucket and be prepared for them to really leap out of the cavity at you. Then free the liver and, mind you, do not make it mushy from squeezing. Run your fingers behind it and pull it from the back. Hold on to the liver and remove it before it drops to the ground. Be sure to remove the gall bladder intact, being careful not to spill bile on the liver. Save the lungs with the viscera for soup. Rinse the body cavity with clean cold water before removing the head.” One day Guntima, a turtle boy, came to the Professor with a problem: “I stink like an oyster shucker after a long day’s work,” he said. “People on the tram today cried out, ‘Oh, my God, what is that stench?’”
Guntima opened his legs a smidgeon and a certain vermilion pathos wafted out. He recounted a life desperately short of fulfilment, which was not at all surprising. So the Professor produced his standard vaginal spiel. “Guntima, you need to understand the nature of the vagina,” he said. “It is a chemical emitter that has a wide range of options. You can amplify the odor if you wish, but I would not recommend that in your case. As an emitting communication system we are dealing with the dynamics of surface area—the smaller the vagina the lesser the store of odoriferous goodies. The bigger the organ the greater the concentration. You should opt for the counterpart and go small. Small is better and stinks less.”
Guntima sighed, “Why don’t you just fill it up with cement and call it a day?”
After a night’s fitful sleep and a light breakfast of durian and coffee, the Professor ventured out to the museum. In the Adipocere Hall, there was Home’s specimen of an instance of the conversion of a corpse into adipocere over the course of 21 years. It had been recovered from the Shoreditch churchyard in 1831. Next to that was a tableau vivant: a wonderful nodular enlargement of the prostate, a gangrene of the foot, a syphilitic myelopathy, a magnificent scrofula jammed with millet seeds.
In another hall were excellent hypospadias specimens and a well-shaped penile duplication. Against the far wall was another tableau vivant of a swarm of Tay-Sachs kids, a toxic megacolon with colonic dilatation and gangrene with hemorrhagic necrosis, some hyperinflated and atelectatic lungs, and a few Marfan’s sclerodermas.
Then, featured in a special exhibit, were half a dozen Minamatas exhibiting insanity, paralysis and coma, some good Ebola river fevers, a fresh Chikungunya all the way from the Philippines, a chicken chucker from Long Semado, and an old-fashioned hog butcher from Arkansas.
The Professor addressed an audience in the museum’s assembly hall, saying, “I’ve just completed my essay on devolution in turtle boys, and I’m rather pleased with myself.” He listed a number of examples to make this point: “Nelson Nulgo: an honest whore with the general characteristics of the disease including, but not limited to: loss of sensation at the nerve ends, destroyed blood vessels, ligaments and skin tissues, eroded bones, sores, ulcers, and scabs.
“And then there are Alfred and Ocam Twill, brothers, middle-grade turtle boys, father a feebleminded drunkard, mother said to be feebleminded as well. These boys were studs at a Burmese breeding farm, where the administration deprived them of their own rooms and all belongings, even their identities.
“And we have Misty Fogget, low-grade devolvement, a mingled family history on both parental sides, with insanity, epilepsy, consumption, neuralgia, scrofula, and deaf-mutism. Well known in the clinic for his queeps.
“Lastly, let’s not forget Gretchen Brat. He was a dwarf and a mute, the fruit of incestuous intercourse between his mother and his mother’s grandfather. The mother was an overworked, underfed German immigrant with cretinoid features. Father was feebleminded. Both were left-handed consumptives. A brother was intelligent but died of consumption. Gretchen loves queeping and regularly produces a genital spray over his partners.”
When the Professor reached his 70th year, he became uncomfortable with his own Bateman’s purpura, those asymmetrical, irregular purple lesions that afflict the elderly. His skin seemed thin and wrinkled. He had just overcome the bullous pemphigoid blisters hiding among the folds of his groin. At least that was an improvement over his last incidence of pustular furuncles, which continually seeped. He also had a profound rectal prolapse in which the rectum turned inside out, so that instead of being a nice conical cavity as the rectum ought to be, its lining projected from the anus like a dark red finger. One of the Professor’s turtle boys was inordinately fond of sucking on it when he was allowed. It was also accompanied by the frequent sensation or urge to defecate. Notwithstanding, his symptoms also included constipation, rectal fullness, the passage of mucus through the rectum, and rectal bleeding.
When the Professor lived in the southern part of Africa, he encountered the Afrikaans idea of mors dood, meaning “very seriously dead.” A fly that has been swatted into absolute paste on the kitchen table and requires scraping to remove the fly pâté is mors dood. A fly that you swat and it pops up in the air and falls dead on the floor is merely dood. It is a way of life or nonlife that permeates Africa like the endless cloud of charcoal fire that enshrouds the continent. There are no cat burglars in Africa, only knife-, screwdriver- or gun-toting turtle boys who find it far easier to kill a fast-asleep occupant of a house when the boy wants a can of mushrooms from the kitchen. Dead robbery victims cannot identify them. Judging by their reproductive rate, turtle boys are somewhat faster than rabbits or guinea pigs.
And it is this that explains the Professor’s confusion over an apparently dead turtle boy in the garden of his laboratory building one day. At 16:50 the bloody church bells had started ringing, summoning the Professor home to the first of what would eventuate into several rounds of arrack. Down the steps he went with one of his colleagues. As they turned toward their vehicles, they came to a flower garden.
“Oh dear,” the Professor said, “another bloody dead turtle boy in the garden. But maybe he’s just drunk.”
“No, he’s not drunk,” the colleague said. “He’s eintlik mors dood! His eyes are open but the pupils have rolled up into his head.”
Several uniformed policemen arrived and set up red-and-white-striped hazard tape—the kind used to outline crime scenes—and pretended that they knew what they were doing. Off the Professor and colleague went, worrying about what horrible damage this dead turtle boy had inflicted on the Barleria and Clivia blossoms and the Hypoestes shrubs.
The next morning, the corpse was gone, and the flowers and shrubs had only suffered minor contusions. Still, one could see the depression among them that the wide body had made.
The Professor engaged the security chap, who had been one of the main hazard-tape festooners the evening previous.
“What actually happened with that dead turtle boy yesterday?”
“Professor, I am very, very sorry to report that that he was only in an alcoholic coma. Too much arrack.”
“What did you chaps do with him?”
“Just carried him back to his post in grounds and gardens. And today he will have a lekker babelaas, a big hangover.”
The Professor said, “What was perplexing was that his knees were bent. I figured that if you are flat on your back and dead, you probably would have relaxed your knees to be more comfortable. Also, there was no sign of fly strike, no maggots that I could see.”
“Well, Professor, you should know that when it comes to the slow-motion gene pool, even the flies are retarded.”
“Yes, I suppose you are right. I remember a few years ago we found a turtle boy in the quarry who already had a corpse pong and there was not a fly in sight. Then there was the one I found at the bottom of the stairs next to the lift, headlong dood. He was ventral-side down with his knees bent as if trying an aerial genuflection. It somehow lacked effect. Practically all that we could do is flare the nares for corpse pong and hunt the flies. Failing that, we assume sleep, alcoholic coma, or forgetfulness, but not death.”
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