Miracle according to Tyler

We were at our favorite pond. Bob and Todd were fishing. It was an extremely torpid day. Everything was drying up. Lawns were burnt crisp. Birds chirped listlessly, begging for rain, it seemed. I sat under a drooping rowan tree, idly fluttering the pages of a magazine, and keeping a watchful eye on Tyler as he rambled along the bank.

The fishermen - sixty years apart in age - were able to ignore the humidity. Tyler didn't mind it, either. He was busily searching for additions to his collection of old bottle caps, trotting briskly, stopping every so often to glean a new ''treasure.'' He studied each one before deciding to keep or discard it, all the while talking quite satisfactorily to his own small person. Bob's outdated license tag, which Tyler called his ''ida-cation,'' was attached to the beak of his baseball cap, giving him a sense of security. ''Don't worry, Gocky, '' he called back each time he dipped a few feet down the bank; ''I'm right here.'' Then he'd bob up again with a fresh prize.

Bottle caps, I shrugged. Each to his own. I settled against the tree trunk resignedly. Tyler's bemused chatter reached reassuringly from his distance though his words were unclear. He'd turned at the dam and was heading back with a pocketful of more-or-less rusted souvenirs. Some would be unrecognizable. He'd need help in identifying them. Just as he reached the park bench nearest me he stopped. He bent over in puzzlement, poking at the ground, scratching a bit before picking up the object of his latest concern. ''Gocky, come take a look at this one.''

I went over to him. In his grubby hand lay an impossibly dirty round thing, flattened and wholly unfamiliar. It was mud-caked and, for good measure, dust-filmed. ''That's certainly not worth keeping,'' I judged. ''You ought to toss it right in that trash barrel.''

''But what's it?'' he pressed. Long lashes brushed his cheeks. ''I thought it was a dead tea bag,'' he admitted with some embarrassment. ''See this bit of leftover string?''

''Whatever - it's rubbish, Ty. Throw it away.''

''But, Gock, look!'' He was still rubbing at the round surface that was bigger than a bottle cap, about the size of a half dollar. Not much thicker. In spite of all the mud and film, some pattern was emerging. ''I think,'' he paused , ''I think it could be a baby turtle. This string's a tail.''

''Nonsense.'' But I, too, squinted hard. The flattened disk was notched at even intervals. Definitely. ''Well,'' I acknowledged, ''it just might have been a turtle - once. But it isn't now. Maybe someone stepped on it weeks ago. Maybe a bird dropped it. Whatever - it's been dried out a long time. Throw it away and let's wash those hands.''

He continued to pore over it. ''I think it moved its tail.''

How could he see such a movement; how could he conclude that? He turned it around and around. His nose was close to where its head - if it had one - ought to be. ''Yes, it surely did move!''

Todd, hearing his brother's infectious tone, scrambled up the bank, followed by his grandfather. With big-brother superiority he took it from Tyler, holding it higher than he could reach to retrieve it. ''Wait a minute, motor-mouth. Keep still. If it's a turtle it's dead as a doornail. It even stinks. Whyn't you chuck it back in the pond?''

''No! I'm keeping it. It's my prize.'' He managed to touch its dangling thread-tail.

Were we seeing things? Certainly that short, limp appendage did seem to move - at Tyler's concerned touch, obviously. ''Put it in this bucket of water,'' Bob directed. He, too, caught the excitement. His voice was urgent. ''At least we can see what it looks like with some of the gunk washed off.''

Suddenly, as Ty lowered his treasure into the water, the string tail definitely did waggle. The caked mud began to flake off the surface. A shell became recognizable. Four scratchy feet emerged and began to weakly paddle. It floated, visibly expanding. ''It's alive. I told you! Come on, friend turtle. Come back and show 'em!'' Tyler cheered. His eyes were wide with wonder, full of trust.

The dirt sifted to the bottom of the bucket. Bob picked up the valiant swimmer. ''Its eyes are open,' he marveled just before the reptilian head slid under its carapace.

''Put him back, put him back!'' Ty was jumping up and down, afire with enthusiasm. ''It's a mir-cle. A mir-cle.'' Nobody responded. ''Isn't it a mir-cle, Gocky?''

''As near a miracle as I've ever witnessed,'' I slowly admitted. I turned to the awed fishermen. ''If you'd seen this miracle when he picked it up you'd never believe - by the remotest possibility - that it could be alive. Yet this little motor-mouth wasn't about to take anyone's word that it wasn't. His was no little faith. . . .''

Tyler's eyes shone. He gave his brother a meaningful punch. ''See, Todd? Do you see?''

Bob's eyes met mine over their bowed heads. ''Out of the mouths of babes,'' he murmured.

''Aw,'' Todd stalled, ''he was probably just dehydrated. Let's put him back in the pond.'' He shifted uncomfortably.

''No,'' Ty said stoutly. ''I'm keeping him.''

Somewhere in the distance thunder rumbled, breaking the tension. ''Mama will make you put him in our brook back home,'' Todd warned.

Tyler tossed his head. ''I'll give him a name. I'll always be able to find him.''

''Lazarus,'' I mused aloud. ''You might call him Lazarus.''

''OK. Thanks, Gock,'' he said trustingly. ''Let's take Lazarus home.''

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