It's President's day. For many folks, it's a holiday but not for me. For me it's four hours in the gecko room feeding, cleaning and caring for the 200+ geckos, turtles, and reptiles, thousands of crickets, and one big sulcata tortoise – our very own Frankie, our backyard hero who is sleeping indoors because it's winter.
President's Day is an in-between weather day – certainty not cold, dreary and overcast but not a hot, bright sunshine, sulcata-can't-miss day. There is sun with tolerable temperatures for Frankie.
Frankie does his "let me outside, woman, or I will tear down this door." I open the door and he ambles past the stairwell, into the garage and then stops mid-garage because he can now clearly see that it's not a sunny July day outside. He considers his options.
"Come on, Frankie. It's warmer than it looks!" I urge him on.
He gets to the door. Will he or won't he? Like I have to ask. He will.
Everything is set up for a complete walk to the backyard: the Frankie barrier is up to keep him from taking a right turn down the driveway and on to a Big Walk, and the back yard gate is tied open so he can just walk through without waiting for me.
But he stops on the cement drive that has been warmed by the sun.
"This is as far as I go." He sits stubbornly with no indication of moving any farther.
I am thinking that after a ten minute warm up Frankie's need to graze will drive him into the backyard. However, he could decide he wants back inside. I could stand here for an hour waiting as he changes his mind several times but I have things to do. I leave the garage door open in case he calls it quits and wants to get back inside and leave the backyard gate tied open in case he goes that direction. I will check on him every ten minutes or so just to make sure he is safe.
And I do check him a couple of times. He remains in the same spot content to bask.
In the gecko room, I eventually get totally preoccupied feeding the geckos. A ten minute check on Frankie is missed, and then another. Before long I am on the last row of geckos nearly done.
Tap, tap, tap…..there is a light knocking on the gecko room door. The hair on my neck stands up. Greg has warned me over and over about leaving the back door open: burglaries, home invasions, kidnappings. I clutch the ten inch tweezers in my fist so I can use it as a weapon. I am not going down without a fight. Cautiously I move across the gecko room to the door. UPS? Postal service? A neighbor? No way. They would knock on the front door. My heart is pounding.
I get to the gecko room door to peer through the window. I am fully alert and alive…these could be my last moments on earth.
First I see a man's dark hair and in the next second I see a dark blue police uniform. I am not sure if I am more frightened or just relieved. The thousands of possibilities of why a police man would enter my house, walk through the garage and tap on the gecko room door flashes thought my mind.
I sort of wonder what my face looked like when I opened the door and he saw me. I should have asked….it could have been interesting to know what he saw – guilt, fear, joy, relief? Heaven knows.
Then I see a second police man in the garage. They both walk into the gecko room.
Just what does a person who is not expecting a "gecko room" first notice: the jungle humidity levels, temperatures like a hot summer day in Florida, basement with windows covered in foil, high-noon bright lights, tons of plants, measuring items....a dogloo.
My heart stops: the police probably think this is a meth lab or marijuana growing room. These are police officers looking at this room.
At that moment I don't know what the most important thing to say: "Don't shoot, I am not a criminal" or "I raise geckos" or "Is my husband dead?"
The first officer (tall, dark and handsome – yes, I noticed this too) speaks first. "The back door was wide open and the gate was open and there were no cars in the drive way or in the garage, no one answered the door. It looked like a burglary"
Am I relieved or now totally embarrassed? I sputter my explanation as we walk back through the garage and out the door: "Door open for tortoise…..forgot to check….. vacation day….the neighbors know what goes on here……husband works on holidays".
Outside there is not one, not two, but three police cars outside my front house – the whole city police force (we live in a small town) has responded to a possible burglary. Another police officer steps around from the front of the house. A crimson hue of red slips across my face. What will my neighbors think? I repeat over and over to the officers, "I am so sorry, so sorry."
Then I glance over and see Frankie just sitting there. He hasn't moved. He is watching the circus come to town. Frankie looks like he is smiling, maybe even laughing.
To completely clear up everything, I introduce my huge tortoise to the police officers and explain the reason all the doors and gates are open. Yes, they saw Frankie when they approached the house. Really, they didn't know what to think about the huge thing. Then I take them on a tour of the gecko room so there is NO misunderstanding as to what is going on in the basement of my house. It's all legal, there is complete records, I am a known keeper....that WHITE STUFF isn't cocaine it's Frankie's calcium…yes, I buy calcium by the pound.
Oh, gees. What could these guys think?
After a dozen more, "I'm so sorry," the City's Police Department departs from my house.
I walk back to where Frankie is still just sitting there. He is enjoying all of this.
Frankie has managed to bring the whole city police force to my door and into my house.
First thing I do before going back inside is to take down the sign by the backdoor that says "Warning: This House Is Protected By A Killer Tortoise".