LAURA: Little articles of it [glass], they’re ornaments mostly! Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here’s an example of one, if you’d like to see it! . . . Oh, be careful — if you breathe, it breaks! . . . Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?

JIM: It sure does shine!

LAURA: I shouldn’t be partial, but he is my favorite one.

JIM: What kind of a thing is this one supposed to be?

LAURA: Haven’t you noticed the single horn on his forehead?

JIM: A unicorn, huh? — aren’t they extinct in the modern world?

LAURA: I know!

JIM: Poor little fellow, he must feel sort of lonesome.

Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, Scene 7


I used to play with this tortoise at my great aunt’s house, whenever we’d go there for lunch.

My great aunt and uncle were collectors, not just of taxidermy (they also had two stuffed caymans), but of small sculpture, paintings, carpets and such. A spear with a horse hair fringe. Hanging blown glass balls. A small ivory vase with incredibly intricate figures carved into it. (What the figures were doing I can’t quite remember, I was always a little afraid of looking too closely; the overall effect was of something celebratory, but slightly sinister). A yak rug, metallic wallpaper, and chandelier with big bevelled glass tear drops hanging from its curved arms. There was something enchanted about the place.

The tortoise is an object I’ve known since I can remember, but I have only a vague memory of our former relationship. Nevertheless, and somewhat mysteriously, I’ve always felt quite deeply for it.  A few months ago, to my surprise and delight, my great aunt agreed to give the tortoise to me. When I took him out of the house, I had a sense of the uncanny. This was a whole new adventure for me and the tortoise; a rekindling of our personal bond, a new context. I carried him home on the subway. I frightened a fruit seller.

We named him Captain. I look at him often, dust him tenderly and stroke his flakey shell when I’m feeling sentimental.