Underneath the Costume

Michelangelo, the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, was making an appearance at the grocery store on Saturday. Ben’s dad agreed to take him, so they got up early and drove through the foggy streets to Shop ‘n Save. In the back seat, Ben stared out the window and found faces in the grayish clouds above.

They arrived five minutes early. Ben noticed a bunch of boys and girls around his age, maybe a little younger, waiting next to their parents. Michelangelo wasn’t there yet, so Ben’s dad took him by the hand and found them a place to stand in front of a pyramid of Pop Tarts.

Ben watched the automatic doors as they opened and closed, and he tried to imagine what Michelangelo would look like in person. He had seen him in cartoons, of course, but this was real life.

“Why did Michelangelo want to come here?” he asked. “Is Michelangelo real?”

Before Ben’s dad could answer, Michelangelo himself walked through the front doors with a woman around Ben’s mom’s age leading him by the arm. As the giant Ninja Turtle blindly approached the small crowd, Ben’s questions faded away. This Michelangelo didn’t have shiny turtle skin; his “skin” was droopy material and looked old and kind of dirty. His shell was soft foam, not solid armor, and his huge, white smile seemed stuck on his face. It was obviously a costume.

The lady with Michelangelo raised her hand and spoke.

“Alright, thanks for coming! Michelangelo is ready to get his picture taken with you all, but I need you to line up,” she announced.

Ben watched from a distance as Michelangelo put his arm around each kid and posed for pictures. Before he was ready, his dad nudged him forward. Much too soon, he was face-to-face with Michelangelo.

“Hi,” Ben said nervously.

Michelangelo’s huge head tilted to one side, and he waved an arm in response. Ben was confused, so he looked again to his dad.

“He doesn’t talk,” his dad said. “Just go stand next to him and I’ll get a picture.”

After he said “cheese” and his dad’s camera flashed, Ben saw Michelangelo’s green arm outstretched. The Ninja Turtle wanted to shake hands.

When he squeezed, Ben felt a hard, human hand beneath the floppy green costume. He had expected this, but it was still surprising.

As they walked back to the car, Ben could tell his dad knew he was disappointed, and he let Ben be. Ben didn’t feel sad—just kind of empty. His dad let him climb into the front seat this time. After buckling, Ben finally broke the silence.

“That wasn’t Michelangelo, was it?” he asked.

His dad didn’t reply for a few long seconds. He seemed unsure what to say. Then, he took his right hand off the steering wheel and rested it on top of Ben’s head.

“No, son, there was somebody underneath the costume,” he said.

Ben was silent again as they drove home. All he could think about was the strange sensation of shaking the fake Michelangelo’s hand.

Then, he raised his own hand off his lap, faced his palm up, and stared at the complicated design in the creases of his skin. He found himself wondering if another body could be living inside his body. For reasons he couldn’t quite understand, this seemed more believable than Michelangelo being real.

Ben put down his hand, leaned his forehead against the cool window, and closed his eyes. Outside, the sun was beginning to come out from behind the clouds.

Ryan Tahmaseb grew up mostly in the South and now lives in New England. He teaches English at The Meadowbrook School in Weston, Massachusetts during the academic year and spends his summers studying at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English.