The second thing I see after pulling the bedroom blind is my wife’s handprint on the casement window. The first thing I see is an alligator in the pool.
I light a cigarette and grab my phone, Google ‘difference crocodile alligator’. I’d stopped using grammar in my searches years ago. It saved a lot of time, so I decided to try it with my verbal communication as well. This was just before my wife left. I’d say things like ‘pass salt’, and ‘where keys’. She hated that, so I told her: ‘time money’. No, she said, work money.
The words between us disappeared, eventually. One day, there were none left. Not even goodbye.
This is how you can tell an alligator is an alligator:
1) Their snouts are wide and rounded.
2) They can hide their teeth.
3) They’re fast. Much faster than a crocodile.
My wife had webbed feet. I used to kiss her toes, play ‘this little piggy’ with them. I’d tell her that’s why she could swim so fast. Then she would give me that look, say, Training for two hours every day can’t hurt, either.
I open the bedroom window and look out.
How would regular people handle this situation? A normal couple. What would they do if they found a gator in the pool? They would probably panic, this couple. Hon, the man would say. Come look at this. Then they would turn to each other in disbelief. The woman would run to the nursery while the man dialed 911. They’d notify the authorities. Feature in the local newspaper. Probably call an emergency neighborhood watch meeting.
Me? I head downstairs to the kitchen and slide a knife from the block. Phone in hand, I check my messages (zero), and fire up the video app. This could go viral. Man fights alligator with 8-inch Shun. I’ll be a YouTube star. A Twitter phenomenon. People will pass me on the street and say, Hey, it’s Crocodile Dundee! That’s not a knife, that’s a knife!
I hit ‘Record’ and approach the pool. At the edge of the pool I peer over. The gator is there. It doesn’t move. I expect its eyes to shine amber or green, but when the security light catches them they glow a deep blood-red.
I’d emptied the pool the same day my wife left. After she’d gone, it was just a big hole in the ground.
I climb down the ladder and set the phone in one of the skimmers. Slipping the knife out of my belt, I step crab-like around the gator.
The pool is on a slope so that one end is five feet deep, the other eight. As I move alongside the gator, its stomach arches up and something rolls out from under its tail. A small white egg. Perfect. There are about fifty of them piled in the corner of the pool.
I kneel next to the gator and hold the flat of my palm against its pale belly. The skin is soft and I hold my hand there, counting the slow beat of its heart. As the muscles tighten, the gator blinks and a teardrop zigzags down its cheek.
That’s when I start crying. Sobbing. I can’t help it. I can’t stop. My wife said she loved that about me—my sensitivity—but she said a lot of things before she left.
I’d cry at romantic movies. At weddings. When The Winner Takes It All played on the radio, and that Budweiser Super Bowl ad—that got me every time. The one with the guy and his horse. Brotherhood.
If I’m being honest, I haven’t cried since she walked out, not even when I watched Kramer vs. Kramer, and that was guaranteed waterworks.
I lie on my back beside the gator and look into the empty sky. Stretching out my hand, I think about my wife. How she would plunge into the pool, a shadow beneath the silver water, swimming one, two, three lengths.
How I’d sit in the frame of our bedroom window with a pack of Marlboros and watch the smoke dissolve into the cold gray twilight.
How I’d wait for the moment when she’d erupt from the water, arms wide, head back, mouth open, swallowing the whole fucking world.
Notes from Guest Reader Michelle Elvy
This story grabbed me from the opening sentence, which doesn’t begin with the beginning but rather with the second thing. The story is ostensibly about the alligator in the pool but it’s bracketed at the opening and the close with powerful images of the wife: her handprint, her whole body erupting. Slightly absurd, and very strange, it is a small fiction that portrays sadness and emptiness in a delightfully clever way.