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Alligators, Crocs, & Men I Have Loved by Janet Freeman

Alligators, Crocs, & Men I Have Loved by Janet Freeman

Fiction, Vol. 2.4, Dec. 2008

The Commentator

Nasir didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to like Gloria, didn’t realize that Morrison’s lyrical-turned guttural grunt was not romantic or sexy or even appealing and so when Moondance was a wrap and we’d pulled apart he immediately set his foot to tapping, his hands to clapping. His rhythm—he’d never danced before—was off. I wanted to think it didn’t matter, his standing next to the speaker, ear bent toward a beat he couldn’t hear. Truth was it made me sad. I made up an excuse about having to work the next morning and I all but ran from his apartment. I left my favorite Irishman squawking behind me, the throaty snap of his love-ranted abbreviated alphabet riding low on I-66 and it was only when I opened my eyes the next morning, alone in my own bed, that I made myself forget Nasir and my vow to date nice men.

He was smart, Nasir. Worked for a wireless company but at night he went on National Public Radio and talked about the war in Afghanistan. I loved the way his dark eyes sparked when he talked about that place over there, about his people. His father quit school when he was five to go work in the fields. So tragic, I thought, as we romped into my bed. We started out slow, quiet, but then his oratory skills kicked into gear and Nasir started talking.

Boy did he talk.

In my ear he whispered, then hissed, a blow-by-blow account of the unfolding action, climaxing with the news that he knew just what kind of woman I was, in this bed on this night with him, a stranger, and then he bit my stomach to prove it, just below my bottom left rib. Twenty minutes later I sat on the toilet, smoking a cigarette and inspecting the blue-green bruise streaking across my belly. I imagined it was just like the flag John Glenn had fisted into the moon’s sallow face some fifty years before.

“I hope you don’t think I’m a freak,” whimpered Nasir from the other side of the door.

“No,” I lied. “Not exactly.”

*

The night before my wedding I dreamt that an alligator was eating me alive. He made it to my hips before I woke up, bedcovers kicked to the floor, pillow clamped over my face.

“What the hell’s going on in here?” my roommate asked, flipping on the light. “Six hours to tee time, that it?”

I couldn’t orient myself to Roxanne’s hand-to-hip in the doorway, all that light gathered around her like an electric cloak. I’m told I screamed, then. I don’t remember anything until I woke again, next time at dawn. My wedding dress caught my eye first thing, slumped on the outside of my closet like a sleeping bird. I wondered to what faraway land my dress had traveled. Would it return in time, entertain me with stories of sweet princes bearing roses? Or would it stay locked in pensive silence, protecting me from heartbreak?

I figured either way I was screwed. Might as well get up, get to the church.

Get married.

*

The Actor

In Magnolia William Macy plays ex-quiz-kid Donnie Smith.

“I have a lot of love to give,” he sobs. “I just don’t know where to put it!”

Now there’s a man I could marry.

*

My ex and I were on our way to Key West when Ollie pulled off the road to take a leak. It was almost midnight and I’d heard somewhere that alligators lined both sides of the highway, hunting for honeymooning tourists with those freaky infrared eyes.

“Hurry up!” I hollered at Ollie. “Get back in the car!”

“Don’t worry, I’m not dead yet,” he said, sliding into the driver’s seat. “Just married.”

The next day as I lay on the beach, Ollie found a public restroom so he could have a moment of solitude. Turns out he wasn’t in there alone, a man weighing close to three hundred pounds was in there, also, and in a very short time he developed a crush on my new husband. I looked up to see Ollie standing over me, bent at the waist, pale face blocking the sun.

“You still got that wedding ring?” he asked.

*

Recently I was in a bookstore and came across a postcard of an alligator that made my heart skip a beat. The shot was real close, you could see his eyes rolled back in his head and a long row of ugly yellow teeth. I bought the postcard and tacked it to the wall over my bed. When my boyfriend came over that night, he blamed my new artwork for his inability to perform.

“He’s placing some kind of hex on me,” he complained. “Can’t you take it down?”

I explained about my alligator nightmares, how I was becoming brave and fighting my fears. Stewie told me that was great, but pointed out that I’d selected a picture of a crocodile, not an alligator.

“Oh, well,” I said. “It’s all the same.”

“How can you say that?” Stewie looked scared. “What about accuracy? I wouldn’t go around playing games with your psyche.”

Stewie was right. After we broke up, I wrote Long way from home, hope tosee you soon, on the back of the card.

This time, I wasn’t messing around.

*

The Therapist

“What is it you think you’re afraid of?”

“You?”

Derrick paused, tugging his frown so it ran deeper. “Well. That’s a problem, now isn’t it?”

*

Freud believed we are everyone who appears in our dreams.

I’ve been trying to figure that one out, but so far I think he’s full of shit.

*

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to take this thing to the pawn shop,” I said, hefting my wedding gown over my shoulder. It was zipped in the garment bag with which I’d carried it out of the store; next, to the church where I’d stepped from a pint-sized orange painted chair down into its luxurious-yet-modestly priced crinoline folds. The photographer had thought it would be adorable if he took some shots of me and the girls getting ready in the church’s nursery. In one memorable photo, a bridesmaid ducks out of the way of an oncoming teddy bear—so much for nerves. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Across the room, paused in his duty of skimming CD titles, Ollie looked stricken. “Do you really need the money?” he asked. “I was saving it for my next wife.”

*

Once, I had a dream I was skimming—solo—a riverbed of alligators. The boat’s bottom reverberated with each push of the paddle, a thumpthumpthump I found both exhilarating and scary. I wasn’t sure I was riding on the backs of reptiles until I plunged a paddle deep and it came back with the end snapped off.

“Silly girl,” I said to myself. “Here you were thinking the river had run just a little dry.”

*

The Waiter

Three in the morning and a friend and I crashed into IHOP for pancakes and maybe some coffee. Jackson ordered rolled pancakes but the waiter came out with a flat stack, some blueberries dumped on top.

“I ordered rolled pancakes,” said Jackson, trilling his ‘r’ and pushing aside his plate. “This, my friend, is a regular short stack.”

The waiter and I both studied Jackson’s plate. By my estimation he was right—they looked same as mine, three flat circles, only with those blueberries sitting on top. Mine were chocolate chip, peaked white with whipped cream, no fruit.

“Those are rolled pancakes,” said the waiter. He was tall, almost seven feet, easy, with a buttermilk ponytail snaking halfway down his blue IHOP shirt.

“Nooooooooo, they’re not,” insisted Jackson. He was drunk. We’d been out dancing in DuPont and at least a dozen men had tried to ply him with tequila. They wanted Jackson to get plastered and go home with them. That’s why I was there—I was his bitch-buddy bodyguard, and when the drinkbuyers weren’t looking, Jackson slipped me free shots. Gay men loved Jackson because he was gay and didn’t know it yet. “These are flat.”

“Well, I could take them in the back and roll them for you,” offered the waiter, flexing his fingers and wriggling them dangerously close to Jackson’s face. He trilled his ‘r,’ exactly as Jackson had. I was impressed.

“These will do fine,” sighed Jackson, wrinkling his nose. “But I think it would behoove you to familiarize yourself with a complete list of foods this fine establishment offers.” He paused. “If you want a decent tip.”

The pancakes had turned cold but Jackson ate them anyway. He used his knife and fork and whenever our waiter walked by, Jackson did a strange thing: he lifted his fork to his temple and saluted. I wasn’t sure the waiter was paying any attention but when the bill came Jackson turned white as his empty plate.

Come here again, was written in small green caps next to the total. And I’ll force-feed you your tiny little prick.

That was enough for me—I was in love. I wrote my number on the slip of paper under the green letters and told the waiter to give me a call. I wrote that Jackson was gay. Bernie called the next day and we went to a movie. Jackson was pissed. He said I’d let him down as a friend but I told him opportunities for love don’t come along every day. Who could foresee these things? You go in for pancakes and come out with a scrambled heart.

That was last spring. Bernie and I broke up after only a few weeks and Jackson still isn’t talking to me. If I were keeping score I’d say I was on the losing end of something.

Maybe.

*

After Bernie and I split, I finally got brave enough to look up alligator in a dream-dictionary. You know, one of those books that tells you how to decode your nightly visions. Turns out if you’re dreaming about alligators, it is bad news. Someone in your life you need to get rid of, the sooner the better. I spent a long time after that, trying to figure out who my alligator was. I decided Freud was right—I was the one who had to go. I took the crocodile postcard down from my wall and crossed through the message I’d written a year back, when I thought he was a gator.

The time for bravery is here , I scrawled in big, loopy letters across the front. Hold strong, girl.

Hold strong.

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