On our first three dates he talked mostly about the alligators. I had to come and see them, he said. At first I thought, you know, this is how he gets me to go home with him, but now I don’t think it was a game, I think he just wanted me to see his alligators.
So we drove back to his house and he flicked on the stadium lights from his porch, and he wasn’t lying, his entire backyard was a wetlands habitat. You can’t see them right now, he said, but they’re there.
After that I never really left.
The alligators, both male, are named Thor and Guatemala. When I asked why “Guatemala,” he looked at me like he didn’t know why not.
He has two alligators, and a turquoise belt buckle, and a look on his face like he’s constantly a little surprised. He’s a simple man, and he doesn’t talk much, so I don’t talk much either.
The gators don’t have thoughts the way us humans do. They don’t get jealous. They don’t regret things that they never did. Sometimes they climb on top of one another and just lay like lizards. Maybe they do regret things. The truth is I don’t know much about alligators.
What he’s built is bigger than a habitat, he likes to say. It’s an ecosystem. I had never been in an ecosystem before. Not one I was aware of, anyways. The frogs eat the bugs. The hawks eat the frogs. The gators eat the skinned birds that we toss into the swamp. That’s all they want really. Florida sunshine and gizzards.
Female crickets actually can’t chirp, he told me that that first night I came home with him, So there are double the amount of crickets out there than the ones that you can hear.
All day everyday there’s noise. Bullfrogs croak at happy hour. Hounds howl when dark falls. Woodpeckers beat their beaks against the roof like hammers. It constantly sounds like someone is knocking at the door, but nobody ever is.
Thor and Guatemala don’t seem to know that this is a backyard, not the wild. Each mating season, in the spring, they make great big bellowing sounds, they smack their heads on the water’s surface, they growl, they hiss, they bark, they send wild, sad cries into the trees, waiting by the water’s edge for a lady gator to slither out from the thickets, dragging her sexy belly in the dirt. Of course, it never works. By June, Thor and Guatemala slink back into the mud, still just as alone as before.
Every night we hear crickets. Male crickets, that is. There are girls everywhere, girls in the trees, girls in the grass, girls in the mud, girls far far away, but none of us make a sound.
It’s been years, and still, there are times when I forget about the woodpeckers and stand to answer the door.
Natalie Warther is a senior writer at 72andSunny and an M.F.A candidate at Bennington College. Her fiction has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Thrice Publishing, and Sip Cup, among other publications. Natalie lives in Los Angeles.