‘Hold your body down’
The smell of ropes soaks into my fingertips; in the back, the wispy smoke of that shared cigarette lingers, the ghosts of deceased words shared between us persistent within the unfurling folds of grey and milky. My sunglasses reflect what’s left of you but it’s quickly wrapped, a tight concealment brought into the confines of the trunk.
A sun sets, but it is not the one I wanted and not the one you saw; auburn and bloodshot spill across the sky dipping into the outstretched body of the Glades; a watery field on fire.
I drive towards that forlorn watery front, a swamp system spawning black mosquitos and hungry eyes. No airboats sail today, it’s bad weather down here, tropical and what not; there will be wake and there’s things down below the still murky green that don’t like to be disturbed. My shirt glues to my restless body, sweat creating creases in the fabric drenching them with my own stench covering that of your quick deterioration in the heat. Blood, urine and you permeating my close proximity air fill my nostrils, a delirium of memories. The coffee mug leaving a crescent stain on the newspaper right over the ads – a waitress wanted, 7 bucks an hour; a counselor needed in an orphanage, at least a two year experience in the field. The low buzz of the washing machine from the other room. The smell of detergent sharp on the tongue and eyes. The shuffle of clothes being folded. You, humming along with the radio, stopping when I come in.
I unfurl the beige tarpaulin hiding the red rusted airboat, leather seats grey and brown with time, sun and use. Paddle and legwork push us into the sleeve, the rope dropping from my fingers, me letting go of whatever remains on the shore, forever.
The propeller drills repetition into my brain, but it’s a soothing sound because I dislike quiet. You were always quiet with me. Silent stares, muffled touches, unspoken actions. The only time you weren’t mute at me was at your mother’s funeral.
‘Thaddeus’, you said, ‘I don’t want none of this when I go. It’s too fucking glorifying.’
We’re trespassing now going opposite to the tourist routs where it’s common feeding Cheetos to baby gators and taking photos of their fast blinking reptilian orange, faking indifference but secretly wishing you to decide swimming is not prohibited. We pass abandonment, a village echoing with the calls of a dead language, a totem pole faded with time watching over the waters, a black eagle head with spread wooden wings in rusty red stares with missing eyes.
The trees, tall skeleton branches soaking feet into the swamp body connect above my head, interlocking, clasping one another. The dome is complete and it forms a tunnel of darkness spilling into an inviting light. I rev the boat, growing impatient and tired, the heat sticking to my body, humidity dangerously high. But my boat goes nowhere near the light – I dream of it, I can reach it back later when I drop you off where you belong.
I take a narrow passage and slow down through. Unmarked gator territory comes ahead, the glades moving with the sway of their heavy bodies, indistinguishable green on green. I catch their eyes however, yellow and glowing above the water. They follow us as we slug through, impatient, a gentle rock of their tails transferring to my boat, tilting it.
I shift the stick and urge the propeller to prowl faster, creating a wake small enough to push the hunger away from their eyes and bellies. In the stillness that follows I hug your body close, faceless remembering you without seeing. I give you to their open maws and you sink quickly between their fighting masculinity.
I am done. You are placed. Caught in the narrowness I can’t turn back, my palms sweaty and calloused. There’s a hoot whistling through the village, the clack of alligator teeth swaying from necklaces tied on dried, sunburned necks. A pouch spills tiny sharp biters, rattling on the wooden pier, currency for the dead. I look below and see you dancing their dance, a share of power transferring within the heat of their beating drums, hardened feet thumping the ground. A large one breaks the water, his head smashing against the boat.
Your presence encourages them; they smell me too, the dead on me, the flesh spoiling in the sun coated in salty sweat and they want none to waste; they want the whole of me, to devour to tear apart. Now there are four of them, oily and long, chameleon like appearing, rocking the side of the airboat. I swat with the paddle, connecting plastic to bone, and a mouth snaps open quick and deadly tearing the paddle away from my hands. I am defenseless against the onslaught, bodies in multitude slamming against the dented. It capsizes and I fall where they are, where you are, the drums and them in a frenzy escalating to a screech. It stops. I watch.
They’ve went for you first, easier, quicker. The fabric of the canvas has torn open and limbs are poking through. I forgot you were wearing that dress. You didn’t even try it on in the store, you knew it would fit you the way it did. Funny how you never wore it for me. It matched your eyes. Now its paler, colors washed away and again it matches the rot in your eyes. Your body swims towards me, the matted hair pulled down heavy with the thick water. Your arm outstretches, ‘Thaddeus’, you call me without moving your lips, ‘Come swim with me’.
You watch me as I try to break the water, vault myself back into the boat. An alligator is upon me pulling me back in, my arm inside its mouth. It gnaws where the bone turns, the joint fragile under its pressure. I feel the tissue break, the skin raw over torn meat. The muscle slides free off the bone of my left forearm and an abrupt, wild snap detaches it free. I don’t scream but merely gasp and swamp water washes over my teeth. I no longer seek rescue within the boat; I watch as the blood, darker in these sunless waters float towards you, your lips blue and bloated sucking it in a spiral.
Another hungry servant plunges itself towards me, right humerus tearing free, ragdoll like. You grow impatient, you want more. Teeth sink into my right calf loosening another limb; teeth bite down through my left kneecap exploding it with a violent pull. Mutilated I sink further while you drink the rest of me, they feeding on the flesh, you on the essence.
Color and vigor attach to your skin. Your eyes blink; a motion registered and carried through your entire system. I remember your eyes closing in pacific self-prayer when you pulled on that smoke I forbid you to have; a small exhale rising and falling your chest to meet the onslaught of what I said.
I die at the bottom of the marsh with that thought of the last time you and me were both alive, the Glades taking me in as they’ve taken others during the centuries, their bones crushed to dust by the propellers of airboats jumping the waters above. I know others will follow me, jealous and angry and lonely and loving and you’ll sink them all when the drums start playing ghost-like through the village. You will feed and provide for the deal your dead soul did, dancing the gator dance respectfully.
I take one last look at you floating above me, your skin translucent. A smile is spreading across your lips as I become motionless food. I don’t think I ever saw that smile before.