• Fearsome Critters

The Bayou’s Song — Melissa McCann

Her cotton dress clings to her skin. There is not a part of her that isn’t sweating out on the bayou this morning.

“These here gators love them ‘mallows,” the Cajun says and throws a few into the swamp to prove his point. She watches the water and tries to ignore her husband’s excitement. This tour is his idea and so is the entire trip. She was perfectly content ignoring their failing marriage. “Yup, here they come.”

Something moves in the water ahead. The Cajun points. She comments, “I don’t see anything.”

“It’s there, you better believe.” The Cajun leans in close to her, reeking of rotten meat. “They always there just lurking beneath the surface.”

She can’t help but recoil from him. He doesn’t notice. Both of the men are transfixed by the unseen creature gliding in the murk. Her husband stands. His eager expression reminds her of Sunday mornings past. Back then, however, he wasn’t looking for this kind of violence.

The thing emerges, quietly and slowly. Its jaw snaps up the marshmallow and retreats back under.

“Rather anticlimactic,” she mumbles.

“Unbelievable!” her husband shouts.

“That only a small sampling what we got today,” the Cajun laughs.

The small boat glides through the swamp, creating gentle ripples in its wake. Her husband hasn’t looked at her once out here. He’s too busy searching for something else out there. The Cajun speaks and begins to spin a tale about granddaddies and trapping gators. It all sounds like gibberish to her. She is having a hard time breathing in the heat.

The air was thick last night, too, but in the romance of the French Quarter, it didn’t feel so heavy on them. The quiet magic of being in a new place together took ahold of them both. He stopped filling the silence with historical anecdote and she took ahold of his hand to both of their surprises. Dim streetlamps led them away from the commotion of Bourbon Street. Behind iron and ivy, the world disappeared, and with it all he had done and all she had neglected.

For once in a long time, the touch of his warm skin was wanted and needed. They became familiar strangers and the darkness of a forgotten street enchanted them. He held her close against the chipped paint of a Creole townhouse and pressed his lips to hers. His mouth tasted of fresh mint leaves and of something she had lost long ago. In the heat, they found themselves and each other again. She held him close and never wanted to let go.

Out on this stinking swamp, last night already seems like the distant past. A fluke in time. The Cajun finishes his story and she knows her husband grows bored. He wants danger. Action. She wonders when he transformed into someone she barely recognizes.

The astute Cajun flips the lid of a small cooler open and pulls out a chunk of raw chicken with his bare hand. He attaches it to the rusty hook of a long pole. Her husband bites his lip so hard, she’s afraid he’ll bleed.

“Just watch, yeah?” the Cajun says as he holds the pole out over the water.

Her husband places his hands on his hips, legs slightly spread, like a frontiersman from an old film. He’s ready to claim an already claimed land. She doesn’t move.

“Don’t you want to see this?”

“I can see it from here.”

He frowns at her, but his reaction is shallow. He resumes his role as captive audience. The Cajun steadies himself on a plank and inches the meat pole out from him.

The song of the bayou, a mix of frogs and crickets, stops. She can only hear her own breath. The water parts. Something large and determined heads towards them. Her knuckles turn white, gripped to the metal bench she sits on. The Cajun grins, fearless, at the beast heading right for him. A whoosh of water breaks the silence. The alligator rises, as if in flight. It clamps down hard on the meat and the Cajun nearly loses his balance.

She screams, but no one is listening. The Cajun grips the pole harder, steps back onto the boat. The sweat on his cheeks resembles tears. The brief struggle ends. The Cajun is no match. He lets go of the pole. The alligator has won and sinks back below.

Her husband slaps his hands together. “Hot damn!” he yelps and collapses back into his seat.

The Cajun’s shock breaks, and he smiles. He shakes his head. “Never get old that. She’s feisty that one.”

She looks out into the water. At first, she doesn’t notice it, but as her eyes adjust to the dark, muddy sight, its camouflage is revealed. It lingers, cold eyes still on them. For a moment, she pities the creature, lured here and used for his pleasure. He will return to his world and forget about it. The thrill dissolves, replaced by nothing. Now she recognizes the cliché he has become.

She blinks and it’s gone. She can’t forget it.

On Bourbon Street that night, she tries to lose herself with fruity drinks and jazz. When he takes her hand, she feels the sweat of the bayou still clinging to him. His eyes meet hers with the same hunger for danger they revealed earlier. She seeks out the shadows with him again, but wherever they go, the darkness in the depths is revealed and she cannot bear to touch him.

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