Lonely Are the Alligators
He goes into his hole and comes out again and then goes into his hole and goes out again, he is very familiar with this hole there is a yellow wall and a naked mattress on the floor and a hanging bulb and, mostly, that’s it.
All day long he considers his hole, and he thinks of Alaska, the word Alaska, and the people in Alaska above the Arctic Circle with their coats and houses made of ice, he thinks of how it is probably colder there than in Portland but he is not sure how anything could be colder than Portland is right now. He wishes a woman were with him.
It is good to be in in the dark and drinking alone with a woman, he thinks. But there is no woman here, has not been in at least a week, except to make purchases, never anymore even for shock value does he ask for anything but money. Once his family told him that shock value was the only reason that he does what he does. But they’ve learned. And he does what he does anyway, though he was raised in a good East Oregon family with Christian values and Christian money and his father had an excellent voting record but it is no use and they have all given up on him, even (and perhaps especially) his mother.
Into the hole and out of the hole but always his hole and the woman or the other woman or the other woman or Alaska occasionally visits it, those women that once loved him, who now come to him only to depart with plastic baggies folded into pockets or into underwear. Fondly he remembers the women and thinks that perhaps they still do love him, but hates them, too, because they are gone. Poor in body and spirit, he thinks: lonely are the alligators. Blessed are the meek.
There are details. He retains some good habits: brushes his teeth regularly after every meal: does not drink too much coffee: shaves his neck and keeps his beard trimmed: gets semi-regular haircuts: always uses a condom and pulls out if there is no condom available: has decent hygiene: pays bills on time: tips well. There are, unfortunately, as there always are, other details: does not cook chicken or pork all the way through: smokes too much of both cigarettes and weed: never calls home except for money, which he no longer gets. Despite the fact that he pulls out during unprotected sex, treats women like receptacles: thinks all too often how good it is to be in his hole—or if not good at least not as bad as it could be—and not leave except to purchase the necessary proclivities of his life.
Tell me, he says in the cold yellow hole with the hanging bulb, collapsed on the rotting mattress, that Portland doesn’t love you—Portland does. Portland just doesn’t know how to show it.
But sometimes he gets an inkling. A feeling that his life so far is a series of unfinished statements that have all trailed off and ended elliptically, unfinished, fragments running on and on. He ignores the inkling, goes in and out of his hole, needle and rolling paper and bottle and bottle and bottle and needle again, becomes comfortable for a moment, and ignores the parts of himself that he increasingly cannot remember.
No one, anyway, remembers him except as a stop-motion funeral and sometimes he gets the feeling they’re printing up the cards already, but it is hard to change because Portland loves you Portland keeps you, Portland locks you in the safe and spins the dial
I function, just differently
Like Inuits with their words for ice, he has names for the rain. There are gray rains and white rains, live rains and dead rains. Spring and autumn rains smell like a life he once had and sometimes remembers; winter and summer rains feel like worlds that never existed.
Under the sideways assault of rain of Portland’s winter, pavement swallows pavement, he goes into his hole and out of his hole, teeters on the edge of the bed and wakes up days later on the floor with a metaphorical needle in his temple and a literal hole still in his arm, greening with disease. Upping himself off the floor he places a new needle in the literal hole and sees lights, make-believe women in burlesque attire, and his family, posing for a picture: him, the tallest, eldest, and best-looking (although this is swiftly fading, he notices it only occasionally when he sights himself in a mirror), with gray skin and sunglasses on a cloudy day, his father with his arm around him, and he thinks for a moment, he thinks: if I can remember this, if this can still be, if this inside my head still remains, then there is still some goodness in my life, but he folds the thought up, makes sure the edges are precise, and wedges it into its proper envelope. I’ll mail it somewhere tomorrow, he thinks. Somewhere different than before the mail goes where we tell it to go, just differently than we ourselves go
The sky outside is another ceiling, a gray one. It insulates, keeps the wind in. The mail goes up and down, while I am horizontal. He thinks of better blankets but has none, just the musky old quilt his mother gave him years ago, which his grandmother quilted decades ago. He remembers learning about igloos in a class on Native peoples. Houses made of ice and snow. How the temperature inside the houses was warmer than outside but still below zero. Still cold but at least livable. The word livable. The word Alaska. The word Arctic.
My life is a coat, he thinks, with holes in it. And then the yellow wall becomes the hanging light bulb all the light grays up
Tomorrow morning he will wake to find that the green flesh inside the hole in his arm has covered his body, that he’s grown a snout and sharp teeth and a long, rudderly tail. He’s become an alligator. He will climb up out of his hole and will feel the rutted concrete against his belly and people will run away from him, even though he, an alligator, has no intention of eating them—he’s never wanted to eat anyone.
Given a wide berth, he will crawl down to the docks and will drop himself over the edge of the pier and into the frigid dark green water of the Willamette River.
As he sinks to the bottom he will think of icehouses, he will think of the sun rising over the Arctic, and the winter, finally, will be over.
NATHAN KNAPP‘s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The McNeese Review, Two Dollar Radio’s Frequencies, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, jmww, HTMLgiant, elimae, and others. He is the editor of The Collapsar and lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma with his large dog, tiny cat, and lovely wife.