August 13, 2012 Comments Off on The Alligator by Michael Harris Cohen
The fight did not begin with the alligator.
Nor was it a real alligator, of course, but from this distance — if Michael squinted his eyes and shielded them from the sun with his hand — he could sort of see how Rosie might think so, because her eyes, her beautiful brown eyes, lacked the strength for distances. The world must come to her like a series of Rorschach blots, Michael thought. His eyesight was perfect.
It was really a log: the fat branch of a deadfall tree lying mostly submerged in the frigid water of the lake. This lone limb pitched above the water like, well, one could say like an alligator — the bark worn off, the oily wood mottled with algae and, finally, the lapping of the water lending it the appearance of movement.
It might have been an alligator or a crocodile, except they were not in Africa or even Florida, but moving at an easy pace through the lake country of Northern Minnesota, a dozen or so miles from the border to Canada in the Boundary Waters. There were no alligators here.
“There are bears and moose and loons — plenty of loons,” he said. “But no alligators here, love.”
His laughter carried over the still water — a little like the loon’s call, Rosie thought, as she’d come to know the water birds’ incessant peals of despair. Rosie faced forward in the canoe so Michael could not see her expression as she tried to focus on the tiny portage — a ribbon of dirt from this distance — at the end of the lake.
Even then, her dark penny eyes turned on edge, and her forehead rippled beneath the yellow straw hat Michael had bought her, to protect her from a sun that refused to appear. He would have found her beautiful.
Rosie knew at the end of this lake, even if she could not see it, a narrow path ran through the woods, and at the end of that portage, there would be another lake and another portage and so on. Eventually they would camp. He would build a fire. In the morning, they would begin again.
Michael could not see her face, could not read her thoughts, or feel the tightness in her shoulders or her hands where they clutched the wooden paddle. He felt only the surge in his plastic seat as Rosie plunged her oar into the water — like digging a trench— and pulled them on toward the end of the lake.
Rosie watched the tiny whirlpools invented by each draw of her paddle, spinning water sucking downward toward an invisible bottom. She thought: To the nervous fish, the whirlpools must look like tornadoes. What a wonderful thing, a tornado. She was a fan of natural disasters. She made a silent prayer for thunderstorms.
There was only the sound of their paddles through the water.
Their paddles dipped and pulled, dipped and pulled.
© 2012 Michael Harris Cohen
Michael Harris Cohen is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Brown University. His writing has appeared in The Virgin Fiction anthology, The online-Conjunctions, The Land Grant College Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Lurch, The Sofia Echo, Mixer, and a number of other fine journals, in addition to several times having his words performed on the stage and the screen. He is the recipient of a Fulbright research grant to translate Bulgarian folk and fairytales as well as residencies at the Djerassi Foundation, Jentel Artist Residency, and The Blue Mountain Center. He lives in Bulgaria with his wife and two daughters, Siana and Lila, and teaches creative writing and literature at the American University in Bulgaria. He also founded and oversees the University’s literary journal, Flyinthehead.