By Amanda White
We’d been in the car together for fifteen hours. The last three had been in stony silence. I kept imagining he’d stop the car, drag me out by my hair, and toss me over the bridge railing into the gaping, waiting maws of the crocodiles.
“They’re alligators, darling,” he’d correct me out of habit, even as he pried my fingers loose, while I screamed and clung to him, saying, “Be merciful, don’t feed me to them, whatever they are!”
But he didn’t stop. And the silence went on.
Through the glass, the world flashed by. The trees with their grasping, tendrilled fingers, wanting to tangle around me. The dark water. The moody sky. The thick, viscous, humid air like syrup, like longing, sickeningly sweet.
“It’s dismal,” he said, finally breaking the silence.
“What?” I asked, my voice sharp with edge, going for the fight.
“This place. It’s called the Dismal Swamp.”
“I wish you’d feed me to the crocodiles,” I said. My mood changing at his sad tone. At the hopelessness of where we’d driven ourselves. At the map forgotten on the seat between us.
“They’re alligators, darling,” he said. He couldn’t help it.
And, there in the air conditioned frosted space of that car, I laughed. I laughed first at the predictability of him and then at the absurdity of his corrections. I laughed with the hysteria I’d imagined in my voice, when I begged him not to drop me into the crocodile infested slough. I laughed until I was hiccupping, gasping, crying. As I carried on, next to me he bristled, hands tightening around the steering wheel. While below us, the unappreciated alligators swam in yearning circles, wishing he’d throw me over to them. And all around, the air stayed thick and unforgiving. But we were inside the car and not out there to be pulled into the mire.
Still the road promised us nothing.
Out of the corner of his eye, he looked over at me. Disapproving. Wanting to correct my laughter, even that. Instead, the lines around his mouth cracked. The lines around his crocodile eyes crinkled in. He let out one sound like a cough or a held back sneeze. Then he laughed too and the Dismal Swamp faded away behind us, as we continued on.