Thursday, July 24, 2008

One story by Kajsa Wiberg

Ray and the Gators
By Kajsa Wiberg

Dusk was falling over the swamp. While the cedar trees cast long shadows across the waterway on which Ray was traveling, nature took one last breather – like Bourbon Street on a Saturday afternoon just before the bands come on -- before springing into full life. Ray smiled, despite the sad nature of his visit. Well, not sad, exactly. It was more of a call of duty. He glanced over his shoulder to the black garbage bag in the astern of his boat, the shiny plastic licking the bumpy contours of its contents. Yeah, he thought to himself, definitely a call of duty.

Approaching a Y in the canals ahead of him, he hung a left and slowed down. The bank as he entered this new, narrower space had been one of his favorite frog hunting places. That is, back in the days, in the lovely awld days, when this was his home and he was one with nature. Before he allowed her to interfere and send him crashing down the path to something that could only fairly be described as hell.

A slight rustling came from a bush near him, followed by the sough of a herring spreading its wings and floating, gracefully, through the temperate air.

It wasn’t fair. This was his home, and he should never have been forced to leave. But she – another glance at the bag – she had left him with no choice. Of course, when asked, Maud insisted she wanted nothing but to stay. But all those nights at the casino – “bonding with the girls” – Ray knew she was slutting around behind his back. It wasn’t as much a collection of proof as a feeling – an anticipation – that grew in his gut. And Ray’s gut was never wrong.

A pair of gator eyes glistened in the murky water. Ray brought the boat to a standstill, and scrambled for the bag of marshmallows under his seat. Tossing a piece into the water, he tensed, trying to see clearly through the darkening night. But luck was not on his side. This guy was small – less than three feet – and would never do. He needed something bigger.

Still, watching the little guy devour the candy gave Ray the sweetest sense of foreboding, or hope that his plan would work. Whoever said that nothing stays buried forever had clearly never visited the swamplands of Louisiana.

Removing his wife from temptation and her lover, Ray had been certain things would change. And change they did, but not for the better. While Ray loathed urban life, spending his days doing mundane construction work and his nights sulking in front of reruns of Seinfeld, Maud took on another lover. As the amount of time she spent away from Ray’s side, where she belonged, grew with each month, she tried to cover her tracks by asking him if he’d come. Oh yes she did, many times over. The opera; movie premiers; rock concerts; fancy restaurants with names Ray wouldn’t even attempt to pronounce. But he wouldn’t give her the pleasure, not after what she had done – and was doing again – to him. Instead, he turned the TV up and sulked some more.

A frog croaked nearby. Ray leapt to his feet and turned, paranoid, then wondered why he bothered. This was his territory. His swamp. As he sank back down, he reminded himself that despite tales of nineteen-foot gators devouring everything in their way, the biggest guy he had ever seen was five or maybe five and a half. Ray was six-foot-one, so he was still king.

He hadn’t felt much like a king, though, when Maud stopped pleasing him sexually. Ray had always been terrified of rejection –that he was too ugly, too dumb, or simply too worthless to be loved. And now she – his own wife – wouldn’t touch him. The pressure of keeping two men satisfied was obviously too much for her. Of course, this Ray had to find out for himself. She claimed she had “headaches”. But she still stayed out all night long with Ray’s competition, creeping into bed at indecent hours and giving Ray the cold shoulder. For six months, he didn’t get lucky. Of course, Maud did her best to fool him. She was a devil-woman. Advils, coffee, caffeine pills, and some stronger things prescribed by a doctor she started to see. Doctor. She probably screwed him too.

In the slimy awld roots of a cedar tree, where water met trees on his right, he spotted another set of eyes. Breathless, he grabbed a new marshmallow and threw it at the creature. The marshmallow floated on the surface for a moment, white and sweet and innocent in a world of darkness and death, before a fine strong jaw took it out. Oh, yes. This one was a giant, no doubt about it. Five feet at the least. He could do the job.

When Maud told Ray he was starting to scare her, that’s when he knew she was guilty. Fear is nothing but masked bad conscience. Considering how withdrawn she had become, hers must be blacker than a sopping wet muskrat.

Ray hesitated. This was the one part he had yet to figure out. Would too large a meal intimidate the guest? Would it be better to start out small and work his way up? He decided it probably would. So he untied the strings of the black bag, reached into it without looking, and retrieved a random limb. Pulling it out, he saw that it was an arm. It was cold and rigor mortis, just like Maud had been for years. The bitch. It was really no difference.

Hesitantly, so the motion wouldn’t scare him away, Ray tossed it at the gator.

The man Ray turned to for advice told him to refer to it as “the act”. Trying to label it in any more detail could make Ray hesitate, even when it was obvious that his wife deserved what he was about to do. The man was right to be wary – Ray was having second thoughts. But each night Maud turned her back to him – leaving him hungry; wanting; desperate, his determination grew stronger until in the end, he had no choice.

The gator struggled with the arm, but down it went at last. Ray smiled.

“Good boy,” he mouthed, tossing him the head.

Another set of eyes appeared, and another. Two good-sized gators joined them. Ray threw them a leg each and in turn, they threw him thankful looks.

“No,” he told them. “Thank you.”

Ray never did let his wife down. Even in her last moment, he held her, held her around her neck, as her pulse stopped coming and slowly – very slowly – like a cup of shrimp gumbo left on the tabletop on a warm summer afternoon – the heat left her body and she was dead.

More gators came, fighting each other for the pieces in an upbeat, eager feeding frenzy. Everything centered around Ray now. Why did he ever let her take him away?

Ray gave a little shout as he saw the water break again – bigger than he’d ever imagined possible. He rubbed his eyes, unable to believe his luck. But there it was – the legend, in flesh and blood. He was more than nineteen feet, Ray decided. At least twenty-one or twenty-two, and absolutely stunning. Ray shook the bag until the torso fell out.

“This is for you,” he told the giant, his voice thick with admiration.

Watching the gator chomp it down, Ray thought his heart would burst with pride.

Had he not loved Maud? Tears prickled at his eyes. Had he not cherished her? Had he not done anything in his power to save their marriage, in spite of her constant disobediences? Had he not made all the appropriate arrangements so that they would die together, for their love? As he removed his hat and shoes, he knew he’d done the right thing. They had really been something, he and Maud. Even leaving their Earthly life, they hadn’t split from each other’s sides. The delay in his departure had been a technical matter, merely. So even now, as he lowered first his feet, then his ankles, calves, knees and thighs into the muddy water, stained red from her blood and – he told himself – her never-ending love for him, he was still the perfect husband. They would meet again in heaven, he thought as the surface disappeared above him, and as jaws of a size and vigor he had never felt before closed around his midriff.

Author bio:

Kajsa Wiberg is a freelance writer and horse trainer. Her stories have appeared in The River Walk Journal, Long Story Short, Prose Toad, Chick Lit Review, The Rose & Thorn, Shred of Evidence, DiddleDog, Flash Shot, Every Day Fiction, Why Vandalism?, Big Pulp, Clever, Dark Fire, Aoife’s Kiss, Eskimo Pie and Insolent Rudder, with forthcoming publications in The Chimaera, Yellow Mama and Membra Disjecta. She is a script reader for Blue Cat Screenplay, and a book reviewer for Eclectica. She lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA, where she is at work on her second novel.

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