Hope and Alligators   March 16th, 2013

This was another story I wrote back in November. It’s still in its rough draft. I was hoping to get the time to polish it up, but life and work have continued to be extremely busy, and I haven’t had the time or focus to come back to it. So I decided I wanted to post this rough version, as even with the flaws I know are there, it’s still a nice piece of mood reading.

This is a very personal piece for me. It’s not that I have anywhere near the dark thoughts that the protagonist do, and it doesn’t relate directly to anything in my life. Instead it was the result of a stressful time. During the second half of November, my sister was in the hospital due to various complications from what should have been a routine surgery. She was in quite serious condition at times there, and things kept vacillating between good and bad news for a few days. It ended up being an emotional roller coaster and this story was a cathartic synthesis of that mix of emotions.

I’d remembered the song “Hope” by R.E.M. off their album “Up” in the late 1990s and how I’d emotionally connected with it. My mother had been in the hospital recovering from a surgery when I was first listening to the album. I remembered coming home from visiting her, and although she was recovering well the stanza about the medical procedure still struck a chord with me. That seemed much more relevant this time around.

The whole album struck me as beautifully sad, with songs about pain and loss, loneliness and regrets, but there were also some mournfully hopeful songs in there as well. I’d listened to “Hope” several times on the way home from visiting my sister on a good night. I also listened to some other songs on the album “The Apologist” and “Sad Professor” and then “Walk Unafraid” for one of the hopeful songs.

Listening to those songs was so emotional. It conjured up some of the feelings I remembered from listening to the album the first few times. It also tied in to all the stress and angst and worries I’d had over the past week. It was beautiful and moving and I knew I wanted to write a story to capture that mood. Slowly an idea started to gel for me. It’s a little silly, but I think I managed to pull it off as a mood piece and a bit of speculative fantasy. I also really liked the character and name that came to me this one.

I tried an experiment with this story as I wanted to reference all of the lyrics to “Hope,” so I broke it out stanza by stanza. I had the story flow around it, following the mood of the song somewhat, it wasn’t perfect, but I liked how it came out. It’s by no means a literal interpretation of the song, but I think it’s a nice emotional interpretation of it.

Hope and Alligators
by Will A. Sanborn, 11/27/12
Song lyrics quoted from “Hope” by R.E.M.

You want to go out Friday
And you want to go forever
You know that it sounds childish
That you’ve dreamt of alligators
You hope that we are with you
And you hope you’re recognized

I sighed as I polished off another beer. They were going fast tonight, just like they’d been going all week. My vision was starting to blur, but it hadn’t dulled the ache that had been gnawing away at me since I’d woken up late in the afternoon. With nothing to fill my days they dragged on, but the nights were even longer.

I reached down and grabbed another bottle from the box. It was warm, but it didn’t matter. My hands twisted off the bottle cap in a practiced motion, tossing the bit of metal to lie on the floor with the other scattered remains. The beer was bitter and cheep, but it would get the job done, eventually.

I looked around the dingy and cramped apartment. I hadn’t really noticed how bad it had gotten before, when I had somewhere to be during the days and didn’t spend the time cleaning it up. Now that all I had was time on my hands, I couldn’t summon the energy or emotion to do anything about it. What did it really matter anyway?

The money was running out. The unemployment checks were spent as soon as they arrived and they wouldn’t last forever. The agencies had all but stopped calling and the job interviews were a joke. Nobody wanted to hired a washed up old man when they could get a energetic young kid to do the work faster and less money.

The beer would be running out soon. I had enough for tonight at least. I glanced at the bottle on the table next to my old recliner. Maybe tonight was all that I’d need…

You want to trust the doctors
Their procedure is the best
But the last try was a failure
And the intern was a mess
And they did the same to Matthew
And he bled ‘til Sunday night
They’re saying don’t be frightened
But you’re weakened by the sight of it

The TV news was blaring away more bullshit that didn’t matter. I wasn’t really paying attention, but the background noise was better than sitting alone with my thoughts.

I took another swig of beer. It was piss warm and tasted about as pleasing. Shit it was awful. I thought of the nights down at the tavern after work. Those had been good, sharing drinks with Mickey and Bill and the boys. They’d almost all moved away when the jobs had dried up. They’d promised to keep in touch, but that never worked. Another town and some new friends. I knew how it was.

What about Laura…? I pushed that thought out of my mind, drowning it down with another acrid swallow of beer. I didn’t even have her number anyway, even if I wanted to call her. She’d stopped sending all those letters at least.

You lock into a pattern
And you know that it’s the last ditch
You’re trying to see through it
And it doesn’t make sense
But they’re saying don’t be frightened
And they’re killing alligators
And they’re hog-tied
And accepting of the struggle

I let my gaze wander to the bottle again. I stared at the bottle and did my best to focus on it through the alcohol haze. The news anchor was rambling on about the latest economic figures, like I needed to be told about that. I willed the bottle to come into focus as I reached for it.

The bottle felt good in my hand, nice and solid and easy to grip. I put the beer down on the table to grab the bottle in both hands and before I’d thought about it, I had the safety cap popped off and tossed aside. I stared at it again, letting out my breath slowly. What did it matter any more?

“Fuck it” I muttered to the empty room. I tipped the bottle to my mouth and let the pills spill in. I washed three mouthfuls down with the sour beer then tossed the bottle back on the table, letting the remaining pills spill out across it.

You want to trust religion
And you know it’s allegory
But the people who are followers
Have written their own story
So you look up to the heavens
And you hope that it’s a spaceship
And it’s something from your childhood
Your thinking don’t be frightened

I lay back in the recliner, hearing it creak against my weight. For the first time all day, or in as many days as I could remember, I felt a sense of accomplishment, having finally made the decision. Now all I had to do was let the remaining time spill away and it’d finally all be over.

My gaze rested on the TV screen and I didn’t bother focusing on the flickering images. I just let the darkness creep in over me. I could hear them talking about yet more fighting in the Middle East as the whole world continued to go to hell. It all needed to end… perhaps eaten by a giant ravenous alligator. I smiled at that thought, as ridiculous as it sounded and let my eyes close to wait for the sweet embrace of oblivion.

You want to climb the ladder
You want to see forever
You want to go out Friday
And you want to go forever
And you want to cross your DNA
To cross your DNA with something reptile

I heard the distant scraping sound, but it didn’t seem to matter, so I ignored it. It came again, but what did it matter.

“So you’re really going to go out like this?” The voice came out in a low growl.

I started at that. I heard the recliner creak again as I jerked awake. I blinked my eyes and tried to resolve the blur creeping towards me, across the faded linoleum of the kitchen.

I stared blinking as it continued to crawl towards me and then all at once my vision snapped into perfect focus. A full grown alligator stood before me, staring at me intently, its mouth partly open, showing a full set of very sharp teeth. As I watched it took another deliberate step towards me.

I scrambled against the recliner, fighting for purchase and trying to right myself, but all I managed to do was push the chair further back. I flopped there, unable to do much more.

The alligator stepped closer and its mouth opened a little wider. I caught a glint in its eyes as it appraised me.

“What, that’s no way to greet an old friend… What do you say buddy?” Its mouth moved. It spoke.

I blinked again, pushing back into the chair, trying to sink deeper in it. As I watched, the alligator rose to stand on two feet. Its eyes grew wider, taking on a cartoonish aspect and it opened its mouth in a wide, toothy grin.

I stared as old memories came bubbling to the surface, dim at first, but slowly taking shape.

“Mr. Bitey?”

“Yep, it’s me pal. I knew you’d remember.”

I groaned a little. “Damn that was a stupid name.”

He winked at me. “You were only four when you got me, so that couldn’t be helped… besides, I always thought it was cute.”

“But… but what are you doing here. I haven’t thought of you in ages… You aren’t real.”

“Oh, but I was real to you back then. Do you remember when you were that scared little boy, when your sister got you the stuffed protector, how I’d whisper to you at night and tell you to be brave…”

“Laura always did your voice.” I paused and grimaced at thinking of her again.

“Yes, she gave me a voice, but you could hear me even when she wasn’t around. She told you I’d be there to always protect you. You may have become a mean bitter man but you’re still that hurt little boy.”

I felt my face heat up at that and clenched my fist. I still couldn’t right myself out of the chair, but I didn’t want to feel helpless against this unwanted figment and reminder of painful memories. “So what are you here to eat me up like you were supposed to do with all the bad people back then? You were supposed to make me strong but I did it on my own.”

He closed his mouth and stared at me. I saw a shimmer of wetness in his eyes as he looked me over. “No you didn’t become strong, you just walled yourself away from people, in all but the most superficial of relationships. Your sister Laura, she could help you get cleaned up…”

“She hooked up with that dy— that woman… I don’t want anything to do with her.” My voice came out louder than I’d expected and echoed off the walls of the tiny apartment.

The alligator, my onetime friend and companion just looked at me. He waited several moments before finally speaking. “Maybe you’re ready for a do-over, are you ready to try again…?”

I stared back up at him and didn’t know what to say. My vision started to go black and I didn’t try fight it.

And you want to bridge the schism,
A built in mechanism to protect you
And you’re looking for salvation
And you’re looking for deliverance
You’re looking like an idiot
And you no longer care

I came awake to the sound of the TV blaring some inane morning show about the joys of cooking with paprika. I blinked as I sat upright and managed to find the remote to silence the cheerful blathering of the show’s host. I glanced around the room, seeing the cluttered apartment bathed in the sunlight streaming in from the windows.

I paused as I remembered the strange events of the previous evening. What on earth had made me think of that old stuffed toy Laura had gotten me? I’d loved it to pieces as a kid, but that was years ago. I cringed again at the thought of her.

I’d never had hallucinations like that before, not in all my drinking. There were the pills though. I looked to the table, feeling a pang of frustration that they hadn’t worked, I stared, the bottle was there, but upright, with the cap on. I cautiously picked it up and popped off the lid. It was nearly full. I had gone through with it, hadn’t I?

I blinked again, trying to recollect my thoughts and get the strange memories from out of my head. What had happened last night?

It was then that I noticed the post card laying on the table. I picked it up with a slight tremble in my hand. I knew what it was even before I turned it over and I was sure I hadn’t left it there. I was sure it had ended up in the trash with all the others, but sure enough when I turned it over, there was Laura’s handwriting. I stared at her message pleading for us to reconnect, complete with her phone number, and I wondered what I should do…

You want to climb the ladder
You want to go forever
You want to go out Friday
You want to go forever

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 16th, 2013 at 3:43 pm and is filed under Fiction, Mood Piece. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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