A gnashing pair of jaws bursted forth from the water to devour the large chunk of raw chicken I’d tossed in. I watched as this wild, powerful creature mangled the meat in its mouth and then swam greedily closer. When I was little, Momma had told me the gators were around in the dinosaur days. This had led me to believe that gators never die, and in my young mind, that made them the perfect pets. I spent my childhood on the bayou behind our house narrating the soap opera lives of Rory and Sophia. They weren’t fearsome beasts. They were friends.
I’d grown older, wiser even, but standing on the dock with a glass of Pinot Noir, now warm from the humid air, brought me back to simpler days and simpler thoughts. We may have been poor, but we always had the bayou, and I thought I’d always have Momma. It had been Momma and me against the world from the time I was born until the day she met George. A faithless mechanic with a penchant for price gouging, George was a slob with wandering eyes. I’d never understood Momma’s attraction to him, other than she no longer had to feel alone. To me, that wasn’t worth the heavy handed blows he’d deal her whenever the mood struck. I’d been only fifteen when they married, but the wedge he drove between us lasted the rest of Momma’s life.
Today, we held the funeral. Momma looked so beautiful laying on that lamb white cloth. George shed his obligatory tears and shook all the necessary hands. I’d left home only eight years ago, but now most of the faces were unfamiliar to me. Instead, I dwelled on the thought of how flowers must have become customary for funerals to help cover the sickening stench of death. These thoughts helped distract me from the burning stares I felt tracing my body from the black pumps on my feet to the thick brown curls that shrouded my face. I met George’s eyes only once with a cautioning glance.
Rory and Sophia danced through the water, gliding around the dock in hopes of their next bite. They’ve been here for ages, never venturing too far from our home and a guaranteed meal. I had missed them. I missed Momma, too.
“You look just like her, you know,” a voice traveled through the evening air. I turned to see George stumbling down to the dock, coming to keep me company. I should have stayed in a hotel, but I couldn’t resist the urge to visit my childhood home once more. Touch Momma’s things one last time.
My gaze returned to my pets, and I tossed another chunk of chicken to each of them from the bucket at my feet. “Prettier, though,” he said. “Younger.”
I drained the last of my glass of wine, hoping he would take my silence as the hint that his presence wasn’t welcome. He didn’t.
“She did the same thing every night after you left. Came out here and fed those stupid gators. Damn waste, I tell ya. Spending my money on meat for them critters rather than putting it on my plate. Sure wish that woman had had as much sense as she had good looks.” His feet shuffled heavily across the ancient boards of the dock, and there were whiskey stains decorating the front of the one nice shirt he owned.
He was drunk. As usual. Looking for a fight. His insults about Momma stung, but I was in no mood to argue. I’d lost Momma when George had walked into our lives, but now I’d really lost her for good. All I wanted to do was grieve in peace, but “peace” was never a word associated with George. Even Rory and Sophia seemed unnerved by George, circling close to the dock with their eyes shifting back and forth from the scraps bucket to George. He was uncomfortably close, and his gaze reminded me of the way Rory and Sophia stared at their next meal.
The air was thick and hot, and I could feel the sweat trickling at my back. If only George wasn’t here, I’d remove my heavy blouse and be more comfortable in the camisole underneath. I wasn’t a fan of the way he looked at me though, even with all of my body parts covered.
“Sure am gonna miss her though,” George lamented. “Did a damn fine job keepin’ the house and things o’ that sort.” He was staring off in the distance, his expression unusually thoughtful. “Pity about the will though,” he baited.
“The will?” I’d asked the question before realizing I’d succumbed to George’s conversation.
“Yeah, shame you made the trip all the way back here for nothing. Thought you’d know.” He was looking me straight in the eyes, a dead stare but his grinning lips gave away his amusement. “When you left home, your Momma cut you out of everything. Said she wasn’t gonna take care of you if you didn’t take care of her.”
Lies. All lies. My Momma was the gentlest soul who had never thought ill of anyone in her life, even those who truly deserved it. Hell, she’d married George, and he was the worst of the bunch! I could feel my hands shaking. I wanted nothing more than to smash my empty wine glass over his thick skull.
“Such a pity, too, being that she just upped her life insurance,” George said, fighting back a chuckle. “Doubled it. Maybe two weeks ago. Paid out a pretty nice sum, too.”
“What?” I barked, my lips snarling. Nothing about his demeanor felt right. Too joyous. Too relieved. Too…suspicious.
This time he didn’t conceal his laughter, and let a snarky chuckle escape his lips. “I told her that much wouldn’t ever be necessary, I did. But you know Nancy, always so persistent.”
False. My Momma hadn’t been persistent about much of anything in her entire life. She’d do anything she could to avoid confrontation and conflict, even if it meant keeping her mouth shut and letting someone walk all over her. I suspected that’s exactly what had happened here. George said “jump”, and Momma had said “how high?”
I was sick. It was too convenient. Being “cut” from the will? The increase in life insurance payout? My Momma going from being the healthiest ox in town to having a heart attack in her sleep? The pieces weren’t fitting.
“Well, you know,” George started to add, giving me a used car salesman grin. He leaned in closer, placing a hand on the small of my back. I cringed as if Death himself had just touched me. “You and I, we could work out an arrangement. The money is more than I could ever need, and you shouldn’t have to do without.” His hand was sliding lower as he whispered the last words against my ear.
He was in the water before I knew what I was doing. He was a hefty man, but he’d been caught off guard. That and his drunken stupor made his balance less than sure footed. A sharp elbow to the gut doubled him over, and a swift kick to his balled up figure sent him tumbling with a great splash into the bayou. There wasn’t even time for him to scream as Rory’s glistening teeth clamped over George’s neck.
What a shame, to drunkenly stumble into the water. Everyone knew George’s history with the bottle. Surely, he’d been so torn up over Momma that he just didn’t know when to call it quits. Pity, I couldn’t get to him in time to catch him. As I watched the water turn red and listened to the sound of strong jaws crunching bone, I swore I saw Sophia wink at me.
Gators, they really do make the best pets.
I struggled with an idea for this week’s story, and eventually I delved into the depths of my Google Drive and found a document that contained the very first paragraph of this story. What a relief when immediately a story began to form! As I spent yesterday sick in bed, I was a little late in posting this one, but I hope you enjoy!