I Keep My Alligator in the Bedroom | Anna Dempsey

8 mins read

Willadean was the one who suggested we take the cat home. If it was up to me, I would’ve left it meowing behind that dumpster at Denny’s. My stomach was packed full of chocolate chip pancakes, I had no time for that animal. People with cats had screws loose. Wanting to be loved by a creature who doesn’t want your touch? Now that was some junk I didn’t need. Plus, pets never stuck around long where we lived. 

“Let’s name her Celine Dion,” Willadean said, turning up ‘It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,’ cradling the cat in her pink knit sweater. Goodness did that woman love a diva, and I sure loved her. I said alright and took the three of us home. 

Celine Dion died one month after Willadean. Coyote attack. It was actually impressive that Celine had made it as long as she did. Mr. Elbaz had two yappy white poodles that were snatched by a coyote just the week before. The wild was encroaching. Habitats ruined and all, pushing the animals into the suburbs. Next were the heavy rains and flooding that brought all kinds of things to our doorstep. First ducks and turtles, then the water moccasins. Last was the gators. 

Willadean hadn’t been taken by some visible predator, just her own blood cells attacking each other. There was a war in her body for so long, now there was one in our front yard. 

The Animal Relocation Services (ARS) were putting flyers up all around the neighborhood. Apparently, it’d been easy to relocate the panthers since people thought they were cute, plus they were looking for something fluffy to replace their cats. The coyotes were the hardest, mostly because they’d eaten quite a few beloved pets. People held grudges against them for that, plus no one was interested in their howling and yips. So, they started getting put down. The animals that weren’t endangered got the axe—no room for them in the wild or in a backyard. Sometimes you could hear the guns going off at night. The neighbourhood kids call it coyote-o-clock. 

Even the Burmese Pythons were found. There was no more swamp to hid in, made it easy to find and shoot them. Maybe that’s one good thing about all this, the invasive species could finally be gotten rid of. Only the native creatures were allowed to stay. The ARS should’ve made that the rule for the whole state, including the people. The land was finally getting us back for everything we’d done to it. I had little desire to stick around without my Willadean, or that damn cat. Just wipe us all out, I figured. 

The ARS had been calling me and calling me, said it was time for me to take in a wild creature. They knew I had a pool, they must have gotten the house plans from City Hall. Homes with pools were great, the city would come and inject it with swamp water and clear out the chlorine. It could be a new habitat and all that. 

It was Willadean’s “would’ve been birthday” when the ARS finally got me. I was a half a bottle deep into a bottle of Wild Turkey, listening to Shania Twain’s Greatest Hits when the phone rang. I don’t remember much, other than saying, “Sounds good, bring her down anytime.” Next morning there was a knock at my door and an 8ft gator on my porch.

“Well hell, I didn’t sign up for this Lt. Damsel,” I said rubbing my eyes. Shania was still playing in the background, and I was still drunk, but not drunk enough to think it was funny.

“Nothing I can do about it now Clementine, you signed up for it all last night. Gave your word. Matter of fact, I remember you saying you wanted me to throw in a couple of possums just for fun.”

“The thing looks dead,” I said, steading myself on the wooden door frame.

Lt. Damsel tipped her hat, “The Great State of Florida thanks you for taking part in the relocation of these animals.” 

I blacked out for a minute then stumbled over to the white porch swing. I’d built it just so I could make the proposal extra special. 

Lt. Damsel handed me a neon green leash with little daises all over it. “Someone will be by later today to clear your pool. No need to feed her, she’ll be fine for a few days. We’ll bring by food when the stock its bulked back up next week. We’re running low.” 

“The heck am I supposed to do with her until then? Don’tchu go leaving just like that!” My voice was weak and slurred. It didn’t matter anyway; Lt. Damsel was already rushing back to the van where I could see a black bear shoving his snout against the passenger seat window. 

“You’ll figure it out Clementine, you’re a tough lady. Besides I gotta get this big guy up to Ocala, there’s a family with a tree house. Rare to find trees taller than three feet or so. It’s a great fit!”

The gator moved herself out of the shade and into a sunny spot just as Shania was belting out, “Any Man of Mine.”

Dropping the leash, I walked back inside to grab a cold one from the fridge. I shoved my face into the icebox and just stayed put for a bit. When I walked back into the hallway the gator was making her way to the bedroom, the one I’d stopped sleeping in a long time ago. It was too hard. The gator was up on all fours, belly off the ground, tail dragging behind. 

“That room is all yours Shania,” I said, letting the cold beer slide down my throat.

Anna Dempsey is an American-born writer and teacher based in London. She is currently working towards a PhD in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She won the 2019 Costa Short Story Award and has been published by Dear Damsels, Popshot and Ellipsis Zine.