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When the water is high enough to allow it, I swim in the swamp.  My family thinks it foolish of me, but the swamp exercises my courage as well as my limbs and my heart.  The bugs, snakes and gators monitor my stroke technique from the shadows and punish my errors.  I swim faster here, for there is no knowing when reptilian death will rocket from the muddy bottom and serve me up a death roll.  My stroke here is longer, more efficient.  The swamp ooze is more buoyant, the resistance less, but the stench greater.  The frogs watch me with laughing eyes, and I dodge the herons.

I fear death.  That is why I swim here. The swamp swimming is for me an arachnophobes’ clutching of a rubber spider.  I test it by degrees, coming close to death each time I begin, but never knowing quite how close.  The gators are there with me.  Sometimes I see them, always masquerading as mossy logs.  I usually don’t know them for what they are, until they bubble and sink, and then my heart hiccups and I reach further with the next stroke, wincing as I await the most powerful bite in the world. I can’t know if they ignore me or fear me, but they haven’t eaten me.  But I can’t know how long this will last, and I fear death every day. The desensitization process has been terribly protracted.

Next time, the gator will join me – the big one.  She is a forgotten dinosaur who enjoys her place in the sun, warming herself after the killing.  I have watched her many times, and I know she never goes to the masquerade party.  Her days as a log are over.  She is a great statue at the swamp’s edge that comes to life to deliver death. Tomorrow, she will rise from the bottom as I swim and settle beneath me like a submarine.  I will ride her, a boy on a boogie board, and she will tow me to the shallows and toss me there, forgetting the death roll.

I huddle in the watery muck like a mosquito larva and watch her breathe like a bellows, disregarding me.  Death is so near. 

“Why do you swim here?” She asks.   

“To cheat death,” I say.

“But I am the bringer of death. One day you will swim when I am hungry and you will die.”

“Each day I face death and don’t die, my fear diminishes.”

“But you have never faced death,” she growls, “only the idea of death, but each day brings you closer. Whether you die or not. To fear death is to waste life, but the fear is unavoidable.  I kill and eat, and I feel their fear as I swallow them down.  I too will die, but I am wise and I have lived long enough to learn of now.  I live now.  Completely.  Living completely now, the future never comes.  Each second is preceded by an infinite number of milliseconds and fractions of milliseconds.  I live in each one – fully – stacking them vertically instead of spreading them horizontally…forward. My future is always too far away to contemplate.  My now is my all.  In that place there is no fear of death.”

“But do not swim in my swamp. You live for tomorrow, strengthening your puny body against weaknesses to come, weaknesses you can’t predict.  You strengthen them in my now. And you perturb me.  Right now, I am annoyed.”

The strike was swift and short.  The snap was loud and frightening.  I am transfixed and frozen now, and I swim in different waters, desperately freezing milliseconds into tiny, vertical columns.



William Cully Bryant is a physician, author and Associate Editor for OAK BEND REVIEW.   His writing can be found or is forthcoming in dozens of journals including, but not limited to: CLAPBOARD HOUSE, UNDERGROUND VOICES, BEESWAX, AMPERSAND and THE DISTILLERY.  His writing spans many genres and he has just completed his first novel, Messages.  Contact  Cully at cbryant85@msn.com




While vacationing with my family on South Carolina's Kiawah Island, I was mesmerized by the number and size of the alligators.  One evening, while watching a particularly large gator skim across one of the many ponds and inlets, I was struck by the strength of this creature, the fact that he was a skilled deliverer of death and that his kind been present since the age of dinosaurs. There, in the gathering gloom of twilight, I experienced a very real sense of the tenuousness of life and my mortality.  I fantasized about jumping off the little bridge and swimming across the pond, pitting my courage and mortality against the "Gator".

I wrote "Gator" in about forty five minutes with virtually no editing after the fact.  It was picked up for publication within two weeks of having been written.

  


Copyright 2009