The Alligators in My Backyard by Alexander Thomson
I used to have alligators in my backyard. As a kid growing up in south Florida, I never used to think that was a particularly interesting thing to have in one’s backyard. Some kids had trampolines and swimming pools. It wasn’t until I moved here to Georgia that I realized it was notable—sharing your recreational space with an apex predator. The gators always seemed perfectly tranquil to me; they just wanted to bask on the lakeshore under the Florida sun. We just wanted to bounce on a trampoline.
My best friend was named Matthew. I used to call him on our landline after school and on the weekends. His mom would always pick up and I would ask if Matthew could come out and play. We used to ride our bikes to the elementary school together, racing to see who could get there first. One summer we went to the big lake—his dad owned a Jet Ski. At one point we were thrown off and plunged into the water. We resurfaced, laughing. The alligators resting on the shore hardly seemed perturbed.
One day I called and she told me no, that Matthew couldn't come out to play; he needed to do his homework. I called him again the next day but she said sorry, maybe tomorrow. So, the following day I rode my bike over to his house. I knocked on the door. Nobody answered. I waited for a while, turning a pebble over with my toe, before turning around and noticing there were no cars in the driveway. Not even the old Subaru that hadn’t moved in years. I could see the outline where it used to be, the concrete underneath protected from the scorching gaze of the sun. I had a similar tan line above my knees. I kicked the pebble down into the street, got on my bike, and rode home.
I didn’t see him after that. The next day my mom told me he moved. I furrowed my brow. To a new neighborhood? Where? She told me she didn’t know. She was as surprised as me, apparently. Suddenly, he was just gone. On days when the rain would beat down around the windows of the house, trapping me inside, I would wonder what I did wrong to scare him away like that. I wondered if he was out there somewhere—if he was stuck inside like me.
I saw him five years later. It was the first day of eighth grade. He was sitting at a lunch table, alone. It was like seeing a ghost. He had moved to Pensacola, I learned, but now he was back in town. Why didn’t he tell me? It was his mom’s doing, he informed me. She had trouble saying goodbye; figured it would be easier to just sever contact. It wasn’t her decision to make. Nonetheless, now he was back, and he seemed ready to continue where we left off. At that point I had a new best friend. I wasn’t angry, but I was still hurt. Or maybe I was angry; I’m not so sure anymore. In any case, we didn’t really talk after that.
A month or two later, it was my turn to move away.
I don’t have alligators in my backyard anymore. Or a trampoline, or a swimming pool for that matter. I have a couple of squirrels and chipmunks, and the occasional bunny. One time I saw a fox. We locked eyes for a moment before it turned around and ran away into the thicket.
I don’t have a best friend anymore either. I haven’t had one since I moved out here. Now I’m 25 and I think I like it better that way. That way they can’t run away to Pensacola without you. I do miss the alligators though. I miss the way the surface of the lake would shimmer, sunkissed, and smile back at me. Oddly enough, I have a sort of nostalgia for how the seasons would never change. How the weather year-round would be slightly different gradations of hot and humid. How the clouds would scud across the sky, hastening to make it out of view before drawing too much attention to themselves. How the rain used to pound against the windows with such ferocity that you thought you’d never see the sun again, until four o’clock in the afternoon when the vicious onslaught would abate, apologizing for its inconvenience. We used to head back outside and compete to see who could find the biggest puddle and make the biggest splash. The sun would warm us, baking the street until steam began to rise, wrapping itself around our ankles playfully.
I met a girl recently. Her eyes are so blue and crystalline, that day I swear I could see the cerulean sky shining back at me. She asked me about where I grew up. I told her about the alligators; I didn’t tell her about Matthew. She thought that was wild. I asked her the same. She told me about how she used to have horses, and learned how to ride when she was barely six. I thought that was wild, too. We sat for four hours together under a new sun, sipping our tea and coffee, talking about everything and nothing.
The clouds here move slower, lingering for a while. I pointed that out, and she smiled. Could be the coastal breeze, I added; we’re further inland now. It made sense to her, she nodded. We stayed a bit longer, until it was time to part. I hoped she couldn’t sense me stretching every moment into the next, clutching desperately onto each one, as if it would be our last.
I wish time would move slower here, too, like in the swamp.
But I pat my knee and stand.
Time to go home.
Alexander Thomson is a Master's student at Mercer University where he studies clinical mental health counseling. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Florida State University in 2019. His hobbies include creative writing, sitting in coffee shops, and being outside in nature.