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ABOUT TRUE STORIES
BY WILLIAM PETERSEN

What do you mean, you saw a Burmese python and an alligator coiled in the rapture of combat, as you put it, the last time you were in the Everglades? You mean pythons are now abundant down there? They've flourished in the wild after fickle owners released them? Damned Coors-chugging rednecks . . . So you were down there helping to investigate reports that some kid may have been eaten by an alligator. A nest of human remains were by the water, a humerus knotted into stringy sinews and scraps of t-shirt. They did not belong to a child, though. Violent rustling disturbed the shrubs nearby, and there they were: python and alligator, strangling and biting each other. You watched them under the sunset. You had never felt so free, savage, and mortal. What an unlikely episode, you thought. But your neck was stinging with mosquito bites, your skin felt putrid with a day's sweat, the sunset's brilliant orange veins had stopped bleeding their light, as darkness began to scab around them. It was time to go. In the expansive marshland, memories seemed irrelevant to you, you said. This is the primordial world and I have never happened, you said. Anyway, you had a distracted, nervous, and unreliable look about you, as you stood between these aisles, fingering the bags of organic vegetable chips and salsas. You could tell that several of the customers did not trust you, with your wild, childishly scared eyes, your salty aroma. You said, someone will have to look into those bones I found, someone will have to look somewhere else for the missing child, one point out there runs into every other point, it is easy to get lost and to get frightened in the separateness of everywhere. You have not had a drink in two years, but now, much of what you see and hear, you said, makes you crave one. Why? You donít know; you feel sick, expiring. You used to be an aficionado of fine brewing, before you lost control and had to shrink into a quiet universe like a little blue marble that rolls slowly from one empty, dusty corner to the next. Sobriety, you curse. In the Everglades, you said, you found a place where you could spill the animals out of you; you felt released, renewed. But after the bones, after the alligator and the python, your animals ran loose, escaped, you donít know where they went: they are gone, hiding in the chirping, fatal marshland. Stop shaking the vitamin bottles. Would you like to try the mango-flavored Kombucha? No. Youíve been here for forty-five minutes; arenít you going to buy anything? Whatís the point, you ask. You say you want to learn to talk to the spirits of dead Indians, the ones who used to live and trade in Florida. The Ais, Apalachee, Timucua, Calusa. A young mother wheels her child away from you and your dirty yellow whiskers. You say, I stand here before you as an example of Picassoís foray into synthetic cubism; how can I have anywhere to go, except to the marshes where the painter found my colors in the water, grasses, sky, and insects. You have never been to the marshes, have you? You donít know that Picasso didnít go there, do you? No, you say, you went to the marshes and then never left the marshes. You are sitting there now, surrounded by ants and crickets, flamingoes and alligators, and with your closed eyes you are seeing into this store. You are the germ incubated in the ventricles of our state. Thatís okay; you can be forgiven for that. The employees will thank you for the laugh. But where to now? You are holding everyone in your brain, you say; your brain closed like a fist around lizards, you are carrying everyone back to the truth, splitting them down to the original savage spermatozoa. Interesting. Youíre right, there is no other choice. Blinking and twitching, you show us fear in a mouthful of halitosis: the worst thing about driving to the marshes from here, you say, is driving over the bridge to get back on I-95 South. The blind lights of the skyscrapers beside you bleeding into the unspeaking river below you, pooling to a wash of writhing white, you hold your breath as the tall black light poles, all the same, lean toward you from the concrete middle of the bridge, one after another after another after another. Then you narrow your reddened eyes. For the first time, you laugh, and you are a different beast, a heap of jointed limbs centered around a fanged animus. I canít believe youíre still listening to me, what kind of morbid freak are you? You actually believe me, donít you, you said. You seem to hate the idea that you could be believed. Contempt, for you, is being three-dimensional in anotherís eyes. It must be time to go. (The next morning in the Times Union there will be a blurb about how Miami-Dade authorities ID'd bones found a few weeks earlier in the Everglades). What a bellyful, you say, what a good afternoon. And you leave the store, carrying away the sound of believing. 
 
 

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