A car driving over a bridge passes a sign that reads, “Welcome to New Jersey”. 

 

“What the fuck!” the alligator driver says. He drops his shades below his slit-pupil eyes to better see the GPS. 

 

“What? What is it?” asks his girlfriend in the shotgun seat.

 

“We’re going to Jersey.” 

 

“I thought we were going to IKEA?” 

 

“So did I…I’m sorry.”

 

Sigh

 

Now, the two alligators are in bumper to bumper traffic, going the wrong way, deeper into New Jersey. She works on a crossword puzzle, pressing hard with the pen so that the ink really bleeds. He drums his claw on the steering wheel and hums an old doo-wop song, mostly off-key. She reaches her claw over to his and holds it still for a second before returning to fill in 18 across, “buttress”. The car engine idles.

 

“Sometimes when I’m stuck in traffic I like to pretend I’m in a hot-air balloon above it all. I imagine how the breeze would feel up there, how quiet it’d be. The cars would seem so tiny. They’d probably look like alligator scales. Reflecting the sun, protecting their passengers. Just like scales.”

 

Sound of a word being aggressively crossed out.

 

“Babe?”

 

“I think we should replace the shower curtain.”

 

“What? The one I picked out?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“But you said–”

 

“I know, I know. And I do. But it’s been hurting my eyes lately. It’s just…I need a break from it.”

 

“Okay…Well, I’d like to hang on to it, at least. It’s a good shower curtain. The flowers are nice.”

 

“It is. They are”

 

On the way back over the bridge to Philadelphia, the sun was setting and it seemed to him like an enormous grapefruit that would swallow the entire city and all the cars in its bittersweet red ruby flames but the alligator driver would keep the thought to himself for now. Wrong turns are a slippery slope.

6 Comments

  1. Jack O'Connell

    “a car going over a bridge passes a sign” I really like the “a” in that sentence. It makes the action sort of general and unspecific in a weird way. And I think you do it again when they think they’re going to IKEA but they’re going to New Jersey. IKEA is one really specific place whereas New Jersey is a big general place. It’s like they made a category mistake. This story seems like a word puzzle and about word mistakes. Can you make the crossword puzzle interact with the story more? What word did she cross out? Are they driving through a crossword puzzle. That might bring out more weird angles and connections and mistakes. Cool philosophical work.

  2. Saxon Baird

    This is cool. I read alligators as the snappy, hard exterior we can put on when in stressful situations and with a partner. Fitting and accurate. In fact, I would change “alligator driver” to just “alligator.”

    You’ve created a tension here, both in the misdirection and traffic, but also in the kind of terse conversation where two people seem to not be willing to fully express what they think or feel even if its just about a shower curtain. Well done on that.

    I am wondering though if we could get just a little opening to this couple’s background, history, maybe some insight into this tension. It’s more than just a wrong turn and a shitty shower curtain, right?

  3. Benjamin Niespodziany

    I love Jack’s suggestions for bringing the crossword puzzle into the world. I’d also love more alligator signifiers. Why are they alligators? What about this build/species makes it work for this couple? Is everyone in this world alligators? I love the idea of two gators discussing shower curtains. The daydreaming about being in a hot air balloon is also special. Also, picturing a gator in a hot air balloons is terrifyingly tranquil.

  4. Traci Mullins

    How fun! I love stories that use startling elements that can’t be real and yet feel perfectly believable. After the jolt of these being alligators, it all seemed so natural to me. Of course alligators drive cars and take wrong turns like the rest of us. The crossword puzzle element is hilarious! I really enjoyed this, Ben!

  5. Bud Smith

    this was a lot of fun. I like what Saxon is saying up above about the alligators being snappy grumpy people, like maybe they are that way now but they turn into other animals when they are not driving and going to Ikea? Maybe they turn into smiling lions when they are feeling good? I don’t know. The idea to bring the crossword puzzle into this feels right. You could incorporate that more into the form of the story even or have them asking each other for answers to clues and the clues and the answers would tell us a lot of the story too or add to their backstory — or it could explicitly be a personalized crossword puzzle they got about them as a gift but they don’t know the answers to their own questions (the kind of things they have for wedding showers). I liked the ending but want it to just be: “On the way back over the bridge to Philadelphia, the sun was setting and it seemed to him like an enormous grapefruit that would swallow the entire city and all the cars in its bittersweet red ruby flames.” End on ruby red flames, the rest is extraneous.

  6. Bill Merklee

    Oh that shower curtain. I laughed at New Jersey being the disappointment on a trip to IKEA. Love the sequence of the crossword answer “buttress,” her offer of help which probably fell on deaf ears, and then the aggressive crossing out of what was probably “buttress.” You nail making an absurd set up appear totally natural. I agree there is a lot of potential in that crossword puzzle, especially stuck in traffic.

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