Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Cheryl Bell – Alligators don’t wear check pants, do they?

Alligators don’t wear check pants, do they?

Nobody could sleep. They were too afraid that the waters would rise again and sweep whole families away.

All over the Ward people huddled and prayed in attics; hungry, tired, wet and desolate. An old lady watches and waits, staring out of bits of glass and wood at the biblical flood scene in front of her. She’s seen it all before, the death and decay. She dreams she’s sixteen again, looking out the same window, waiting for her beau . . . but he’s dead and now God has said enough, time for all you black folk to give it up.

The old lady wipes the mould from Ma’s sprouting chair and squishes down into it, forcing spurts of muck into the air. Was she hallucinating or was there really a lake outside her window where the street used to be? The lake isn’t moving like any lake she’s seen, but angry like the devil, wreaking vengeance, murdering everything in its path.

The cat’s been gone for eight days now and the old lady thinks she’s probably dead like all the others. She ran out the day before it hit; animals sense these things. There’s nothing left to eat but the cat’s food; the taste and smell make her wretch.

She slowly drops down out of the chair on to her knees. She winces as pain shoots up her right side and she brings her hands together.

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’ve been praying to you every day since the levees broke. I pray to you that I am alive. You’ve been taking care of me my whole life. You are my salvation.”

Outside, someone’s fighting the roaring current. The soldier paddles backwards to stop the boat, then he swings in the oar. His arms ache from three days of paddling. He’s surveying what’s left of the Lower Ninth Ward, trying to rescue those still alive, pulling up the bloated bodies of babies and dogs, counting the dead in their shotgun shacks.

He ties the boat up to the remains of the old lady’s porch. He steps on to the splintered and rotten floor and peers through the windowless frame. He scans for signs of life and doesn’t see her, down on her knees, behind the sprouting chair.

He shakes a can of spray-paint and marks the front door with a red ‘X’ and the date.

House checked. No occupants. No bodies.

He turns and the step gives way, plunging his leg up to his knee through the floorboard, gashing it. He watches the blood ooze red like the sign on the door. He swears loudly, clambers into the boat and paddles off down the street.

The old lady hears him. She tries to get up. She starts to yell.

“Help! Help! I’m here! Don’t leave!”

But the soldier is gone.

She staggers to the door and opens it. She sees the sign. In the old days only cursed people had things written on their doors.

She sees a dead ‘gator drift by – a big, ugly, black, bloated thing. But alligators don’t wear checked pants, do they? The ‘gator is calling the old lady, but the voice is really Ephraim, trailing the rotting corpse of Willy from down the road. Willy never could take care of himself.

Ephraim paddles with a two-by-four in the cesspool of a street. He’s exhausted from the effort of steering the tin bucket.

“I’ll be back soon for you, Grandma,” he shouts.

The old lady ignores him. She knows he’s a liar. Nobody cares about old folk any more.

She’s waiting for the preacher; he’ll be there any day now.

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