Alligators Aren’t Crocodiles
The alligators arrived on the fifth. Samuel’s beard sponged up milk from the plastic bowl. He was no landlubber, his gaze fixed on some shifting horizon. We sat with our trays at the Formica tables. The alligators placed our empty bowls on the countertop and came by with milk and sugar sachets for our oats. Samuel acknowledged them with a half grin. I whispered thanks.
The alligators arrived with medicine in trolleys—blister packs of benzos and antipsychotics. Samuel and I tongued ours and secreted them later, into handkerchiefs and socks. But the alligators had eyeballs at the back of their heads. They slithered into our rooms and prodded pills up our nostrils. No, said Samuel. The alligators flashed their 80 teeth. And Samuel said okay, and that was that.
The alligators taught us to play Connect Four, to weave flax baskets, to make toilet roll tubes into papier-mâché muskrats. On Sundays, the alligators would take us out in a van. They’d buckle us in and we’d drive through Grafton with the windows down, waving at doctors and office clerks. Sometimes we’d stop in the park for a sandwich and a thermos of tea. Samuel and I were always plotting our escape. When we did run away, through the wintergardens and into the bushes, we’d grow homesick and inevitably come loping back.
At nightfall, alligators would tuck us into bed with their reptile toes and periodically check on us with torches. Nighty night, sleep tight, an alligator would say. Yet Samuel and I would sob lightly on our pillows. Stop with the crocodile tears, they would insist, but our lachrymal glands betrayed us. The alligators yanked our lachrymal glands out with tweezers. We would lie with desiccated eyeballs, in a dreamless stupor.
In the morning the alligators would say, chin up, chin up. And Samuel and I would hold our chins up, and smile fatuously.
Fatuous smile, an alligator would write in his notes. A senior alligator would write a script for more medication.