"Are there any alligators here?" I asked at supper.
"Oh, yeah," a couple of people said nonchalantly.
"I haven't seen any yet," I said, looking out over the marsh. Stiff, tall grass rimmed the shallow patches of water. Even form the dining room window, you could see immense dragonflies buzzing the surface in search of smaller insects to eat, and white birds stood on the water's edge in groups of three and four. "Those birds don't seem to be very afraid."
"Well, they don't much like birds," someone said. "Frogs, snakes. Lizards, too. They like lizards."
I like them, too. Not for lunch, I mean -- I just like to see them, and I have seen many lizards here in Florida, standing solemn and motionless on a wall for ages, then darting off on some unknown errand.
"Yup. Alligators like dogs, too. And small children." I don't have any hair on the back of my neck, but I think I felt some rise back there anyway.
"Well, how come I haven't seen any?"
"Oh, they're out there. They're in the deeper water over there, beyond that grass."
"Do they ever travel on land?" The house where I am staying is some distance from the marsh and from the lake where the alligators live.
"They can. They go where they can find food, and they can travel on land to get there." I hoped that the lake was well stocked with snakes and lizards and whatveer else alligators like, that it would never even occur to thealligators to trek over to our house tonight,after dark. That the alligators didn't know about our well-stocked refrigerator. I had not asked my dining companions about salted peanuts. Do alligators eat peanuts? There is a jar of peanuts in our cupboard.
I am so far away from home. I miss my husband and our house, the garden, the cats. I haven't a single cat to protect me if an alligator should pay us a visit. I forgot to ask about cats. Do they like cats?
Loneliness so easily becomes fear. Anything can happen anywhere, and almost everything that happens to us happens right at home. But it is when I am away that I think of dangers, away from the illusion of safety that familiarity provides.
As night fell, I stepped to the porch railing for one more look at the marsh. Frogs were sending up a racket now, and the birds had gone to bed. The ribbons of water were silver against the black shadows of the grass. Somewhere in the dark lake, the alligators slept. If alligators ever sleep.