The dam was a weird body at night. Big half of a hip. Bladderskin wrapped over a coccyx. Cut a stomach in half and tell the juices, stay mostly on this side. I tied a nylon cord around the boat’s bench seat and looped the other end around a leaking plastic bag of cow hearts. Splash. Sink. Wait.
Darleen’s oldest son Carter walked into the shop with college still stuck to his joints. Tight jeans. Fraternity shirt. Lips almost purple against the light of his smartphone. He trotted over to the counter and held the phone up to my face. “Judith, you ever seen one of these?”
I squinted until the bright screen became an albino alligator with a third eye halfway down its snout. “What for?”
He shoved the phone into his back pocket and said, “School.”
I looked down at the cash register and scraped dirt off the buttons. “It’s summer.”
“I’m president of the Marine Biology club. We’re hosting a talk on mutation. You still do those midnight fishing tours, right?”
Construction lights at the top of the dam strobed my varicose veins into a dance. River jig. Clot shuffle. Fancy wine spilled into an amplifier.
“Are you sure they can’t see us?” He zipped an old black hoodie up to his chin, and I slouched forward against the steering wheel.
“Even if they could, they don’t care. Didn’t your mom tell you about the grand opening next month? Deadlines, that’s about all they’re seeing.”
The boat jerked before he could respond, and the nylon cord stretched tight into the black water.
“Get your camera ready,” I said and slid on a pair of stiff gardening gloves. I quick-jerked the cord, ready to let go of anything bigger than an adolescent, but the soft yank of a baby relaxed my shoulders.
“I have to keep the flash on, you know,” he said, planting and replanting his boat shoes on the bench seat.
“Just be quick.” I slowly pulled the wet nylon up, wrapping it around my arm like an extension cord. Her white snout breached first; a dehydrated tongue stretched out of it’s warm throat. One more heave and I held the whole baby dangling over the black water. Cow blood dripped down her face, and the alligator blinked three, white eyelids.
Five snaps of light and I dropped the baby, her soft splashings muted by the cow hearts and nylon spooling back into the water.
“I think I got it,” he said; his lips purpled again by the camera’s LCD screen.
I craned my neck to the sudden yelps of laughter and shouting rolling down from the top of the dam. Someone tossed a yellow hardhat over, it’s plastic scraping the dam wall and landing silently on a copse of reeds. “Did you see that?” I asked, but he was holding the camera close to his face. The alligator’s three pupils danced in and out of his irises like comets flinging themselves into the shadow of a little moon.
Jerrod Schwarz teaches creative writing at the University of Tampa and edits poetry for Driftwood Press. His poetry has appeared in publications such as PANK, Entropy, and his erasure poems were most recently highlighted in New Republic and Poetry Foundation articles. His flash fiction has been published in Maudlin House, The Aurgonaut, and Speculative City. He lives in Tampa with his wife and one-year-old twin daughters.
Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.