Gators

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    There was a puddle in the middle of the alley between Figaro's liquor store and the Iron Crow apartments that was as big as a pond.  A small dark pond.  It was ink-black even in the daytime (though direct sunlight by-passed the alley) and stagnant in a way that suggested hidden life.  The kind that only lived in moonlight.  Her brother Matt had said that this was a place where baby alligators lived then died, cause people in the city threw their pets down toilets, sewers and into deep puddles like these.  That had been a couple years back, before Matt got into trouble and moved to Memphis.

    The puddle had existed for years, nobody knew how long, but everyone knew it was a contaminated place.  Baby alligators, dead pigeons, unwanted goldfish, and whino's piss were all rumored to be in the puddle.  No-one dared to approach it.  But Lily paid attention to the puddle constantly from her bedroom window.  In spring, pale weeds peeked out of the black water.  In summer, beetles and mosquitoes rippled the surface.  Winter and fall were dead time for the pool; though it didn't shrink or even really freeze.

    One day after school, Lily saw Angelique playing with her doll Lucinda on the fire escape across from her bedroom.  Angelique was  recently from the Dominican Republic; her mother worked as a cashier in Figaro's so they lived in an apartment directly above the store.

    Lily waved over to her, "Hey Angie, wanna come over and watch TV?"

    Angelique's family didn't have one.

    The younger girl was startled; she spoke English haltingly so it took a few moments to say, "Sure, I'll be right over."

    As she stood up her school uniform jumper got caught in the railing.  She lost her balance and dropped Lucinda.  The doll seemed to hang motionless in the air until it latched onto a draft of wind that blew it toward Lily's window.  Then back a little lower than the fire escape.  Then straight down in a sudden gasp of gravity into the stagnant pool.

    Both Angelique and Lily stared in the chasm silently.  Then Angelique began to whimper, the corners of her mouth shivering like a leaf.

    Lily said, "Angie, meet me in the alley!”

    The girl looked at her blankly.

    "I'll help you get her, I'll save Lucinda."

    Angelique only nodded.

    The two met over the puddle.  The doll was in the center of the puddle, about four feet away.  It was face-down in the muck.  Angelique was crying to herself so Lily knew that she had to deal with this herself.

    There were no sticks or pipes around or rocks.  Lily put her sneakered foot into the water.  The bottom was slick like oil but no mud stirred.  The texture was like glass.  She stepped towards the doll.  And slipped.

    "Lily!" Angelique screamed.

    She fell into the dark water, her hands scraping the bottom.  The pain she felt was sharp and biting.  Something feather brushed against her leg - a strip of long-forgotten newspaper.  Lily jumped back in disgust.  But in moving back so quickly she displaced some of the sludge.

    Swirling in the dense liquid were needles, thousands of them.  There was a necklace of silver vials, a whistle and the bones of a fish.  Lily was mesmerized.  Then the sludge settled back.

    Lily grabbed Lucinda, stood, and walked quickly out of the puddle.

    The doll was soaked but not dirty.  The younger girl accepted it thankfully.

    Angelique looked incredulously at Lily.  "You're bleeding.  On your hands," she said.   "What was in the pond - alligators? Dead kid's skulls?"

    Lily looked at her bleeding, junk-infested palms.

    "Yeah," she said, "there are alligators in there."

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