I live in the house of the crocodile.

Some nights when I'm lying on the couch watching television, crocodile will sidle up and rub against it like a dog begging to be petted. I ran my hand up his spine just once. I stopped when I felt teeth. Other nights he crawls under my bed, bumping the frame, and whispers the story of his life.

He didn't always live in my house. He was born in the book Crocodile Terror!, read aloud beneath a porch by a small boy. The boy didn't know that speaking the words can call things forth. But it wasn't a bad thing. Crocodile ate the people who were mean to the boy: his teacher, the old man in the park, and his sister. When he got older it ate his wife when she asked for a divorce. But that is another story. Really what happened is that the crocodile ate him, and he looked out from its yellow eyes, and ran his tongue over jagged teeth. He floated in the bathtub, the pool. Finally, the river, where he stayed and crocodile swam away. He couldn't hold his breath as long as crocodile.

One day not long after that, crocodile, a little lonely, swam up the slough and spied a girl kneeling by the edge of the water. She was fishing for crawdads with a piece of bacon tied on a string. Instead she caught crocodile. He slid right up and swallowed her whole. Later, she walked home in a crocodile walk, left-side, right-side, tail keeping time. He lived with the girl in a house by the river until she ran away and discovered cocaine. By then she was used to being eaten.

I met crocodile at the creek behind my house. Sometimes I think he just followed me home. Sometimes I think I swam in the creek and crocodile made himself very small and wriggled right up inside me.

You would think a large animal like a crocodile would have to eat all the time. Fortunately, they can wait. But that doesn't mean they aren't hungry. Crocs eat people who are stupid; people who go where they shouldn't. People who ignore the sign that says "Danger!"

Imagine standing in chest-deep green water, with the croc floating lazily in front of you, waiting, with his yellow eyes and yellower teeth. You can't move, can't run. Only wait for those clamping jaws and that final breathless twist.

Imagine. You stop by someone's house. Someone like me. And you need to use the phone (didn't think to go cellular?), or you want me to buy something (couldn't get a real job?), or you want me to serve your god (YOUR god???). Then imagine coming inside. And the croc rising through green water. Can you see his eyes?

One day someone did drop in. She ignored the Danger! sign. She thought it was safe to answer an ad in the newspaper. Crocodile slid right up behind her, as she was backing away. Only his eyes were peeping above the tile. I tried not to look, but I couldn't help myself.

"I can see your bones," I said. She looked down. And crocodile rushed in, and smacked her with his tail, and flipped her over, and clamped on to her, and rolled and rolled and rolled. She almost got away. But crocodile jaws are very strong, and they don't let go, no matter how many times you hit them. And crocodiles don't care how loud you scream.

Crocodiles stash fresh flesh and wait for it to ripen. Usually they wedge it under some branches or tree roots. Under the basement stairs perhaps.

Now I lie on the creek bank with the warm sun on my cold scales. I roll four stones around in my belly and my heart beats slow.

I AM THE HOUSE OF THE CROCODILE.


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© 1998 Leslie Laurence