When night comes, the crocodil mamma rises to the surface and wakes her goblin babes. They stir at the sound of her song, unsticking themselves from the bottoms of lily pads, water-drunk and thick with sleep.
They swim in her wake as their hoard assembles. The youngest pull themselves onto her back, where they watch the moon, noses itching from her rumbling song.
Mamma’s back is hard reptilian hide, but her legs are long, soft, dimpled. From time to time, the things that live below mistake those legs for human. From time to time, she lets them bite, to remind the babes she will not last forever. But the lesson never sticks: her jaws are so quick, her blood a sticky poison; the water always heals her wounds. They believe it always will. She is their mamma.
A gathered hoard means a feast and a frolic. They skim one another across the water’s surface, catch fish and frogs with silver needle teeth.
Mamma has taught them: “Bring me the eyes and heart.” She locks these things in emptied nutshells, seals them with her spit, sinks them to the bottom of the lake. Tomorrow, the shells will open. Up will float new goblin babes.
She tells herself it is more than a fair trade. She tells herself she doesn’t know any other way.
On the far side of the lake, is a bright yellow lily. Each petal a warning. The crocodil and her children stay far away.
The stalk of this lily is thick as Mamma’s arm. Follow this appendage down to the muddy bottom, and there, in a nest of roots, lives the water lily monster.
Once, the crocodil and the water lily monster were lovers, friends.
There was a sandy bank where they liked to bake in the sun. The crocodil would fall asleep, snoring loudly, unaccustomed to life during the day. The water lily goes there alone sometimes and remembers.
Without warning she’ll be overwhelmed with memories. The crocodil frantic for the taste of the water lily’s poison. The crocodil’s rumbling laugh and how it set the water lily’s whole body shivering.
Without warning she’ll be overwhelmed with fantasies of ways she’ll hurt the crocodil if she ever lays eyes on her again.
The water lily is a monster. Do not forget.
When night comes, the water lily monster forces herself to stay awake. She watches the moon and counts the minutes. She listens for the crocodil song. She only wants to hear it.
The tendrils off her hands feel it first. They have always been her most sensitive part. Then, all of her hears it, feels it in her ears, her mouth, that hard little knot at her center.
Tonight, without warning, she is moving, gliding beneath the surface with twisting strokes, unable to obey her own commands of “Stop, stop.”
She gets closer, and then, above her: long, soft, dimpled legs.
They are so familiar. So close.
Anne Lacy holds an MFA from American University, where she received the Myra Sklarew Award in Prose. Her work has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Crazyhorse.
Asked what person or thing gives you a sensation of floating, she replied, “Cold medicine. One dose and my head is on the ceiling.”
Art — Priscilla Boatwright is an illustrator and writer working in San Antonio. She is fascinated with myth, magic, and the connections between cultural identity and art. Priscilla received her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. See more of her artwork at http://cargocollective.com/boatart.
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